Bamboo Rose Blog | Retail News

Growing internationally? Beware of your inadvertent hand signals

Richard Nixon once flipped the entire country of Brazil the bird when he landed in the southern hemisphere and waved the “a-ok” sign from Air Force One. It was a simple gesture meant to welcome the crowd, but instead, he basically said, “Up yours, Brazil.”

It wasn’t intentional, of course – but that doesn’t mean the perception was any less appalling to recipients on the other end.

The same type of cultural faux pas can happen to retailers who don’t have insight into what’s popular in the countries they’re expanding into. Norms and gestures that are commonplace and have an accepted, universal meaning on a retailer’s home turf could have totally different meaning in another place. It’s the reason why you don’t sell green hats in China: Homophones are taken seriously there, and the word for “green hat” sounds like the Mandarin term for a guy whose wife or girlfriend cheats on him – not exactly a word most shoppers want to be associated with.

Despite potential “oops” moments, the lure of international expansion to drive growth is strong. But it’s hard to sell in new geographic areas when you don’t understand the cultural nuances and how to navigate the barriers. You depend on your local network for this insight, but with the speed that retail moves these days, it can be really tough to get that information quickly enough to put into your product plans.


Three ways tech has your back

The world is getting smaller, more digital and interconnected, and there is no excuse for not understanding the needs of the market and what customers want. Retailers need to use technology to their advantage. By adopting a social, collaborative framework for product development, design and delivery, teams can seamlessly get the best products to the right markets around the world. With technology, retailers can meet local needs by:

  • Getting social feedback and deeper market insight: Franchisees and international customers can quickly and easily provide information on local differences and preferences during the development stage, long before product lines are finalized.
  • Offering the right products for the market: Connectivity allows retailers to make smart decisions around what products they offer where to drive revenue and improve profitability.
  • Understanding the channel options available to them: Getting quick feedback from in-market resources can help retailers be strategic. Should they build another store and invest in a local, physical presence, or join an online community to sell to multiple markets at once? Technology can help with that decision.

Growth comes in many forms: increased revenue, profitability, product lines, locations, countries, merchandise, demographics, pricing and more. The challenge is deciding what to do when, and where to grow as quickly and efficiently as possible. Bonus points if you can do it without offending customers in the process.