E-commerce edge helps British retailers expand abroad

Tue May 13, 2014 4:41am EDT
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By Emma Thomasson and James Davey

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - Marks & Spencer Plc is making a new push to expand abroad, hoping e-commerce will give Britain's biggest clothing retailer a better chance to succeed than earlier attempts to enter new markets.

It is one of several retailers that are using expertise developed in the UK's fast-growing e-commerce market to expand overseas. Store chains like M&S are starting to emulate the success of online-only fashion players like ASOS.

Britain is the world's most developed online retail market, according to a ranking by commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, followed by the United States, Germany and France.

M&S withdrew from mainland Europe in 2001 after a failed expansion. The retreat was temporary. In March the firm said it would use "bricks and clicks" - opening new stores in a few markets while offering online sales in several more - to accelerate growth abroad.

"Because we sit in the UK we sometimes forget how advanced the UK is," said Laura Wade-Gery, M&S e-commerce executive director.

Although the United States is the biggest e-commerce market by absolute turnover, internet orders make up a bigger portion of total retail sales in Britain - about 11 percent in 2013 to 7.3 percent in the United States, Euromonitor data shows.

Britain's leadership position in e-commerce has been driven by its compact size - which make delivery more cost-effective - along with its relatively high internet penetration.

Retailers are seeking to ship more goods to shoppers abroad, a drive the British government is supporting to diversify exports from a heavy reliance on finance. It launched a plan last year to help 1,000 retailers break into international markets by 2015.   Continued...

A parcel travels along a belt at the new Marks & Spencer e-commerce distribution centre in Castle Donington, central England May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Darren Staples