What does localisation in retail really mean?

Mega, multi-national, super-brands aren’t new news. We’ve been living with global brands like Nike, Apple and Zara for decades. Their expansion has been unprecedented, and aside from the global domination aspect of it, I’m pretty sure they’ve made their finance teams and investors pretty happy too.

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This mass-globalisation effort has worked in favour of these companies because their sheer size and presence has helped to build their reputation and earn the trust of their customers. All of this was going beautifully, until the 2000s, when people consumers wanted to feel like people again, and feel like their shopping experience was a unique one, not part of a generic global roll-out branding strategy.

The much bigger picture of this story is the pendulum swing we’ve seen away from mass-consumerism, toward the one-off, the bespoke and the artisanal; in short, the Hipster movement. But rather than delve in deeply to that scene, instead I want to focus on just one area of the movement, localisation.

It’s a broad term that can cover anything from where something is made, to where it’s consumed, and even the distance between the two. But in the realm of retail experience, brands need to go further than just opening a store in another city, they need to show their customers they a part of their customers' city.

But herein lies the rub that all brand-focused companies face. How do you maintain the balance between keeping your brand looking uniform and universal, and adjust the brand-front enough that it can reflect its environment?

The bigger the brand, the trickier it gets, but so too does the return on investment.

Two brands who I think have handled this well that immediately spring to mind are L’Occitane and Diptyque.

Diptyque don’t so much tailor their store’s interior design so much as they tailor their products. Each year, they offer limited ranges of scented candles, dedicated to cities they operate in, eg Berlin, Miami and Tokyo. They may not be cities you immediately think about favourably when it comes to aromatics, but Diptyque’s local ranges show a brand intelligence that their sometimes-faceless competitors overlook.

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L’Occitane are showing their localisation a little differently. Last week, I was in the city and as I walked past the L’Occitane store, I noticed their windows were full of dinky, cardboard model trams. I automatically assumed they could be trams from anywhere, but up close, they were distinctly Melbourne trams. To bring the local point home, their signwriting championed the (possibly tenuous) link between Province and Melbourne. It’s a small gesture, but enough of one that it has stuck with me. For longer than a fleeting second, I felt L’Occitane itself realised it was a part of our city.

For the brands willing to risk breaking the corporate mold and go off-piste, there’s every chance we’ll actually see you amongst us.