Alertness to local differences is key to success in emerging markets, the World Retail Congress heard.

And differences within countries can be as great as those between them.

Bernie Brookes, chief executive of Australian department store group Myer, said there was a mistaken tendency to lump new markets together. “Treating emerging markets as one market is a mistake,” he said. “There are also big regional differences in countries.”

Thameem Rizvon, group IT manager of Kamal Osman Jamjoom, which runs stores across the Middle East, agreed. He said: “Each country is very different. There are unique things.” He highlighted the example of Saudi Arabia where, for cultural reasons, changing rooms may not be provided and clothing returns can therefore be higher.

Sumant Sinha, of Indian retailer Aditya Birla, said retailers had to be very adaptive to succeed in emerging markets. He said: “We don’t know which formats might work or not. You need a lot of flexibility, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be prepared to change very quickly. We can’t be wedded to a particular way, we need to evolve as the market evolves.”

Mehmet Nane, chief executive of Turkish electricals retailer Teknosa, said that overseas retailers entering emerging markets would not necessarily be able to “impose” their way of doing things.

Brookes said: “When you go a new country you need to try and protect your brand – keep as much as you can but have the preparedness to modify what you need to.”