There are diverse growth opportunities outside the Continent, yet only a select group of retailers have so far taken advantage.

There are diverse growth opportunities outside the Continent, yet only a select group of retailers have so far taken advantage.

Like this week’s European elections, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest provoked opinions as divergent as ever. Those unlikely bedfellows, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin – on the western and eastern extremes of Europe – both viewed the result of the song contest as a travesty (‘le mot juste’ given the sartorial preferences of the winner).

But for millions of viewers it was a light-hearted celebration of Europe’s diversity: suggestive Polish dairymaids succumbing to a bearded female impersonator from Austria. What fun.

But retailing in Europe is more serious stuff, with some highly successful pan-European players, not least in the fashion sector: Zara operates stores in no fewer than 40 European markets with H&M and others following suit. As is Primark, who’s showing the rightful, and triumphant, disregard that all real discounters have for European boundaries.

In the food sector, Lidl’s vast portfolio of 11,300 stores spans 20 European countries. But many large food retailers have found success across Europe to be as random and elusive as votes from the Eurovision judges or the European electorate. Tesco recently revealed a scaling back of new investment in continental Europe and Carrefour’s only global zone to report negative organic growth in 2013 was its non-French European businesses (representing 25% of total sales).

Globalisation, for so long a strategic buzzword for the big bricks-and-mortar retailers, has backfired on many of them – especially those who deployed the blunderbuss, not the rifle.

Among the latter, one notable winner has hit the bull’s-eye. This year’s Eurovision entry from France was a laughably unsuccessful gamble, but the French Groupe Casino, defying its seeming misnomer (no haphazard thrower of the dice, Monsieur Naouri) has secured a higher market position in each of the international markets on which it’s set its sights, than it has at home. And none of those international markets are in Europe.

Casino is only the fifth largest retailer in France. But in its two Asian markets, Thailand and Vietnam, it occupies the third and second positions respectively.

And in South America, it is the number one retailer in both Brazil and Colombia. Only in Argentina is it less than dominant. Casino’s gradual and carefully targeted acquisition of initially minority stakes in key players in selected geographies is a textbook example of global best practice.

Omnichannel has rightly usurped multichannel in these digital days. But markets need to be ever more keenly selected than channels and “omni-market” should have no place today in the canon of most bricks-and-mortar retail expansion strategies.

The Dixons Carphone merger will be able to impact way beyond the dozen European markets where the groups operate, for Sebastian James’s internet of things is truly a “jeu sans frontières”.

Casino has similar aims for its ecommerce arm ‘Cdiscount’, having decided on one global listing, probably on the Nasdaq, for its amalgamated $4bn (£2.4bn) worldwide operations. The group’s mission statement “nourishing a world of diversity” sums it up succinctly.

  • Michael Poynor, senior advisor at Financo