It’s easy for a British company to assume the US is an obvious market to expand into because of our commonalities. But as an American living in the UK, I can attest to the fact that major differences exist. The first time I went grocery shopping in Tesco, for example, I stood waiting for the cashier to bag my groceries, only to find I had to bag the products myself. If only Tesco had interviewed me prior to squandering £1.2 billion to enter the US with stores that only featured self-checkout.

In today’s post-Brexit environment, international expansion is one of the most obvious strategies to overcome domestic uncertainty. Understanding how to balance offering a core British brand with adapting to local consumer demands can be challenging, though.

What are the some of the key characteristics of American shoppers that British brands should be aware of?

Addicted to discounts: During the 2008 financial crisis, American retailers miscalculated the length of the recession and inventory levels were not adjusted to what became “new normal” spending, leading to intense and continuous discounting across the sector. Americans are now trained to buy on discount and feel proud when they secure a bargain, as opposed to British consumers who may devalue a discounted brand. Widespread discounting has become the norm in the US, as opposed to limited but deep discounting in the UK. For example, last month, J. Crew offered 40% off across its entire store.

American consumers also like to be rewarded for their loyalty through the usage of coupons and retailer branded credit cards. Macy’s department store is perpetually decorated in a sea of red discount signs not only offering a general percentage off, but an additional 20% off to loyal customers using their Macy’s branded credit card.

Top-notch customer service: Americans are used to interacting with cheerful and helpful sales staff and expect to be waited on hand and foot. In comparison, British consumers may shy away from such intense interaction with sales staff. Furthermore, consumers in the US require lengthy return periods, with some retailers offering up to six month return policies.

Wide-spread diversity: The size of the US means style preferences and weather differ by area, requiring regional inventory management. While seasonal promotions are run on a national basis (e.g. Labor Day, July 4th Black Friday), the launching of seasonal collections differs according to local weather. Even sizing offerings are taken into consideration, according to local demographics. For example, in Florida, stores in areas with greater densities of retirees tend to carry larger sizes to cater to the older generation.

The US is one of the most important markets to succeed in not only because of its sheer size, but also because the stamp of approval from American consumers can be leveraged to convince other markets of the quality of a brand.

Kristin Graham