Friday, 28 August 2009

Orvis is no Ugly American

When companies enter an overseas market, they're sometimes guilty of a cultural arrogance. One could argue that with its new website, Shop Direct commits that crime: Although the site targets consumers in France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain, the copy is almost exclusively in English.

And back in 2003, the then-chief of Spiegel, an American catalogue owned by Germany's Otto Group, told the magazine I edited at the time, “We'll keep the 'big book' going because according to our research in Europe — although we've not researched it here in the US — people use big books for planning and what they may buy in the next couple of months.” Maybe if Otto had done some research in the US, it would have found that by and large Americans viewed big-book catalogues as fusty, and Otto wouldn't have had to sell the Spiegel business.

So it's nice to see that latest Orvis Women's Clothing catalogue steers clear of any such arrogance. Orvis is an American cataloguer/retailer of outdoor gear and apparel, founded in 1856; it's been doing business in the UK for 27 years. In his president's letter, CEO Perk Perkins includes a paragraph especially for the UK market: "Our UK business holds a special place in my heart, since I was there when we opened our doors in 1982. Since then, our business has grown steadily--today we have 23 retail stores, more than 50 stockists, an award-winning website,, and we post more than 15 catalogue titles annually." To emphasise his appreciation of his British customers, he uses British verbiage ("stockists", "post") and spelling ("catalogue"). (Granted, the letter would have been more effective if placed on page 2 than tucked away as it is on page 6, but nobody's perfect.)
Another nice acknowledgement of British mores: On the catalogue request form on the UK site, the options for "title" include ""Dame", "Honourable", "Lady", and "Sir", none of which are applicable in the States.

Sure, these are little details. But as we all know, retail is detail, on both sides of the Atlantic.--SC

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