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Why is retail unappealing to an ethnic market?


The local high-street, filled with fashion stores, food and drink outlets, electronic and card shops and bookmakers is a pretty fair reflection of modern life.

But do these stores truly represent a multi-cultural UK?

The UK is becoming more ethnically diverse; the Nigerian immigrant population in London hit one million in London, according to the Mayor of Brent Michael Adeyeye. The 2011 census showed that Britain’s ethnic minority population grew from 9 per cent of the total in 2001 to 14 per cent as Bangladeshi, Somali, Indian and Pakistani populations continue to surge. Up to 30 per cent of under 5’s are now from ethnic minority groups, a report “A Portrait of Modern Britain” by Conservative research institute Policy Exchange found.

This is a large market, a growing market and an increasingly monied market. The opportunity is there for UK retail to adapt to. So why are they taking so long to do it?

Tesco are tailoring their express store in Upton Park to black and Asian customers – but the move prompted one critic to say it would “put off” mainstream shoppers from shopping at Tesco.

There appears to be widespread fear of mainstream retailers looking to appeal to an ethnically diverse audience. Part of the excuse could be that Britain’s ethnic minorities are, on the whole, poor. Although this attitude may be generally correct, it could change quicker than many expect.

Researchers at the University of Manchester found that Bangladeshi, Indian and black African students are now outperforming their white British peers in obtaining five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C. However, better performance has so far failed to translate into improved job outcomes, academics from the Centre of Dynamics of Ethnicity found.

Some retailers are reporting resounding success from tailoring products to a diverse audience. Jessica Huie was awarded an MBE for entrepreneurship on Saturday (14 June) and is the founder of multi-cultural greeting card company Colour Blind Cards. She set up the business due to a gap in the market. She said: “I realised there was a complete absence of cards which featured black, Asian or mixed race people in any form, and it struck me as a complete missed opportunity on both a commercial and social level.” Today, her cards sell in Asda and Clinton Cards and she has expanded into South Africa and the US.

A Weber Shandwick study claimed that 77 per cent of Asians and 78 per cent of black people in the UK say marketing by mainstream brands has “little or no relevance to them.”

Sasipat, who works at Korean and Thai supermarket ThaiSmile in Hammersmith says: “If you go to the mainstream supermarkets for fresh food you won’t get the products that we sell here. They stock products such as red curry and chili sauce – just the popular products.”

So what’s the future?

A more diverse and representative high-street could attract a broader range of shopper, increase footfall and may even bring greater harmony to the UK. When one feels commercially represented, catered for and spoken to it is difficult to not feel a part of the wider community. The challenge begins in conducting thorough research into these groups – which are full of big personalities, big hearts and unique tastes - in food, fashion, health and beauty and entertainment sectors.

Creating a multi-channel strategy may not be the only area that retailers need to have a close look at.

Published on Tuesday 17 June by Editorial Assistant

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