Is London the place to be for Asian retail businesses in 2022?

June 07, 2022 10:37
Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong retail businesses have long been making successful waves within their regional markets. However, for a brand to become a truly global player, expansion outside of the Asian market is a vital step in the growth trajectory. 2022 is a critical year for businesses who are looking to expand after the turbulence of the pandemic.

In 2021, over 100,000 Hongkongers applied for a BN(O) visa, taking their assets, lifestyle preferences, and businesses to the UK. Despite this uptick of Hong Kong citizens moving to the UK, which accounts for an upsurge in Asian consumer demands, the UK business landscape has been evolving and opening to cater the expansion for global brands.

Like many cities across the world, London, and particularly its retail sector, faced challenges during the pandemic. However, the city is bouncing back, particularly since all legal coronavirus restrictions were lifted across the UK in February 2022. With strong signs of recovery, which is very evident in the West End – London’s major hub for consumer experiences. Footfall in the area is currently operating at around 80% of pre-pandemic levels, with turnover expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 and exceed significantly by 2025. As the city recovers, it is also transforming, with major investments such as the recently launched Elizabeth rail line which will significantly reduce journey times between major business hubs; connecting an extra 1.5 million people to the capital.

With a favourable geographical location, London makes doing global business easy. For example, its time zone allows businesses to connect with Asia in the morning and the Americas in the afternoon. The city can be used as a connecting stop for travels between the East and West and it operates in English which is a global language. London is equipped with handling competitive opportunities, so now is the optimal time for Asian and Hong Kong businesses to consider expansion to the UK’s capital.

Every major global business has a presence in London, which means Asian brands would be operating amongst the biggest players in the world. Between 2016-2021, the city attracted 460 retail trade inward investment projects. This is more than any other destination city, ahead of Paris (256), New York (249), and Singapore (188). Most of these investments came from North America and Europe, leaving a gap to be filled by ambitious Asian businesses who want to operate among the world’s best.

As London consumers are also early adopters of new concepts and international experiences, we know that they are looking for more immersive and mixed-use retail experiences. This has paved the way for Asian businesses to spearhead this trend – which is why there has been a surge in popularity for such brands. Businesses capitalise on these benefits by expanding to London – establishing a Western international presence, gaining access to new markets, and becoming a global player seamlessly.

One third of London’s population is born outside of the UK, making it a place that is welcoming and filled to the brim with diversity, creativity, and innovation. As one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, Asian businesses have reimagined London’s retail scene by introducing new innovative concepts such as immersive experience stores and zero-waste shops adding to London’s world-class 21st century shopping experiences. It is noteworthy that London has cultivated Europe’s largest and most authentic Chinatown, and that one of the biggest celebrations in London is Chinese New Year.

Those looking West, London is a leading destination to expand your business and achieve your global ambitions. There is a window of opportunity for Asian brands to be a part of that transformation. So now is the time for Asian brands to be ambitious in London and become a truly global player.

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CEO of London & Partners