For European retailers looking to enter North America, the U.S. remains a land of opportunity. But consumer preferences and market profiles widely differ from what companies in Europe experience, according to a just-released analysis by JLL’s Retailing U.S.A. business unit.

For example, the amount of per capita retail square footage in the U.S. is more than 2,375. The U.S. figure is “more space than France, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany combined, making it an increasingly attractive locale for European retailers that have reached maturity in their home markets,” the JLL analysts said in their report. (However, if one adds the U.K.’s per-capita retail square footage to that of those countries, the two regions are on par.)

But entering the U.S. market can be tricky. David Zoba, chairman of JLL Retail’s global leasing board, said the “U.S. is a difficult, but worthy market for international retailers. It’s made up of a handful of international cities, and hundreds more large and small markets.”

“The common currency, language and rule of law make the U.S. an appealing and scalable market,” Zoba added. “If a concept works in the United States, the vast landscape for potential store locations across well-developed and diverse retail assets is tremendous.”

The report noted that while so-called “gateway cities” such as New York are logical places to “test the water,” other areas are worth exploring. “Major retailers generally begin domestic entry in one of the top 13 American markets, but that can be difficult and expensive, and it’s not always instructive or representative of the broader market,” the JLL analysts said. “The top eight markets only make up 33 percent of United States retail space; there is an additional 12.8 billion square feet of space spread across 137 markets.”

There are other issues to consider. The analysis revealed that unlike European markets, the U.S. retail environment “is low density with 9 percent of space within malls and 83 percent spread out across suburban shopping centers and freestanding buildings.”

When it comes to the American consumer, there are even more nuances to consider – and success doesn’t happen overnight. Naveen Jaggi, president of retail brokerage at JLL, said “effective retail expansion is all about understanding who your customer is, how they spend and where they live.”

He cited German grocery chain Aldi as one successful example of a retailer that entered the U.S. market based on demographics. At first, the growth was slow. Jaggi said Aldi “penetrated the U.S. in 1976, in Iowa of all places, but that was where the right consumers were to support it. Now 40 years later, Aldi has 1,400 stores in 32 Eastern states and the brand is heading West. Expansion takes time. Retailers can’t expect an overnight boom.”

Some consumer traits to consider is a boom in ath-leisure, which is driving the activewear and performance footwear business while bolstering annual retail sales by $2 billion. Animals are also big business with the pet retail segment forecast to be a $67.6 billion market by 2018. Food and related businesses are also popular in the U.S., which would include takeout, food specialty stores and restaurants.

“European retailers will find that in the U.S., there is a hunger among landlords to add exciting new concepts to their assets, and non-domestic brands offer just that,” said Michael Hirschfeld, executive vice president of national retail tenant services at JLL. “In the coming year, expect to see even more European retailers expand into the U.S., doubling down on the food-based concepts and apparel.”

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