Italy is one of the world’s top 10 economies. Currently fluctuating between position eight and nine, in 2018 Italy’s nominal GDP reached $1.93 trillion and is expected to grow up to $2.5 trillion by 2023.
In 2018, Italy had a population of 60,359,546 people. It has close ties with the other EU countries and conducts about 59% of its total trade with them. It is also centred around small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), many of which are family-owned. Such firms comprise 99% of Italian businesses and produce 68% of Italy’s GDP.
The Italian market grows steadily and offers a lot of opportunities for business owners. However, you still need to keep cultural nuances and local business specifics in mind if you want to enter the market smoothly and successfully. The following tips will help you do just that.
1: KEEP GEOGRAPHY IN MIND
Most of the country’s industrial activity is concentrated in the north, from Turin in the west through Milan to Venice in the east. This area is considered one of the most prosperous and industrialised in the world, and is sometimes referred to as “first Italy”. Furthermore, it accounts for more than 50% of the country’s national income. There are also the industrialised regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, so-called “third Italy” districts, which carry out the manufacturing of paper, textiles, clothing, ceramics, food, and more.
This leaves you with two primary options: Build your business in the north and take advantage of peak industrialisation, or pick the south and face more challenges, but also fewer competitors.
2: PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS ARE VERY IMPORTANT HERE
Personal relationships matter everywhere; however, in Italy, they are especially important. The bigger your network of relationships is, the easier it will be for you to enter the Italian market. Your connections could open lots of doors for you, or at least help you understand the local business better.
If you don’t have an impressive network of relationships, consider finding the right Italian agent, business partner, or distributor. In this case, you’ll be able to use their connections to build and grow your business in the local market.
3: BE PATIENT
There’s a stereotype of Italian workers being too relaxed and laid back. This definitely isn’t true. On the contrary, Italian workers are highly skilled and dynamic. However, you still need to be patient when it comes to two things: personal relationships and punctuality.
Winning the locals’ trust isn’t easy; it may take two to three times longer than you expected to establish business relationships or a market presence. We can say the same about deadlines. If you want something finished up before a certain date, you should make it crystal clear! Many Italian people tend to view deadlines as more aspirational than literal. Because of that, they can also arrive late for meetings, so don’t be offended by that.
4: BUILD A STRONG ONLINE PRESENCE
In 2018, Italy was reported fourth from last in Europe for internet use. 74% of Italians were online last year compared to Europe’s 85% average. This is probably the reason why responsive website design isn’t so widespread in Italy.
However, this could also help you stand out among your competitors. If you do decide to build and grow an online business, definitely invest in creating a responsive website. Italians mainly access the internet from their smartphones and therefore will appreciate sites that are mobile-friendly.
It should be noted that social media is very popular in Italy. These platforms offer a lot of opportunities for digital marketers, so be sure to include them in your strategy.
5: DETERMINE PROPER PAYMENT AND DELIVERY OPTIONS
Customer service is of the most important things to keep in mind when developing a strategy for any international market. No matter how great your products or services are, you won’t be able to compete with the locals unless you offer the same (or better) level of customer service to your target audience.
Italians don’t trust online payment methods much and therefore prefer to use prepaid cards to purchase products or services online, and cash when buying in shops. Proper delivery matters a lot too: the Italian postal service is not the most reliable, especially when it comes to delivering international packages. Therefore, consider using private couriers to deliver your goods, especially when these goods are expensive or valuable.
6: LEARN HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
Investing in localisation and translation is a must for anyone who wants to expand their business internationally, especially when it’s Italy we’re talking about. Italians prefer to read online content in their native language, and like when this content is informal.
Consider hiring an experienced translator who could adapt your content to a local market in a way that your audience will understand and appreciate. A bit of humour could be nice as well, especially if you want to reach a younger audience.
7: PREPARE TO COMPETE
Competition is inevitable in every market, and nowhere is this truer than in Italy. If your goal is to target food and drink, design, or fashion sectors, prepare to be very patient as you’re going to compete with the local trademark.
Local products in these categories bear a “Made in Italy” trademark that shows they are manufactured and produced in Italy and comply with all Italian regulations. Such a trademark is generally a sign of quality; furthermore, the locals prefer to buy “Made in Italy” products over others. While this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to succeed in any of the sectors listed above, it might take more time than you expected.
EXPANDING INTO ITALY AND BEYOND
Succeeding in any foreign market, including Italy, is not easy. You need a lot of perseverance, patience, and knowledge to compete on the same level as the locals. We wish you good luck and hope that our tips will help you succeed in the Italian market!