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Tesco Corporation’s Internationalization Strategy Case Study


Tesco is one of the leading UK retailers that started its international expansion in the 1990s. The company’s focus on internationalization was a successful strategy that led to remarkable growth in many regions and considerable profits that reached $3.8 billion in 2011 (Wrigley, Lowe, & Cudworth, 2013). However, success in some regions was accompanied by major failures in other areas, which led to significant losses, both financial and reputational. This paper includes a brief analysis of the company’s strategy, as well as challenges the company faces and new strategic directions to adapt to address these challenges.

Analysis of the Existing Strategy

The focus on international expansion was determined by the growing regulatory and competitive pressures Tesco had to handle in the domestic market. The first areas of expansion were countries of Central Europe that were undergoing major transformations in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Regulations in those countries were minimal, and competitors were also quite a few, which enabled the company to earn a significant share of the market (up to 27%) in 2011 (Wrigley et al., 2013). At that, Tesco experienced the most unprecedented growth in Asia, specifically in South Korea. The company is now the second-largest retailer in the country, with revenues of over £5 billion (Butler & Neville, 2013). The company is successfully penetrating the markets of India and China.

Nevertheless, the expansion into the US market that started in 2007 proved to be a failure as the company announced that all the stores would be closed and sold in the near future (Ruddick, 2013). It is noteworthy that Philip Clarke, the company’s CEO, understood the complexity of operating in the USA as the market was saturated, and the competition was rather fierce. However, the decision was to enter the American market with a focus on fresh food (which was quite expensive).

The internationalization of Tesco has a number of peculiarities. First, the company made some partnerships. One of the most successful partnerships was implemented in South Korea (Wrigley et al., 2013). Tesco and Samsung collaboration was successful as Tesco managed to address various issues associated with operating in new markets. First, the retailer managed to learn the peculiarities of the country’s legislation and regulatory policies.

Customers’ needs and characteristic features were also acknowledged. Tesco also managed to establish a retail chain that seemed fully domestic. Another peculiarity of Tesco’s expansion was the focus on its private labels rather than manufacturers’ products. The company also tried to be customer-oriented. However, in many regions, Tesco failed to achieve this goal, which led to failures and losses (Yoder, Visich, & Rustambekov, 2016). The company did not meet the needs of customers in the USA, Japan, and other regions.

Costs and Benefits of the Strategy

It is necessary to note that internationalization is often an effective strategy used when the competition in the domestic market becomes too fierce, or other environmental challenges come into play (Wrigley et al., 2013). The expansion to other markets allows companies to improve profits through the increase in sales. The company can allocate funds wisely and invest in profitable projects. Operating in new markets helps companies become more flexible and innovative.

On the one hand, businesses learn about different regulatory policies and laws. On the other hand, they learn how to adjust to such environments. This flexibility is essential in the contemporary globalized world as regulations and norms existing in some countries tend to be adopted in other regions as well. There are chances that the norms and regulations existing in a foreign market will be used (with some differences) in the domestic market as well.

Nonetheless, the costs associated with the use of this strategy are also substantial. First, any expansion requires significant financial investments (related to acquisitions, alliances, construction of facilities, and so on). For instance, Tesco invested £1.25 billion to enter the American market (Wrigley et al., 2013). Clarke stated that this kind of investment was affordable for the company, and it could become transformational for Tesco in case of success. The CEO also stated that the major reputational loss in case of failure was associated with his name, not the company. Nevertheless, the reputational loss is apparent, and its negative effect can become visible soon. Unsuccessful expansion can come at a high cost, and Tesco’s failures in some regions can be seen as illustrations of these costs.

Environmental Challenges

Tesco’s failures are associated with a number of wrong decisions as well as environmental challenges. First, the company entered the American market a year before the global financial crisis of 2008 (Butler & Neville, 2013). The environmental factor was accompanied by the inability to adjust and the inability to address customer needs (Yoder et al., 2016). For example, Fresh & Easy stores offered high-quality products, but they became unaffordable for price-sensitive Americans.

Furthermore, the focus on private labels was also ineffective in the US market. Martinez-Ruiz, Gonzalez-Gonzalez, Jimenez-Zarco, and Izquierdo-Yusta (2016) stress that American customers often become loyal to particular brands. People’s needs and preferences were not addressed, which resulted in failures. Customers’ peculiarities were not taken into account in other regions as well. For instance, in Poland, people prefer convenience stores to large hypermarkets while Tesco focuses on this type of retail units in that region (Ruddick, 2013). Apart from the inability to identify people’s needs, Tesco also faced issues related to the introduction of new regulations.

For instance, the changes in the Indian legislature has a negative effect on the development of the company and its further expansion in the region (Butler & Neville, 2013). Finally, many countries are trying to address serious financial issues and introduce new taxes, which also has an adverse impact on the company’s growth.


When discussing the resources and capabilities of the international retailer, it is necessary to note that Tesco has substantial funds to invest in numerous projects. The company’s billion profits show that significant funds can be allocated to innovate and expand. Apart from the obvious financial resources, the company also has other resources and capabilities. For instance, Tesco has a positive experience associated with the collaboration with companies operating in new (for Tesco) regions (Wrigley et al., 2013).

This experience can be helpful when expanding to new markets (in India and China). Tesco’s experience in collaborating with other companies can generate value as the company will be able to employ it in other regions (collaborating with other companies). The use of this strategy can help the company reduce costs, understand new markets better, and develop a proper image in the new market.

The company also tries to innovate and come up with new products and services. The development of private labels is one of the areas where Tesco has succeeded in many regions. For example, its tablets have acquired significant popularity (Warman, 2013). Hence, the development of private labels can help the company meet the existing and potential customers’ needs in a more efficient way.

The company is also expanding its e-commerce operations. Tesco’s management claims that being online is one of the major competitive advantages in the retailing industry (Warman, 2013). The company has quite effective information systems that can be used to implement marketing research, share knowledge within the company, and so on. The data obtained can help the company create value-added products and services that can attract more customers and meet the needs of the existing customers.

New Strategic Directions

It may seem that the most appropriate strategy for Tesco is the focus on the domestic market and the most successful foreign markets (such as South Korea). However, the UK market is saturated, and the competition is very serious. The company needs to expand, but the expansion strategy should be based on the lessons learned from previous years. First, Tesco should launch large-scale market research with a focus on customers’ characteristic features (profile).

It is essential to understand what people need and want. One of the successful methods to learn more about new customers is the development of partnerships and alliances. Tesco can collaborate with local businesses to develop a successful marketing strategy.

Yoder et al. (2016) note that ineffective supply chain management contributed to Tesco’s failures. The company should implement research concerning the most efficient locations of stores and other facilities. This task is closely connected with another area of concern. The company should analyze the existing competition in new markets. Tesco should properly evaluate the existing competition and (based on this analysis) decide whether new Tesco stores can be set or other locations should be chosen. It is also important to identify Tesco’s competitive advantage to be able to win the competition or, at least, remain a successful player in the market.

Finally, Tesco should focus on innovation as this strategy has proved to be effective in South Korea and many other countries. The use of technology is instrumental in achieving this goal. For example, South Korean customers enjoy so-called virtual stores (Wrigley et al., 2013). These advances can be equally successful in western countries as well. The use of mobile technologies is also on the rise. E-commerce is another area to develop.


In conclusion, it is possible to state that Tesco has chosen an effective strategy that implies internationalization. This strategy is associated with numerous opportunities, including larger profits, growth, flexibility, organizational learning, etc. However, it is vital to avoid the mistakes the company has made. For instance, Tesco should reconsider its supply chain management, especially when it comes to the choice of location. The company should implement extensive research concerning customers’ needs and preferences.

It is also critical to evaluate properly the existing competition in different markets as well as environmental issues as macro and micro-economic factors affecting the development of countries and regions. Tesco should maintain its focus on innovation, but the use of advanced technologies and marketing strategies should be based on extensive market research. Although the company is still facing numerous internal and external issues, Tesco can still retain its leading position and improve its operations in different markets.


Butler, S., & Neville, S. (2013). . The Guardian. Web.

Martinez-Ruiz, M. P., Gonzalez-Gonzalez, I., Jimenez-Zarco, A. I., & Izquierdo-Yusta, A. (2016). Private labels at the service of retailers’ image and competitive positioning: The case of Tesco. In M. Gomez-Suarez & M. Martinez Ruiz (Eds.), Handbook of research on strategic retailing of private label products in a recovering economy (pp. 104-126). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Ruddick, G. (2013). The Telegraph. Web.

Warman, M. (2013). . The Telegraph. Web.

Wrigley, N., Lowe, M., & Cudworth, K. (2013). The internationalization of Tesco: New frontiers and new problems. In G. Johnson, R. Whittington, D. Angwin, K. Scholes, & P. Regner (Eds.), Exploring strategy: Text and cases (pp. 657-661). Harlow, UK: Pearson.

Yoder, S., Visich, J., & Rustambekov, E. (2016). Lessons learned from international expansion failures and successes. Business Horizons, 59(2), 233-243.

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