A Lesson in Retail from Hanoi’s Shoe Street

retail brand agency melbourne

Is this the toughest retail environment on the planet?

On a trip to Vietnam this month I spent a couple of days sweltering through the streets of Hanoi Old Town. The mercury hit 37 degrees and the humidity was thick enough to cut with a knife and slice into a banh mi, but it was nowhere near as hot as the competition for street front retail.

One of the unique aspects of Hanoi’s old town is that the streets are defined by what they sell. Around the corner from our hotel was ‘shoe street’, there was a ‘clothes street’, ‘haberdashery street’, ‘hardware street’, we saw a ‘floor covering street’ and even a ‘coffin/funeral street’.

The concept of retail precincts specialising in a category is not unusual. Most cities of the world have a little Italy, of a cafe precinct. Most will also have an area filled with car dealers. The idea here is that a collection of complementary but differentiated retailers will pull a bigger crowd of prospective customers than standing alone, clear of competition. But in Hanoi they take it to a whole other level with store after store stocking almost the exact same range.

Whilst this approach creates an engaging tourism attraction, from a business perspective it’s madness. As I walked the streets I thought; ‘Imagine what would lead someone to open a store in one of these streets, fill it with more or less the same stock as the stores on either side, provide the same level of service and charge the same price’. The concept made no sense to me.


Unless the online presence for your brand has been crafted to communicate your differentiated value proposition in this context, you may as well be selling Nike knock-offs on Hanoi’s shoe street.

It was only later that it occurred to me how the web is the new ‘shoe street’, and how so many businesses are still doing business the same way.

Differentiation is one of the key platforms of every successful brand. When we develop the brand strategy for a client, identifying and defining what a business does that is both unique from competitors and valuable to clients or customers is the cornerstone of our positioning. We are constantly surprised how few businesses have true clarity on this all-important layer of brand positioning.

With the ever increasing importance of the web as the source of qualifying a consumer’s ‘selection set’ (the brands they will consider when making a purchase) any search term from ‘buy adidas kicks’ to ‘cheap coffins’ becomes the ‘shoe street for that category. Unless the online presence for your brand has been crafted to communicate your differentiated value proposition in this context, you may as well be selling Nike knock-offs on Hanoi’s shoe street.

retail branding agency melbourne

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne branding agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more here
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