Research the market for your import product

Your gut tells you that a foreign product could be a success in the Dutch market. You are excited about it, and are ready to get started. But before you dive into your import adventure, you should learn more about the market and if there is a demand for your product. You can find out via market research. How do you make that happen?

Read on to learn how to do market research, what you need to study, and which tools you can use. You can use the results of your market research to write your import plan. The import plan includes all of the information you need to find out if your import idea is feasible.

Mapping out businesses and markets

Use an internal and external analysis to map out your company and the market. This is called a SWOT analysis. In the internal analysis, you will describe your company's strengths and weaknesses. The external analysis looks at the opportunities and threats in the Dutch market. This allows you to immediately see where opportunities lie for your business, and what needs extra attention.

Developments in your industry

You are fully convinced about the opportunities for your product in the market. But are those opportunities real? First, find out what developments are going on in your industry. You can do that through industry research. In this research, you will find answers to questions like:

  • Is there a demand in the market? That will help you find out if there is truly a need for a new product.
  • Which providers are already active in your sector, and can you find other new providers? This will help you find out if there is still room in the market. You can include these results in your competition analysis.
  • What is the price range? Are the prices stable, or have they gone up or down over the past few months? Calculate your import cost price, and then set your retail price. This will show you whether your prices can compete with the market.

Study your target group

Now that you know what developments are going on in your industry, you want to know more about the customers who buy your product. These customers form your target group. Whether they are companies or consumers depends on your product.

You can do a target group analysis to find out the size and needs of your target group. Include at least the following questions in your research:

  • Are there enough companies or consumers in your target group? This will show if there is still room for you as a new provider.
  • Who make up the target group? For example, find out the average ages and education levels.
  • How often do customers buy a product? There is a difference between products that customers buy once every three years, and products they buy every month or year.

Desk research

You can find out a lot about your target group from behind your own desk. This is called ‘desk research’. Start your research by collecting information that you already have. Like information about your current customers. For example, use old offers or invoices from your CRM system.

Do you not have any customers yet? Then find out who makes up the target group for your product. For example, if you import parts for machine manufacturers, do research on their factories. Search online to find out where the factories are located, and how many there are.

Field research

You will not find all the information you need online. So you should also go out and do some field research. Visit a trade fair, or stop by and talk to potential customers. Import a sample and find out for yourself if your future customers need the product. A sample is an example or small piece of your product.

Researching customers and visiting trade fairs

Willeke Borman is the Director of Fuego, which imports AED machines and company emergency response equipment. “We work in a fairly closed market. To know what is going on in the market, and if there is any room available, we research our customers and our partner, the Netherlands Heart Foundation. We also regularly go to international trade fairs.”

Competition analysis

In your industry research, you found out which other providers are active in the market. Now you can use that information to do your competition analysis. You can include these results in your SWOT analysis. Consider questions such as:

  • Do similar products already exist in the market? What makes your product better, or perhaps worse? Take a good look at your competitors, and try to be different.
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors? You can compare these to your own strengths and weaknesses.

Follow the import regulations

With the information you have collected, you can estimate whether your plan has a chance of success, and you can continue your research. Find out whether you are allowed to import the product. Sometimes there are rules and restrictions on importing products. Also, your products must be safe for users.

European product requirements

Marcel and Chantal van Dam are the owners of Wilcotex, supplier of imported table linens, door curtains and window films. “These products have to meet European product requirements. “Our suppliers can prove that with certificates like the OEKO-TEX certificate. That way we know the products do not contain harmful chemicals and are safe for consumers.”

Resources and tools

There are several sources and tools you can use to collect information about your industry, target group, competitors, countries and import regulations.

Sources

  • You can find information about your specific industry, laws, permits, trends and industry organisations at Business.gov.nl.
  • Retail Insiders (in Dutch) has information about individual sectors especially for retailers.
  • The Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau  (Netherlands Institute for Social Research, in Dutch) offers reports on social sciences research. This information can be interesting if your target group is made up of consumers.
  • Demographic data and spending patterns can be found at Statistics Netherlands (CBS).
  • CBS also has statistics about international trade, such as import and export value at the levels of individual countries and products.
  • Visit your competitors’ websites. You can request any additional company details from the Business Register.
  • Request the KVK business profiles for similar providers. This will give you a better impression of your competitors. A business profile gives you insight into these companies’ histories. If any annual reports are available, you can also see how their incomes increase or decrease over time.
  • Market Information from the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI). The CBI informs companies from developing countries about opportunities and requirements for their products on the European market, including the Netherlands.
  • The HSEE (Health, Safety, Economy, and Environment) handbook on the Dutch Customs website provides an overview of products that are often required to have a licence or certificate.

Tools

  • The KVK Company Counter can quickly show you how many businesses there are in a specific industry or area.
  • The Location Scan (in Dutch) can show you how many entrepreneurs are located in your area.
  • The European Commission’s Access2Markets database  offers information about product guidelines, import procedures, and import duties at the product level. To find your chosen product, you need the HS code for that product.
  • The Trade Statistics tool by Trade Map offers statistics about the international demand for products, and an overview of importing companies.

Some banks and trade associations also share relevant market information on their websites.

Make an import plan

Combine all of your research data into a single market research. The research may cost you time and money. But do not try to save on these expenses. Market research will help you know if your plans are viable, and prevent unnecessary investments. Are your import plans feasible? Then make an import plan. This import plan will give you a foothold and provide an overview of the next steps you take as an importer.