June 13, 2013
The past few weeks have involved travel to a few different events, ranging from eTail Latin America in Miami to Internet Retailer Conference & Expo in Chicago to the Goldman Sachs dotCommerce Day in New York. Rather than summarize the events, all of which were incredibly valuable, I wanted to highlight some themes from conversations I had at these events with brands looking to expand into new markets.
Leading global brands are increasingly aware they need to vary their approach globally. A common assertion in articles about localization is that companies erroneously view Europe or Asia as “one country” and fail to take into account key differences between countries. My experience is that global brands have largely moved beyond this phase: The brands I spoke with are keenly aware that each market is different, and are anxious to understand how they’ll need to adapt their online offering. They may not understand all of the differences inherent in each market, but they know — or are learning — the right questions to ask. The challenge for brands is understanding which parts of their offering really need to change to meet local expectations (and therefore merit the investment required to make the shift) and which offerings will still resonate even if they differ from those provided by local players.
Payments are at the core of eCommerce localization. Providing a tailored offering to a wide variety of global consumers is a challenging task. Even after language translation, there are myriad ways to localize the website, ranging from providing images that resonate with the local audience to ensuring that promotions are in sync with local consumer expectations. These are all critical parts of the online offering, but they shouldn’t prevent investment in key preferred payment types in markets where credit cards aren’t the dominant form of payment. Online retailers that only offer the option to pay with a credit card — like those that only offer an English-language website — will be able to tap into a certain percentage of consumers in different global markets, but are unlikely to reach the mass market that many of them covet. I keep beating this drum because it’s one of the areas where even some of the savviest global brands continue to fall short.
The scariest piece for eCommerce companies expanding internationally is still logistics. One of the questions I get asked most frequently by global brands is whether a full-service eCommerce logistics provider exists for [fill in the emerging market here]. These brands have often selected a global eCommerce platform, but are seeking partners to manage their warehousing, fulfillment, and, frequently, customer service in different markets. They are daunted by the idea of piecing together an entire solution that will meet customer expectations and not jeopardize their brand. Logistics networks are an area of substantial investment in emerging markets, including by many of the leading online retailers themselves. Still, however, many of the full-service logistics solutions remain works in progress, and only a few providers offer services in multiple emerging markets. This will be an exciting space to watch over the next few years.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of international shipping. Over the past couple of years, a number of the large online retailers in the US and UK have added international shipping to their suite of offerings. For smaller online retailers, however, international shipping has often been an afterthought. As international shipping becomes an easier option for retailers to implement, however, a far greater number of both large and small online companies will jump on this bandwagon. At Internet Retailer, I ran a session on using global marketplaces to reach international shoppers: A number of the attendees I spoke with on this topic were anxious to explore the international shipping options provided by existing marketplace partners like eBay and Amazon, and were also looking to other global options like Rakuten to extend their reach.