2014 marks a crucial shift in the global eCommerce landscape that U.S. online retailers need to tracking. For the first time, North America will no longer lead the world in B2C eCommerce sales. According to eMarketer, the Asia-Pacific region will surpass North America’s share by an estimated $42.6 billion in 2014, and the gap will widen to $142.9 billion in 2015.
Other factors, such as increasing access to technology and emerging middle classes in nations like China, certainly have fueled this type of growth. However, this doesn’t mean US retailers will be left out in the cold. In fact, according to a recent report released by OC&C Strategy Consultants, international sales from U.S. online retailers will jump from $11 billion to almost $50 billion by 2020, making up 16% of the overall U.S. online retail market.
OC&C also uncovered that international consumers are using online search tools to do research before making purchases online. This often leads them to discover American brands, especially in the entertainment, electronics and fashion industries. This also leads us to our first global eCommerce lesson for U.S. online retailers:
1. Develop a country-specific or regional site that will be easily found by your international target market
Doing this gives you an opportunity to focus your site towards a variety of products within your portfolio that would better resonate with the audience you’re going after. For example, an online grocer selling in Chile would be better off featuring Nescafe products over whole bean or ground coffee, as the nation almost exclusively consumes Nescafe. Moreover, just as Americans often refer to tissues primarily by the brand name “Kleenex” or call all types of soda, “Coke” in the southern states, all coffee in Chile is typically labeled “Nescafe.” Therefore, in this case, it would be absolutely critical to have a separate SEO strategy for the region.
Buyer behavior can differ vastly even if they search for more universal brands or product varieties. Often times, the way a product is perceived abroad comes through in the search terms that will be used in Google. Missing the mark here can mean missing sales. Be sure to build a set of buyer personas in each country (or group of countries) you target and make their behavior and language the centerpiece.
2. Look before you leap
Many businesses feel that as soon as they open their online doors abroad, sales will start flowing in. This can be true – but only if you open that virtual storefront in the right place, at the right time. First, you must look inward and evaluate if you are executing a smooth eCommerce strategy at home. Are there any weaknesses in your infrastructure or variables that have slowed you down? If so, these issues can be amplified when you add international complexities into the mix.
What about brand loyalty? Like the Nescafe example, you might uncover entrenched competitors you may not have considered. Make sure you’re entering a country or region where you can compete first. If you’re already selling internationally, but without an eCommerce presence, try building your online sales there and then consider broader-reaching expansion.
Distribution is another critical consideration. If your competitors are already in a country that you’re targeting, it’s likely they’ve figured out the best answer to this problem. You can’t spend time experimenting with distribution channels as you risk losing revenue and seeing slow, uncompetitive growth. Companies that are leveraging local distribution to fulfill direct-to-consumer orders have a significant head start.
3. Choose the right device
According to a recent study published in MultiChannel Merchant, mobile payments accounted for 19.5% of all transactions worldwide in December, a growth of 55% year-over-year, up from 12.6% the previous December.
Just as emerging markets have quickly come online in the last decade, they’re also transitioning to mobile devices with a similar vigor. To see success with your global eCommerce strategy, in almost all nations, mobile MUST be a priority.
However, as you cross borders, the devices of choice for online shopping are shifting as well. According to the same study, the travel industry saw the greatest mobile growth with 30% of all transactions being made over a smartphone or tablet. However, there was a clear distinction when it came to cost. Travel was actually the only industry where desktop purchases showed higher transaction values than mobile. In most other industries, tablets led the way in terms of average transaction value, beating desktop purchases in retail, ticketing, and digital goods. This is a clear indicator that international buyers are still more comfortable making larger purchases on a larger screen, but have opted for mobile devices over desktops.
These are just a few key things to consider when developing your global eCommerce strategy. Please take a look at our white paper, Going Global: Planning for International eCommerce Expansion to learn many other considerations and best practices!