Business leaders in all industries are aware that online shopping, instant access to information and the accelerating pace of retail have fueled a global transformation in how people purchase goods and services. Instant connections to brands via mobile devices and advances in logistics have made a tremendous impact on consumers' experiences and expectations when they place orders from around the world. Those changes are evident in an increasing number of transactions, with eMarketer projecting that worldwide retail ecommerce sales will reach $4.5 trillion by the end of 2021 and account for over 16 percent of total retail sales.
The question is, how do organizations leverage resources to capture the full sales potential in a global market? Though the public may be willing to make purchases from merchants located in other countries, unfamiliarity with a brand can be a major obstacle in leading shoppers through a customer journey. Consequently, well-known players tend to dominate cross-border ecommerce while lower-profile merchants go largely unnoticed.
However, that disadvantage doesn't mean smaller businesses can't compete for cross-border online sales. Rather, they should plan for the challenges ahead by building up their online presence and operational capabilities accordingly. For smaller ecommerce shops to compete in the global marketplace and sustain business growth, they need strategic vision, quality tools and experienced partners.
Taking a global perspective on ecommerce
The market for ecommerce retail in the U.S. is strong and continuing to expand. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's report for Q4 of 2017, online sales reached $119 billion, up 3.2 percent from Q3 and a 16.9 percent increase from Q4 in 2016. That year-over-year jump puts online sales growth well ahead of retail in general, which increased by 5.7 percent over the same period.
The robust ecommerce sales in the U.S. are second only to China, with Forrester predicting that online sales will represent 17 percent of all U.S. retail sales by 2022. Nonetheless, there is good reason to look abroad. The U.S. market is crowded with competition from both established domestic companies and international brands looking to expand. Reaching beyond borders gives retailers the chance to distinguish themselves, creating more lucrative opportunities.
Giants like Amazon and Alibaba have already made their moves into fresh territory, establishing footholds in online marketplaces around the world, commanding over $1.1 trillion in combined market cap. To find loyal customers and carve out a place in a landscape already populated by such huge entities, business need a strategic, agile approach.
Setting the conditions for international success
Any foray into cross-border ecommerce must start with a clear understanding of where your business will fit into its new context. Leaders should have a sense of how they can offer products or services that suit local demand, present offerings in appealing ways and deliver items efficiently. While organizations can target entirely new audiences with segmented marketing and sales efforts, striving to acquire customers with high lifetime values at the lowest possible cost, a wide range of considerations must be addressed to make these efforts successful.
As businesses enter new markets, they have to adjust their online presence appropriately. Localizing an ecommerce site is an essential step that can often prove more complex than leaders anticipate. Accurate translation is just the beginning of a process that should also involve obtaining a local web domain, reworking content such as photos and advertising and adjusting merchandising to meet demand. Testing out adjustments to the website layout and additions like one-click payment could prove valuable in particular markets.
Getting pricing right is another key factor in advancing any cross-border ecommerce venture. Competing in a new place might require more than converting prices to local currency, so it's crucial to be flexible and adapt to the payment methods that are most convenient for users. For instance, while debit and credit cards still reign supreme in the U.S., digital wallets have gained popularity in places like China, India and Japan.
Shipping internationally can become a highly complex matter, requiring careful thought into everything from selecting durable packing materials to maintaining a profitable pricing structure while getting items out in a timely manner. Organizations can cater to the needs of customers by offering a range of options at various price points, including the premium choices that may prove especially helpful if buyers live in areas where cheaper delivery is unreliable. Providing full transparency into shipping costs during an online transaction encourages buyers to complete a purchase and lays the groundwork for positive relationships to come.
Businesses should also consider how they can tailor customer service offerings to multiple countries. When companies are staking their claim in a new market, building strong connections with the public makes a big difference. An organization shows its commitment to expanding its customer base by using an array of channels to respond quickly and helpfully to general inquiries and technical issues in the appropriate languages.
Last, foreign companies need to be aware of local regulations, especially as it relates to consumer privacy. New General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect in May, 2018. As a result, customers in the European Union will have the most comprehensive privacy protections in the world. U.S. brands selling into those countries need to make sure that their personalization, targeting and CRM practices are compliant to avoid significant fines.
Working with a partner who crosses borders
A great deal of knowledge, effort and investment go into debuting an ecommerce brand on the international stage. Small and mid-sized companies are unlikely to have the resources to go it alone. They need support from a partner who understands the demands of cross-border ecommerce and has the capabilities to empower international sales. By taking advantage of established processes and economies of scale, a retailer can make the transition from focusing on domestic sales to serving consumers in multiple countries.
It all starts with the ecommerce website itself. Adopting a powerful software-as-a-service ecommerce platform is a way to simplify integrations with point-of-sale and enterprise resource planning systems and ease future updates, including the shifts that come with moving into new markets. Making the customer experience as straightforward and pleasant as possible encourages people across national boundaries to give an unfamiliar brand a try. Meanwhile, access to high-quality digital imaging and video services allow a company to adapt the imagery in its online store, accounting for local preferences and cultural differences.
Highly reliable warehousing and fulfillment services must be in place for a cross-border ecommerce initiative to succeed. Companies can take control of how their products make it to customers' doors by working with organization that has an extensive distribution network and the connections to make worldwide fulfillment a seamless process.
Many companies venturing into ecommerce outsource their call center services, making the most of facilities that are already staffed by experienced, multilingual individuals. By aligning these call center representatives closely with your brand's mission and voice, you can trust that international customers will receive a high standard of service at times that are convenient for them.
Meeting the myriad demands of international ecommerce calls for full commitment from an organization and for partnerships that lead to enhanced service and efficient operations. Onestop Internet provides organizations with the technology, digital imaging, performance marketing and distribution facilities they need to compete in a constantly growing world of online retail, establishing a unique identity that draws in international customers and keeps them coming back. With the support and expertise they need to solidify a reputation at home and abroad, businesses are prepared to scale up and take on fresh challenges.
Onestop Internet brings all these services together, putting the tools that power great commerce into the hands of retailers. Economies of scale make the difference between struggling to keep up and confident, sustainable growth in ecommerce. With a vertically integrated partner on their side, organizations can focus on the products and services they know best while reaping all the rewards that come with advanced, international operations.