January 31, 2001, 11:24 AM

Over There

(Page 3 of 3)

So much so that Land’s End’s most recent web sites-in France, Italy and Ireland-launched where the company doesn’t have a paper catalog. In a role reversal, web sites that are successful could eventually develop catalog businesses in those countries.

“Every new market we enter from now on, we’ll enter on the Internet first,” Taylor says. “We’ve launched six international sites in 12 months. To do that with a paper catalog would be cost-prohibitive.” Taylor adds that the UK and German sites launched a year ago are expected to break even at the end of January and reach profitability next year.

Ignore that man ...

There’s no question that launching web sites abroad is tricky for any merchant-and no question that it’s easier if you’re a $1.32 billion company like Lands’ End. Luxury goods web retailer Ashford.com didn’t have those resources, but it ships to customers in 22 countries who shop the U.S. site, and it wants to grow its foreign market.

The Houston-based company recently beefed up the welcome directed at international visitors by greatly expanding the detail and amount of information on navigation, shipping, customs and tariff requirements. Distribution and customer support are handled internationally from the U.S., but call center operators can speak German, French, Spanish and Vietnamese. Ashford also is negotiating agreements with several ex-U.S. portals to put local language and a local face on its site in other countries.

Whether it’s by designing a more internationally friendly web site at home, hooking up with international portals or malls, or launching a full-court press with county-specific web sites supported by distribution and marketing power on the ground, market leaders among U.S. web merchants are looking for ways to venture beyond their own borders. Others will be close behind if they successfully break a path. With billions of dollars in potential-and very little of it realized yet-the international markets are anybody’s game, with no entrenched leads that can’t be overcome. But lest an Emerald City of prospective riches abroad dazzle American web merchants, they’d be wise to remember that in going offshore, they’re not in Kansas-or Manhattan or Silicon Valley-anymore.

“That’s a trap of working on the web. Electrons are so easy to duplicate, why not simply duplicate them around the world?” says Vonder Haar. “But the international retail experience is about more than shifting data round. It’s about understanding different markets and people and developing merchandising around them that get customers to click that buy button.”

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