April 4, 2003, 12:00 AM

Sharper Image sharpens its image in foreign markets

While sales for multi-channel retailer Sharper Image Corp. have been growing steadily in the U.S., they’re also growing overseas through its international network of web sites.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

While sales for multi-channel retailer Sharper Image Corp. have been growing steadily in the U.S., they’re also growing overseas through its international network of web sites. But success requires being able to respond to individual preferences in each market. "We`ve learned to adapt quickly and adjust our inventory accordingly," says president Tracy Wan.

The different preferences tend to focus on minor product characteristics such as color or style, she adds. Consumers from Mexico to China generally buy the same products that sell the best in the U.S., such as Sharper Image`s patented air purifiers and two music products--the CD Shower Companion and the CD Sound Soother, which plays digital recordings of sounds intended to relax listeners.

In addition to its U.S.-based SharperImage.com, the company operates 10 other sites for markets worldwide, although all are operated on U.S.-based web servers. Included among the 10 is a Spanish-language version of its U.S. site that`s used by consumers in Mexico and Latin America as well as by Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. The other sites are designed for the U.K., Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan, with a separate site for the European Union.

In addition, the company licenses its name for the Swiss-based SharperImage.ch, which sells its own merchandise in addition to Sharper Image Corp.`s.

To support foreign sales, most of which occur in Europe, Sharper Image maintains a distribution center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which handles returns as well as deliveries. And to make it easy for shoppers to pay value-added tax, it uses proprietary software that automatically calculates the VAT for each order and includes it in the purchase price.

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