Finding a niche and sticking to it is one way foreign web retailers can build lasting market share in the U.S. business-to-consumer e-commerce market. For instance, YesAsia.com, a Hong Kong-based online retailer of Asian entertainment products such as CDs, DVDs, games and books, has been selling in the U.S. through a separate e-commerce site since the late 1990s.
In 2004, the company, which launched in 1998, had U.S. web sales of about $13 million, up about 50% from $6.5 million in 2003, says founder and CEO Joshua Lau. YesAsia’s U.S. web sales are growing because the company serves a specific niche – it carries nearly 300,000 entertainment products, which include DVDs or movies originally created, produced and distributed in Asian and Pacific Rim countries such as Korea and Japan.
“There are about 10 million Asians living in the U.S. and in many ways it’s a very close community,” Lau says. “A great deal of our sales in the U.S. are generated by referrals from satisfied shoppers to their friends and family.”
Lau built-and sticks to-his U.S. web retailing niche of selling hard-to-find Asian entertainment products because he saw an unfilled demand early on. “We are quite specialized,” he says.
All orders placed on the company’s U.S. web site are picked, packed and shipped from a fulfillment center in Hong Kong. The company offers expedited shipping options, but it takes about seven days to ship an order from Hong Kong to the United States.
Some foreign web retailers bypass the high costs of shipping and avoid fluctuating currency rates by operating their own U.S. fulfillment operations. Others rely on marketing relationships and distribution agreements with U.S. companies to build an e-commerce business.
But shipping directly from Hong Kong is working well for YesAsia. Being based in Hong Kong means YesAsia is close to its growing network of manufacturers, distributors and others who supply the company with unique entertainment products. In many cases, since YesAsia is the only online retailer carrying the latest Chinese DVDs or Japanese comic books, U.S. shoppers don’t mind waiting a few extra days to receive their merchandise.
When other Asian online retailers crashed in the U.S. market following the dot-com meltdown, YesAsia grew because of its unique niche. YesAsia’s U.S. sales are growing-Lau expects U.S. web orders to grow between 20% and 30% in 2005.
To make it easier to shop in the U.S., YesAsia recently updated its North American web store with new translation tools that let customers read the home and product pages and place orders in five languages: two forms of Chinese and English, Japanese and Korean. “We fulfill a unique need,” Lau says. “For us, business is growing.”