March 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

It`s a small world

(Page 2 of 3)

The road to a dedicated foreign site generally starts with retailers localizing more content as volume from other countries builds on a U.S. site, says Rusick. “We recommend that sites start out with the baseline of identifying high on the front page that international ­shipping is available,” he says. Successive steps after that on the way toward a ­countryspecific site include ­increasing countryspecific communication with customers, incorporating IP ­globalization to automatically determine where the online consumer is coming from and then, on product pages and other areas of the site, automatically ­converting price and cost displays into the local currency, he adds.

A moving target

On the front end, ­merchandising and marketing, less tied up in pure technology and more affected by the local culture and values, can be a bit trickier to manage. “Culture’s a moving target. It’s a living thing, always changing,” says Yunker, who notes that that one way for U.S. retailers to capture those nuances is by turning to local partners. For a small business, those local partners could include the web site’s translators. “Generally, you use incountry translators. If you just look at them as someone who’s providing translation, you are missing an opportunity to get at their knowledge of the culture,” he says. “Have them look at your web site and provide some subjective feedback.”

“Americanisms” such as “home run,” “strike out,” and other idioms don’t ­necessarily travel well across borders, Yunker notes. Nor does humor. “Retailers with marketing materials built around ­playfulness might want to take a big step back before they even hire a translator,” he says. Similarly, while models might be the way to sell products in the U.S., that bears rethinking when tweaking a web site for global traffic or designing a dedicated site to support a specific foreign market. “Make the product the star and avoid some potential issues,” Yunker suggests.

While going with local ­consulting help is one answer, that still can leave some culturallyembedded issues obscured, he cautions. Focus groups, a regularlyused market research tool in the U.S., may not be as effective in other cultures, for instance. “In certain cultures, people aren’t necessarily going to tell you what puts them off, because they don’t want to criticize someone’s web site to their face,” says Yunker. “It’s hard to get at that information in some cultures, particularly in Asia.”

Etronics is still looking for the right marketing formula abroad. It uses Comerxia’s platform to support fulfillment and logistics in selling to a number of ­countries outside the U.S., but Dwek, the marketing manager, says that countryspecific shopping habits provide an extra layer of challenge when it comes to moving off the site itself and into acquiring new online customers.

For example, Etronics has had significant success online at home with comparison shopping engines. So when trying to formulate an online marketing plan for Etronics in the United Kingdom, Dwek’s first thought was to approach the engines, which are developing an international presence and which had offered him the opportunity to test that capacity. “I thought they’d have a lot of data on what people were clicking on and, presumably, buying, but I really got no guidance there,” he says. “It’s been a real challenge to find good advice.”

Dwek’s experience with seeking ontheground consultants outside the U.S has yet to deliver the marketing insights he’s ­looking for. “It seems that most of the available resources try to fit you into their hole, as opposed to their understanding the needs of an American retailer,” he says. “The reality is, it’s different over there.”

Etronics’ experience highlights the core of what faces eretailers ­looking to sell outside their own country and culture. While most direct marketers are accustomed to isolating and adjusting for variables, the number of variables soars when marketing abroad. That makes the U.K.-for now-the best target ­market overseas for Etronics, ­according to Dwek. “We have wondered how we can reduce the number of variables so we can begin to understand what is going on,” he says. “This allows us better control of the variables. Instead of product, price culture and ­language, we’re dealing with product, price and culture.”

The Canadian factor

Closer to home, Canada is often the first major push outside the U.S. for American online retailers. Though it may seem an easy hop across the border, in fact, there are significant differences marketers are wise to bear in mind, says Patrick Bartlett, president of Canada Post Borderfree, which offers technology and services to help U.S. marketers sell in Canada.

For one thing, while a U.S.based retailer’s brand messaging may have ­saturated the home ­market, Canadian ­consumers have not had the same exposure. “They may have some knowledge of your brand, but you probably want to spend more time with Canadians telling them about your brand promise,” says Bartlett. U.S. marketers also may not stop to consider how they are perceived in a country that on the surface, seems so similar-and how understanding the Canadians’ view of the U.S. can turn into a marketing advantage.

Buying online is one thing; buying online from Americans is another, says the Canadabased Bartlett. Canadians who buy across the border in the U.S. know they will have to deal with the issue of price and currency conversion and ­figuring out shipping and handling costs; experience has made it a part of their mindset in a way that’s not top of mind for Americans who rarely have to look outside their home country to find any consumer product. As a result, part of Canadians’ perception of the quality of the shopping experience at an American online retailer is the extent to which merchants make this easy for them versus leaving it to Canadian shoppers to resolve the differences themselves, according to Bartlett.

“American merchants have done a wonderful job of working on the buying experience for their ­consumers. When they go to international markets, they may leave it to the consumers to reconcile these problems and differences. Then they wonder why they aren’t as ­successful on the international markets,” Bartlett says.

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