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A foreign affair
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Some web retailers such as YesAsia.com, YOOX.com and Figleaves.com have made a substantial investment in new technology that helps them retain more foreign shoppers and process orders more efficiently. But most U.S. web retailers, including merchants that have been selling online for at least five years, have made only a small investment in tools that enable their e-commerce platforms to post content in a foreign language or calculate an international payment. 45% of web merchants participating in the research have an international shipping calculator. Yet only 14.7% offer foreign shoppers an international currency converter and only 7.3% post separate foreign content or have a live chat application that can help non-English speaking customers with a question. 13.8% also don’t have a “Contact Us” e-mail box that can accommodate and respond to foreign shoppers.
While selling to overseas markets via the Internet is faster and less expensive than opening an international chain of stores, selling online overseas also requires planning and is not without its own set of marketing and technology challenges. The survey notes that 40.4% list shipping foreign orders as their biggest challenge, followed by processing foreign transactions and payments, processing foreign returns and building and maintaining non-English e-commerce sites. Interestingly, web merchants also prefer doing their own internal systems and marketing work. Only 23.8% of merchants in the Internet Retailer survey use any outside third party to build and maintain their foreign e-commerce site.
But despite the obvious technical and marketing challenges, it is also abundantly clear that most web merchants regardless of their size do expect to develop an overseas e-commerce plan. They also expect that developing separate sites that appeal to customers in a foreign market or updating their present technology platform to accommodate more overseas shoppers will also in the long run yield substantial sales. The survey reveals that 48.1% of participating retailers not selling online now expect to do so within one year vs. 28.5% with no current or future foreign plans and 18.5% with plans to develop a foreign e-commerce base within 24 months.
For those already serving non-U.S. customers, their investment in foreign e-commerce is paying a dividend. According to the Internet Retailer survey, 15.9% of retailers expect their foreign web sales to grow by more than 25% this year, compared with 12.1% with an increase of 10.1% to 15%; 20.5% with an increase of 5% to 10%; and 28% between 1% and 5%. l