August 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Going global takes time, patience and a team on the ground, experts say

Foreign markets can offer retailers opportunities to gain sales and serve customers they never could reach with a bricks-and-mortar shop. But before venturing out on a global trek experts say e-retailers should be ready to deal with some red tape.

International markets can offer retailers opportunities to gain sales and serve customers they never could reach with a bricks-and-mortar shop. But before venturing out on a global trek experts say e-retailers should be ready to deal with a fair amount of red tape and have staff in each region to help manage operations.

In the European Union, for instance, laws are stricter regarding making web sites usable for the handicapped, says Jeffrey Max, CEO of Venda Inc., which has launched international e-commerce sites for Urban Outfitters, DeBeers and Crabtree and Evelyn.

Copy on many retail web sites must work with devices that read text aloud for vision-impaired shoppers. Often, these devices can’t read text embedded in Flash images, so if a retailer creates a site with abundant Flash, it might not comply with regulations.

Max also recommends retailers have staff or a close vendor partner on the ground in each of the regions it is targeting. Local employees will know details about the culture that those in the U.S. may not, Max says. For example, around 60% of online shoppers in Germany use a payment method called ELV, which is similar to direct debit. Employees in the U.S. trying to launch a German retail site might not know that, he says. And, he adds, many small European countries offer next-day delivery routinely because that’s the small geographical area makes that easy to accomplish, so offering that as a promotion will do little to boost sales.

While complying with local laws and understanding each country’s quirks can take time and patience, Maris Daugherty, senior consultant at J.C. Williams says some merchants are using cultural differences to their advantage. Some e-retailers are testing their mobile strategies, such as mobile commerce or mobile marketing, in the Asia Pacific before trying it in the U.S. because of the widespread use of mobile technology in that region, she says.

“A very popular topic of conversation is the widespread use of mobile and social networking in Asia Pacific, Daugherty says. “A few U.S. retailers are testing their mobile strategy there prior to the U.S.”

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