June 16, 2011, 4:24 PM

IRCE 2011 Report: Small- and medium-sized online retailers drive international growth

T-shirt e-retailer Threadless exports its brand of humorous apparel globally.

Nesli Karakus

Senior Editor, Research

Lead Photo

Online shoppers are venturing beyond their nations’ borders to buy products, despite often sour online shopping experiences, Jim Okamura, managing partner of strategy firm Okamura Consulting, said this week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 in a session entitled “Scoring in the global market.” While many retailers are holding off, a growing number of retailers are deciding to invest in global e-commerce.

“We are seeing the cross-border e-commerce being driven by small and medium retailers because they’re small and nimble,” said Okamura. “Big brands will get there, but it will take a lot longer to get organized. In the short term, we’re really going to see the small and medium-sized retailers that are going to drive this growth.”

Chicago-based T-shirt e-retailer Threadless started to craft an international strategy in 2010 after seeing growing interest by customers outside of the United States. In the second quarter of 2010, 50% of Threadless’ web sales were from customers outside of the United States, according to CEO Tom Ryan; in the second quarter of 2011, international customers accounted for 60% of sales.

Threadless  sells T-shirts with designs that customers vote on; many of the designs are satirical or ironical, with the shirts often sported by urban hipsters. Ryan said that the company also noticed that independent web sites explained to non-English speakers how to check out on Threadless, which had only an English-language site at the time. “We really took these as wake-up calls to get more proactive,” said Ryan.

In the past year, Threadless developed sites in French, German, Portuguese and Italian. The company plans to add sites in six more languages in 2011.



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