November 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Publisher's letter: Breaking through the barriers

Those who follow us know we report, research and write about every aspect of e-commerce. What may be less known is that Internet Retailer is an Internet retailer—one that puts into practice many of the e-retailing advances we write about.

Our business consists of top-ranked online and print media properties that report e-commerce news and trends, a rapidly growing research arm that collects and sells an unrivaled amount of competitive data about e-retailers and e-commerce vendors, and the world's largest e-commerce conference business. For the first five years of our existence, going back to early 1999, we were basically a print-based publisher. Today, more than half of our business is generated on the web. Well over 90% of conference attendees sign up online (the rest call to order), more than 99% of all our print and digital research products are sold at our bookstore on InternetRetailer.com, our e-retailing database service (Top500Guide.com) is entirely web-based, and 61% of all our advertising is web-based as well.

So while our roots are in print, just as many retailers were founded on bricks and mortar, our focus is on growing via the web. We made a similar shift to web, e-mail and social media marketing, even as we've reported such trends in retailing. And we are quickly moving to mobile platforms, emulating the most advanced e-commerce players. In short, we are breaking through barriers—cultural, professional and mental—that once kept us tied to traditional publishing.

Now we are taking on what is publishing's biggest barrier—converting our domestic business to a global one. We are not alone. As we report in this month's cover story (see "Border Crossing" on page 18), e-retailers are rapidly seizing the opportunity the web affords them to sell their products overseas. Increasingly, the infrastructure exists to efficiently ship retail products directly to consumers abroad, credit card processors handle currency conversion in real time, electronic marketing knows no boundaries, and web sites can be customized to foreign markets with the help of vendors that provide affordable translation services.

The biggest barrier in going global may simply be how e-retailers view their business. Before the web, retailing essentially was national in scope. Building and operating stores overseas is a difficult undertaking, in part because the best retail locations are already taken by local merchants, not to mention the red tape involved in getting permits from foreign officials without illegally bribing them.

Web retailing, however, is naturally a global business (they didn't name it the World Wide Web for nothing). Leading web retailers are already exploiting this opportunity. Fully one-quarter of European e-commerce is controlled by American e-retailers. American e-retailers are making similar inroads in Latin America, and everyone concedes that China's e-commerce market will soon overtake ours in size, and American merchants want a piece of that, too. It works the other way, of course. Already Chinese online retailers are setting up English-language web sites and offering U.S. consumers goods at prices that are hard for U.S. retailers to match.

No matter how large your e-retailing business is, the global market is calling. As we report on this move, we are also responding to it. Already, 27% of our research directory and database business comes from outside the United States, which isn't surprising since that is exactly the percentage of our web traffic that comes from abroad. As our best e-retailing sources are telling us, going global is not so much an option as it is an imperative.

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