July 23, 2010, 12:10 PM

On the international front

While many U.S. retailers are still weighing whether to grow internationally, e-commerce businesses outside of the U.S. aren’t necessarily waiting around.

While many U.S. retailers are still weighing whether to grow internationally, e-commerce businesses outside of the U.S. aren’t necessarily waiting around. Quickly sprouting around international consumers are online stores from large brand name consumer goods makers to smaller e-commerce sites. And it may have taken about 10 years for flash-sale sites to develop in the U.S., but businesses have hopped on board that model elsewhere.

Take Turkey. A country with a population of about 77 million people, it had the seventh-largest online population in Europe numbering 17.8 million in April 2009, according to comScore. In that same month, Internet users in Turkey spent the most time online, 32 hours per visitor, and consumed the most pages, 3,044, than any European country. This past May, comScore measured Turkey’s Internet audience at 22 million, up by 25% from about a year ago.

In May, one of the top 20 most-visited retail sites in Turkey was flash-sale site TrendYol.com, which translates as trend road in English. TrendYol’s sophisticated-looking home page features a gold-colored Vespa parked in front of a boutique in black and white. The site attracted 623,000 monthly unique visitors and about one million monthly visits in May, according to comScore. Sales scheduled on TrendYol for the week include both international brands, such as American Eagle, as well as products from Turkish manufacturers such as a shoe maker NR.39.

I had a conversation about international online retailing this past week with Tyler Smith, president of Niche Retail LLC, an e-retailer which has branched out to offer e-commerce services such as order management, search engine marketing, customer service and inventory management to consumer goods makers. Smith made an important point that e-retailers need to approach each country differently, accommodating the different customer expectations of each region. In Italy, consumers use credit cards less frequently than elsewhere in Europe and expect to pay for goods on delivery, he noted. In England, retailers face higher return rates and higher logistics expenses. As Smith pointed out, retailers looking at international sales can’t just put up a translated site that accepts the local currency and expect to succeed.

In addition, retailers need to not only understand consumer expectations and practices but understand businesses that are already operating in other markets. But with some research, it can pay off, as international Internet users numbers grow and are primed for the convenience and benefits of online shopping.

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