August 1, 2014, 4:48 PM

Global e-commerce: Big opportunities in most, if not quite all, markets

The CEO of an online retailer that’s actively marketing in 17 countries, with more to come, explains the key elements of his strategy. That includes knowing when to hit the “pause” button on markets that are too daunting.

Great marketing, inspiring customer experiences and rocking sales growth is only half the story in a global scale-up strategy allowing an e-commerce enterprise to thrive when the world of retail, technology, and rapid delivery for global consumers moves at a rapid clip.

I am the first to say “95% of success is showing up.” But the advent of better e-commerce platforms, cheap translation services and global provisions means that pretty much anyone can “show up.”  All the successes generated by launching new countries and new markets from cross-border commerce can be rapidly jeopardized with poor delivery and supply chain instability.  Without rock-solid delivery and supply services, you might as well BBQ the spent marketing and development money and watch it go up in smoke.

How does an e-commerce enterprise in rapid international scale-up mode embrace these business realities? As an international e-commerce platform for creating, selling and buying ideas on things that consumers love to share, use, and carry, I am tasked with scaling up our enterprise internationally.  We already market in 17 countries and deliver to 200, but this year we are in the full rollout phase of our marketing, sales and operations outside of the European Union and U.S.

My approach in 2014 is an agile strategy in gaining international access and continual investment in our platform technology to engage and retain customers and partners. My top three areas of focus to become a significant global player:

  • Keep it simple: Our platform needs to be simple to use. Spreadshirt, quite frankly, exists to enable the most efficient publishing of ideas on merchandise for purchase everywhere by leveraging our print-on-demand expertise. Our goal is to allow sellers the ability to publish ideas for sale in every country within seconds and eventually switch off the non-working countries later. It is imperative for anyone selling products across countries to keep it simple for teams to sell everywhere rather than simply restricting access based on assumptions that may not be valid.
  • Get everywhere fast: Shipping is a vital component in the supply chain and it must be fast, reliable and priced right. This year we added delivery to over 150 new countries.  Within weeks, we had to delist 10 countries due to fraud and delivery problems.  There were some nice surprises within the mix.  Some countries with small populations are doing very well.  Other countries like Russia had good sales, but we have put this on pause until we sort out delivery issues. Currently all of our merchandisers can easily and rapidly reach their customers and fans almost everywhere due to our explosive international shipping growth.
  • Grow the global footprint: Many of our key sellers build a fan base on global platforms like YouTube and Facebook—making demand truly global.  Notable huge audiences come from countries like India and Brazil where we see huge traffic. Eventually shipping will not be enough to satisfy consumer expectations; we will have to have a true footprint in those countries. Already 20,000 orders a year come from Australia, so we will be launching an Australian site and marketing this year. A demand-driven approach from traffic or shipped orders always governs our next steps.

 

Spreadshirt is among the few truly global enterprises in apparel and accessories; we are currently active in 17 markets, nine languages, and customers can pay in seven currencies. We receive orders from as far afield as Afghanistan and Singapore.

Regardless of whether the customer is from one of our key countries or one of those “shipped to” countries, we have to manage their delivery expectations and value. We intentionally locate facilities near our customers to keep them satisfied and meet their expectations and demands. For example, our Las Vegas facility reduces a day in delivery time to California compared with shipping from the Pittsburgh site. It is also ideally located for rapid and cost-effective distribution to Asia and Australia. Orders get to customers in Australia only two days after California for only $1 or $2 more.

Traditionally companies are wary of rapid international expansion due to the fear of potential of fraud or lost orders. Many countries are treated as guilty until proven innocent and are blocked from platforms.  However, the world is a great place and I can share that we gained more valuable orders than we lost due to problems. Glitches can be easily sorted out by switching off certain payment types, changing a shipping provider or turning off a whole country.

Our approach is working: In just a few months of 2014, after adding 150 ship-to countries and allowing access to over 200 countries for our direct customers and our 70,000-plus sellers, the trends are very positive and the outlook for the rest of the year is extremely optimistic. Each week, several hundred orders from the new countries are coming in. This reach puts Spreadshirt on par with retailers like H&M and Zara, and far ahead of most other custom apparel and accessory retailers.

In addition to increasing marketing activities in our core markets, new European regions, and new domains such as Canada and Australia, we are well poised to enter a couple of new and promising countries. The short list of countries with good web infrastructure and a growing e-commerce market include Brazil and India. Having spent time in both these countries this year, I can say there is a booming Internet audience waiting for quality services with local fulfillment.

Our goal and plan at Spreadshirt is to continue our global expansion via acquisition, access, and strong global partnerships with an eye towards local production hubs. I envision a happy future when everyone in the world can design or order merchandising, in the language and currency of their choice, and have it delivered within the week (North Korea and few other war zones excluded).

Spreadshirt, an online retailer of customized T-shirts, hoodies and other apparel, is part of sprd.net AG of Germany. It is ranked No. 379 among North American online retailers in the 2014 Top 500 and No. 218 in the Europe 500.

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