April 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Casting a Global Net

(Page 4 of 4)

Like Canada Post Borderfree and Comerxia, Vcommerce says it expects to increase the number of markets it serves. "We`re pretty booked now with North America, Latin America and the UK, but if a retailer wants to go to Thailand or New Zealand, we`d build a presence there," says CEO Dan Clarke.

Bartlett, noting that Canada Post Borderfree plans to begin serving markets in Europe this year, says he expects 30% of his revenue to come from markets outside Canada within two years, up from nothing today.

Art.com, though it continues to handle most of its global e-commerce on home-grown systems, will consider outside services as it continues to grow, Marston says. He notes that Art.com`s call center services, for example, are not multi-lingual nor equipped to handle calls or e-mails form foreign customers. "As international continues to grow twice as fast as our domestic market, these are things we`ll be taking a hard look at," he says.

Without a doubt, international e-commerce leaves much to be improved, even by retailers considered in the forefront, experts say. One common shortcoming is that retailers fail to prominently note on their home pages whether they serve international markets; another is that they don`t display merchandise intended for foreign consumers with localized images or pricing, says Yunker, whose firm recently published the "2005 Web Globalization Report Card." Although Amazon and eBay may be leading the way in global e-commerce in terms of overall sales, they downplay their international presence on the home pages of their main sites, presenting at the bottom of the page only textual links, in English, to their foreign sites--an obscure display that could go unnoticed by a non-English-speaking foreign consumer who visits Amazon.com or eBay.com, Yunker says.

Growing competition

Lands` End is judged by many measures to be among leading international as well as domestic U.S. retailers, with five sites that serve markets outside the U.S. But its international gateway, with an English-language textual link in a navigation bar, is only slightly better than Amazon`s and eBay`s, Yunker says. He adds that Lands` End loses points for using American models in merchandise displays on its Japanese-language site.

By comparison, Yunker ranks IKEA, the Sweden-based discount retailer of home furnishings, as the leading international retail web site in terms of catering to local customs. Among its leading characteristics: an international gateway in the top half of its home page that lists more than 30 foreign-market sites with links written in the local language. Models in merchandise displays appear to be natives, he adds.

Competition for international sales will only continue, both from online retailers based in the U.S. and those based abroad, Art.com`s Marston says. Keeping on top of things internationally will be rewarding, but not easy, he adds.

"Retailers are getting more comfortable with it, and there are more tools that benefit the consumer and improve the international shopping experience," Marston says. "As we continue to grow internationally, we`ll look at specific regions and engage certain companies about the best practices and tools we can use. Art.com wants to be at the forefront of that."


Eddie Bauer takes the tri-channel road to global sales

When Eddie Bauer decided to enter foreign markets, it started out with a multi-channel approach. "Right off the bat, this model was focused on being a multi-channel retailer," says Mark Staudinger, vice president of international and technology solutions.

Although Eddie Bauer also ships to international customers through its U.S.-based EddieBauer.com, it has not paid much attention to building that site up for international sales. Instead, its foreign-market strategy is focused on two joint ventures it set up in Germany and Japan, respectively EddieBauer.de and EddieBauer.co.jp.

The retailer kicked off its foreign sites a decade ago in partnerships with German retailers Otto Versand and Heinrich Heine, and, in Japan, with Otto-Sumisho Group (itself a joint venture of Otto GmbH and Sumitomo Corp.).

The joint ventures develop a tri-channel approach to retailing, with stores, catalogs and web sites, all operated under the Eddie Bauer brand. While its partners in Germany and Japan operate the retail channels, Eddie Bauer controls its brands and merchandising strategies from Seattle. It also operates a sourcing and distribution center in Hong Kong, which supports both its U.S. and foreign operations, Staudinger says.

The joint ventures give Eddie Bauer insight into how to serve the German and Japanese markets that it otherwise wouldn`t have, such as knowing that Germans tend to return products frequently or that Japanese consumers needed a separate set of apparel sizes, Staudinger says.

As it considers serving other foreign markets, Eddie Bauer may replicate its joint venture approach if it feels the market is strong enough to support a major tri-channel presence. Meantime, it will also consider adding features to EddieBauer.com, like currency and language conversion, to support international sales. "We see a huge opportunity to improve on how we serve international customers," Staudinger says.

Eddie Bauer, a unit of Spiegel Inc., plans to emerge as a new company, Eddie Bauer Inc., this spring as part of Spiegel`s bankruptcy proceedings.

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