Alibaba’s Tmall Global now features goods from 14,500 overseas brands, 80% of them selling in China for the first time.
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“Retailers need to consider the full breadth of the fulfillment partner’s solutions, rather than be swayed by the number of countries they service,” advises consultant Okamura. “It’s all right for a fulfillment vendor to be in limited markets provided their solutions can effectively be adapted elsewhere.”
Especially if they are to be a partner in developing a retailer’s international business rather than just a supplier. “Fulfillment partners are not there to just provide basic systems, they are there to help us position our products in a unique way,” says Flavia’s LaRusso. l
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park., Ill.-based freelance business writer.
The dos and don’ts of international sales
Successfully selling to consumers outside the United States requires more than just putting up a web site. Retailers need to consider quality, the breadth of items to be offered, and how much localization they want on their site for international markets.
When selecting inventory to be offered, selling low-cost commodities, such as t-shirts, does not always make sense, since most consumers can buy like items for a similar price locally. Instead, retailers are better served by offering higher-end best sellers and products unique to their inventory.
“The idea is to offer a killer product or something people outside the U.S. want, but can’t necessarily get at home, at an attractive price point,” says Steven Graham, executive vice president and chief technology officer for PFSWeb Inc.
Limiting the breadth of inventory also makes sense, at least until retailers learn the buying tastes of consumers in individual foreign markets. “Editing inventory at the outset is a best practice,” says Jim Okamura, senior partner with consulting firm J.C. Williams Group. “The key is to have discipline in the editing process, because the decision of what to offer is tough to make.”
The logic of taking a cautious approach applies to localizing a web site to a foreign market. Many retailers preferring a higher level of localization typically start with a landing page in the language of the targeted country and a shopping cart that calculates the total cost in local currency. In many cases, retailers will note on the landing page that product descriptions and prices on subsequent pages are in English. Doing so allows the consumer to quickly decide if they want to proceed and lets them know what to expect if they do, according to industry experts.
“If the site is primarily U.S.-centric, it helps to let the customer know that when they arrive at the landing page,” says Brent Rusik, CEO of Comerxia Inc. “So long as the customer knows they can navigate the site, they aren’t likely to abandon it. As sales increase, the site can be localized as needed.”
That is the position taken by Flavia Beverage Systems, which displays all prices and shipping costs in U.S. currency. “We just haven’t had the customer demand for that feature,” explains Frank LaRusso, business-to-consumer channel director for Flavia. “When we do, we will make the change.”
Flavia’s position supports the case that retailers venturing for the first time into international sales are no better off starting in English speaking countries than non-English speaking countries. “Generating international sales comes down to understanding what your customer wants from your web site and what markets offer the best payout for the product being offered,” says Okamura.
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