September 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

Foreign Affairs

(Page 3 of 3)

Where to begin?
Getting started can be one of the hardest parts of a retailer`s global trek, especially for smaller merchants. For help with this, Salamunovic suggests retailers look within first-at their analytics data.

For example, DNA 11 looked at countries it was already getting orders from, and countries that had high bounce rates. For example, if a significant number of French consumers are ordering from a retailer`s English site, that means that France is likely a good foreign market to enter, as consumers are already willing to overcome language and cultural barriers to place an order.

Salamunovic, who uses Google Analytics, also recommends using analytics data to check on bounce rates for foreign visitors. If many visitors are coming from Greece, but leaving right away, it might make sense to create a Greek e-commerce site, he says.

Salamunovic also uses Google to see the language on consumers` PCs. If most visitors coming from China have their computers set to English, a retailer might not need to foot the expensive bill to translate its site into Chinese.

While there are services that can make it easier to go global, it`s still not easy, and for some U.S. retailers the benefits simply didn`t come fast enough.

Goodbye, Britain
After investing four years and millions of dollars,, a handbag retailer, shut down its e-commerce site in the U.K. earlier this year. The company expected to use the U.K. site as a springboard into Europe, but the economic downturn forced it to pull back from that strategy, says Peter Cobb, co-founder and senior vice president.

Cobb says never broke even. He says it was expensive to finance heavy paid search campaigns to build its brand name, particularly when currency exchange rates worked against the retailer for most of the time the U.K. unit operated. He also noted generally higher costs for facilities and personnel in Britain.

"As you roll out country by country, you do need translation, you need customer service in the appropriate language, you need to file taxes in individual countries, and you probably want keyword purchases for each language," Cobb says. "Each country becomes its own little startup business."

Operating one startup is tough; many can create a monster. To make global sales a boon and not a burden, merchants must plan properly, set attainable goals, and take advantage of any outside help they can get at a fair price.

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