July 3, 2013, 12:06 PM

A global perspective

Many IRCE sessions offered tips to help online retailers sell overseas.

Online shopping takes place just about everywhere these days, and that includes abroad.

That's why Tom Rath, CEO of golf equipment retailer Rock Bottom Golf, last month at the 2013 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition urged retailers to take steps to please global shoppers—even if those steps aren't extensive, expensive or executed perfectly.

"For Australia and New Zealand, we put a flag on the site," he said. "And we offer auto-translation for other consumers." Rath acknowledged that automated translation software is often far from perfect, but said shoppers appreciate the gesture.

Geri Cox, director of sales for Col. Littleton Ltd. Inc., which sells high-end leather goods and office accessories, pointed to several lessons her company has learned over time.

"We give a bag of coffee to U.S. buyers for each order, but not for international orders," she said. That's because customs agents in many countries reject food items, she said. She also learned that Australia and New Zealand ban imports of products containing lead and many countries' customs officials reject imports of products made using alligator skin.

Michiel Alting von Geusau, CEO of Docdata N.V., which offers fulfillment services in Europe, said that to break into those markets retailers need to understand consumers' expectations. He said Dutch shoppers, for example, are accustomed to delivery within 24 hours, so retailers might want to consider local warehousing to compete with established players.

Payment preferences also vary. In Nordic countries, shoppers often choose to receive an invoice to pay via services like Klarna AB. However, if e-retailers send an invoice to Southern European shoppers, they'll likely never receive payment, he said.

Zia Daniell Wigder, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst covering global e-retail, highlighted several U.S. retailers that are prioritizing Asian markets over those in Europe. Luxury accessories brand Coach Inc., for example, sells online in Japan and China, but not yet in Europe.

Asia offers e-retailers a wealth of opportunities, she said. For example, online sales for Single's Day in China beat Black Friday sales in the United States. Single's Day is a pop culture holiday for young Chinese to celebrate their bachelor life on Nov. 11 (or 11/11) each year.

Tmall, a major online marketplace for bigger brands and retailers operated by Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd., is a good entry point to the Chinese market for U.S. retailers, Daniell Wigder said. Alibaba also operates the larger Taobao shopping site that mainly attracts small sellers. It can be difficult and expensive for small retailers to gain significant online sales in countries that are not only far away but where their brand is not well known, she said. To get started selling abroad, retailers might want to consider selling on marketplaces like Tmall in China, Rakuten Ichiba in Japan and eBay in Australia, that are already popular with shoppers.

Daniell Wigder said not only do many consumers shop on Tmall, it also has amassed scores of products reviews. That's important, she said, because Chinese consumers rely heavily on reviews in their purchase decisions.



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