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E-retailers must make sure they've got the basics in hand before they chase global sales.
More than half of the largest North American retailers as measured by their 2012 web sales ship orders to consumers outside the United States, and even more are looking to tap into international e-commerce growth markets like Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
But there's more to selling online internationally than setting up a web site. Retailers need to make sure their orders get delivered to the customer, and that's not always easy, especially in emerging markets where the delivery infrastructure can be underdeveloped.
Solving the international delivery challenge starts with properly formatting mailing addresses according to standards set by local postal authorities. Experts say it is not uncommon for U.S. retailers new to global shipping to format addresses on packages designated for international delivery as they do in the United States.
That would be a mistake, says Charles Gaddy, director of global sales and alliances for Melissa Data Corp., a provider of data quality and address management solutions. "One of the biggest challenges retailers face with global expansion is taking a culturally relevant approach to each market in managing address and contact data," he says.
Address formats vary by country and Gaddy recommends retailers design their checkout pages to reflect that formatting. Addresses for packages sent to Brazil may have substantially more lines, for example, than the typical two address lines that appear after a recipient's name in the United States. For packages sent to Germany the street name appears in front of the house or building number, and the postal code in front of the town.
Besides smoothing delivery, enabling shoppers to enter their addresses in the proper format at checkout also allows a retailer to store the address in its proper format for future use, such as auto-filling the address for a repeat customer at checkout.
"For many retailers entering new markets globally, storing address data is an afterthought until it comes time to pull the data for other uses," Gaddy says.
Another barrier facing retailers in managing international address data is that residences in some countries may not have an official address. In these instances, Melissa Data cross-references the information the consumer provides with information from third-party sources, such as utilities or government agencies, to assign a latitude and longitude to the residence. The e-retailer can then pass this information to the delivery carrier to help it locate the residence.
"Geolocation can show the coordinates for where a residence is and map the best route to get there," Gaddy says. "We even use geolocation to map the most direct paths for delivery in the U.S."
Before any international shopper leaves the checkout page, the e-retailer should check the address to make sure it is valid. Melissa Data can scan an address for errors, such as an incorrect postal code or missing information about a street name, such as an omitted "Ave." or "Rd.", then auto-correct the error. Melissa Data's database, which covers addresses in more than 240 countries, can also confirm whether a provided address is in the correct range for the given street.
"It is costly for retailers to have a delivery carrier correct address errors or fill in missing pieces of data," says Gaddy. "If a package is sent with an incorrect address there is a risk it may be left at an incorrect location or end up lost."
Depending on the shipping method, if an international order is deemed undeliverable, it can cost a retailer more to have the item returned than it did to ship, he says.
Another address validation strategy retailers should not overlook is e-mail address validation, Gaddy says. Determining the accuracy of an e-mail domain can help a retailer spot potential fraud. That information can also help a merchant spot typographical errors, such as an extra space between the user's address and the domain name—an error that could invalidate an address.
"As e-commerce becomes more prevalent globally, retailers have a greater need for address validation, because there are so many data elements that go into delivery and marketing," Gaddy says. "Accurate delivery and marketing data is more actionable and increases a retailer's chance for success in global markets."
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International Delivery Considerations for Global E-Commerce – Presented by Melissa Data Corp.
Site performance equals profit. This white paper outlines the challenges of international data quality in terms of global shipping.