February 25, 2014, 10:52 AM

Diving deeper on emerging e-commerce markets

In early-stage e-commerce markets more web retailers are investing in logistics, regulations are in flux and a good local lawyer is a necessity, says Forrester analyst Zia Daniell Wigder.

In our research, we’ve talked about some of the trends that mark early-stage e-commerce markets. This year I’ve been to a few events to talk about how different e-commerce markets are evolving—today we see that:

Retailers’ ownership of logistics networks is now widespread. The model of online retailers owning and operating logistics networks in emerging markets is well established. While there used to be a handful of examples to point to, it’s becoming increasingly common for a number of the top e-commerce players to operate their own logistics networks—Amazon in India is just one recent headline-maker in this area. Indeed, in the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries today, only Brazil does not currently see many of the leading online retailers operating their own logistics networks.

Certain categories continue to migrate online later than others. One of the themes we’ve explored in our research is how certain categories tends to shift online earlier than others: Readily comparable products like books and media or consumer electronics are typically some of the first purchases that consumers make online. Consumer spending in other sizeable categories like apparel and grocery tends to migrate online later. This dynamic has held true in most markets around the globe, although in some markets, like India, apparel has started to shift online relatively early. Online retailers are looking for creative ways to drive sales of high-touch categories such as apparel, with e-commerce players investing in areas ranging from virtual fitting room tools to fashion advice from couriers upon delivery of products.

Regulations are constantly in flux but essential to understand. At the end of a Shop.org panel back in 2008, I asked a group of US online retailers with global operations what one piece of advice they’d give to new businesses expanding internationally.  The first response was, “Find good legal counsel to help advise your company on local regulations.” This continues to be essential guidance, as regulatory issues remain front and center in many emerging e-commerce markets. In India, FDI [foreign direct investment] remains an ongoing drama while in markets like Russia and Argentina, the goal posts for cross-border e-commerce rules continue to shift. In Brazil, new regulations went into effect last year while in China, a new set will be rolled out this spring.

The nature of the competitive landscape varies greatly. In some markets such as China, the e-commerce landscape is highly concentrated; in others such as Russia, it remains fragmented. Equally diverse is the role that traditional retailers play in different e-commerce markets. In e-commerce markets like the U.S., the U.K., Brazil and Mexico, traditional retailers have a strong presence in the market, with many omnichannel retailers ranking on the list of top online players. By contrast, a look at the top e-commerce players in markets like China and India shows web-only players dominating the market with a small number of traditional retailers among the top few. The landscape may shift as more traditional retailers invest in e-commerce, but for the moment, assumptions about the competitive set will vary by market.

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