Online Retailing Goes Global: E-commerce Survey Explores Consumer Preferences for Product, Delivery and Communications

A retailer looking to expand its customer base will need look no further than its own Web site. Online shopping is now a global phenomenon. In a recent survey conducted with ORC International, which polled approximately 10,000 respondents from 10 countries, it was found that 93 percent of international consumers shop online – and they do it often. Nearly half of those had done so in the past 30 days.
The revenue potential is significant. Forrester Research forecasts that online retail sales in Western Europe, key markets in Asia Pacific and Latin America will expand 67 percent by 2015, while the U.S. is expected to grow by 42 percent.  
While international consumers have many common needs around online shopping, their expectations of the shopping experience and merchandise preferences differ. The challenge comes in learning to balance these similarities and differences. Focusing on the customer – what they want and how they like to shop – will provide the best roadmap for success in global retailing.
International shoppers agree on the basics. Seven out of ten rank competitive prices as top priority. Next on the list are broad selection of products; easy, intuitive checkout; and low costs for shipping, duties and taxes. Other important factors include an ability to track the order, a clear and easy-to-understand return policy and accurate estimates on delivery date.
Subtle differences in attitude and behavior among international consumers must be understood and respected, for missteps can become obstacles to purchase. For instance:
·         German and South Korean consumers place speed of online checkout process near the top of their list of needs (59 percent). In Japan, this is less important (11 percent).
·         French consumers were seven times more interested in the ability to track an order than Japanese consumers (37 percent versus five percent). 
·         Consumers in China and South Korea are twice as interested in accurate delivery date estimates as their counterparts in Canada (20 percent versus 10 percent).
·         A clear and easy to understand return policy was almost three times more important to consumers in China (36 percent) than to consumers in Brazil and the U.S. (both 13 percent).
According to the survey, top product categories for online purchases included books, videos and music (58 percent), computer hardware and software (41 percent), and consumer electronics (38 percent). Consumers in China indicated they are more likely to purchase apparel (58 percent) and footwear (53 percent) online. For retailers in consumer electronics, Brazil, China and the U.K. represent the best opportunities. 
The survey also explored the online shoppers' preferences for receiving information, promotions and other offers from retailers. Nearly two-thirds indicated they prefer e-mail communications. Twenty-five percent of respondents – representing millions of shoppers worldwide—prefer to receive information in catalogs and direct mail. Asian consumers are much more open to receiving promotional offers via text message and even via social media. 
Keys to Success
As the survey illustrates, a "one-size-fits-all" approach won't work for global online retailing. To succeed, U.S. retailers need to find a balance between the right product mix, competitive pricing and convenience, as well as the technology and infrastructure to support consumer demands in each market. No small task, but definitely achievable. 
For U.S. retailers looking to go global, collaboration with the right partner will be critical. By integrating third-party shopping carts and international shipping solutions, retailers can fulfill international orders much more cost-effectively. Shipping goods to centralized facilities in the U.S. can help eliminate the need for cross-border infrastructure and/or up-front capital investments — increasing efficiency and capabilities without risk or expense.
Working with solutions providers whose platforms are scalable and flexible enough to offer end-to-end support will help retailers increase speed-to-market and lower costs. With the right support, retailers can create an online shopping experience that meets the demands of the international consumer, no matter where they live.
Craig Reed is the vice president of e-commerce solutions for Pitney Bowes.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds