Three Tips for Successfully Localizing Your Global E-Commerce

Successful global e-commerce strategies start with the consumer. It's partly their ever-increasing expectations that are fueling the incredible growth in the e-commerce space.

For many brands, it has been possible over the past several years to create a simple cross-border online shopping experience for consumers in Canada, the U.K. and Australia. However, the market is now at the cusp of a new frontier, with more global growth and reach to gain access to more international consumers worldwide.  The challenge is to create deeper, more hyper-local experiences that consumers expect when they shop.   

While the opportunity for retailers and online marketplaces remains significant – eMarketer forecasts that global e-commerce sales will reach $3.5 trillion by 2019 – entering new markets is complex. To make international purchases not just possible, but probable for overall international e-commerce success, delivering what the consumers want and how they like to shop is a great place to start. 

We recently did a study with consumers in 12 countries around the world that revealed some macro-trends that you might expect, but the local nuances really are most interesting.  Unique shopping behaviors and desires vary by country.  This market-specific focus is what can drive success for your global e-commerce strategy.  We see three imperatives for brands, retailers and online marketplaces to be successful:

Master the basics.  While common barriers exist – high shipping costs (64 percent), additional fees owed at time of delivery (48 percent) and product delivery taking too long (39 percent) top the list – it is the hyper-local experience that consumers truly crave.  This localization is a barrier for both consumers and retailers. Thirty percent of global online shoppers said they would be discouraged from completing an online purchase with merchants that do not offer their preferred form of payment, while 29 percent said not being able to read a product description because it is in a foreign language is a deterrent.  Also, 27 percent of consumers said merchants not accepting their credit card and about a quarter (25 percent) of shoppers said pricing not in their country's local currency are deterrents. 

When it comes to convenience, returns need to be easy.  From our study, this is especially true for consumers in Germany, India and the U.K.  For a retailer, returns can be an operational nightmare, particularly when the transaction involves a consumer who is thousands of miles away from where that product originated.  There are many tactics retailers can take to address the basics, like working with partners to accept localized payment methods, subsidizing shipping costs to make cross-border purchases more attractive, and working with a partner who can help guarantee import duties and taxes.  These basic actions will help to make the transaction seamless to the consumer and will increase the likelihood of conversion.

Think mobile.  Consumers want to shop the way they want to shop, and increasingly that means shopping on a mobile device. Our study showed that 24 percent of global consumers are shopping on mobile consistently, with that trend even more pronounced with Millennials (ages 18-34) where 33 percent shop on mobile and in certain countries such as China and India where 34 percent to 36 percent of shoppers prefer mobile.  To clarify, these numbers reflect the disconnect between the desire to shop on mobile and the current experience delivered by brands and retailers. The mobile numbers could run higher when retailers deliver a better experience.  For cross-border shopping, retailers also need to ensure that the mobile experience is optimized by country, not just in their domestic market.  For example, if your mobile site runs Google Analytics, it won't work properly in China.  Savvy retailers that get these local nuances right will attract more consumers. 

Meet them where they are. Consumers in global markets are not necessarily coming to your website to look for and to purchase products.  In fact, only 44 percent are searching for products directly on retailer websites.  The vast majority (62 percent) are using search engines to find products, and that number is even more pronounced in Japan and the UK at 70 percent.  In terms of purchase behavior, 66 percent of consumers prefer shopping on marketplaces, particularly in Russia (78 percent) and China (76 percent).  And, increasingly, social is becoming a platform to reach new consumers, with countries such as India and Brazil leading the way with 38 percent and 21 percent of consumers, respectively, who use social platforms to search for products to buy.  Brands and retailers need to develop their strategies to participate across this web of potential global partnerships, while still maintaining an acceptable return on the technology investment required to integrate with them. 

Understanding local nuances is critical, but the true challenge in optimizing cross-border commerce is managing the complexity.  Staying current with technology and consumer demands is challenging even in domestic markets.  When you consider the cross-border e-commerce transaction, the complexity can become overwhelming.  Fortunately brands and retailers do not have to go it alone as there are ways to partner with experts who have access to the best technology while meeting localized consumer demands.

The opportunity in the global e-commerce market is unprecedented.  Taking advantage of the opportunity starts with understanding the consumer. To accelerate growth for your brand, take the time to understand the local market nuances and make sure to master the basics, think mobile and meet consumers where they are. 

Lila Snyder is president of global e-commerce for Pitney Bowes, a provider of global e-commerce solutions.
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