There has never been a better time to invest in your international e-commerce business; the international retail industry is growing 4x faster than domestic, and is expected to be worth £28 billion to the UK by 2020.
In order to grow an online presence and beat the competition, your business has to consider three key areas: Market, Brand, and Website, aka “The Mix”.
The Mix helps to inform development of an effective strategy for growth in international e-commerce. The most successful UK based companies which flourish in the international market achieve their growth through implementing variations of The Mix. These companies include ASOS, MyProtein, Boden and Graze. They have core values and clear strengths in their offers, including affordable shipping and safe forms of payment method. They know their market, they’ve developed their brand, and they have award winning websites.
Here’s a breakdown of The Mix to help you consider what areas your business could develop:
It is crucial to know the market, from customer attitudes to logistical practices. Once you have a strong position in your home market, you can make specific decisions and build your product around this. The most important markets to the UK in e-commerce are USA, China and Germany – what do you really know about these markets and how can your product infiltrate them?
Meet the market standards and expectations. Is the delivery trustworthy? Can you ensure delivery? If you are shipping internationally, and people in that country expect low cost delivery within a few days, are you able to achieve this?
Some countries have no trust in e-commerce or have low sales, such as Hungary. Consumers in Hungary do not purchase online as they do not trust the services. Despite it being the birthplace of the Rubik’s Cube, online sales for the toy here were the lowest, and the in store sales were the highest. Online consumers in Hungary therefore did not represent a large enough community and it was not worth investing in setting up an online purchasing system for the product.
Openness to Online
Consumers in each country differ in their preferences; there are distinct differences in each country’s openness to online and modes of purchase. Some countries will have different payment methods, or consumers will not use popular services that are used elsewhere, like PayPal. Selling Rubik’s Cube in India has its own challenges as the country is less open to online, with the majority of business done in cash. These factors need to be considered for each market.
Are you known?
A product needs to be tailored to its market to ensure fluidity between selling and purchasing. For example, the famous Rubik’s Cube is known by other names in other countries; it is called Zauberwürfel in Germany, and Magic Cube in China, and with the exception of India and South Africa, most of Asia and Africa did not grow up with Rubik’s Cube – the toy did not have the same cult legacy as it does in the US or Europe. All of these different factors were outcomes of market research and analysis – knowing the different markets ensured rubiks.com’s international success in online e-commerce.
Without understanding the market, businesses can fail majorly and lose millions, or even billions of potential profits. Take Mattel in China for example – in 2009 the House of Barbie in Shanghai closed after just two years of opening because the company did not cater their products or their brand to the Chinese market. For instance, the store did not recognise that the affluent Chinese consumer was more likely to purchase educational products such as books for their children, rather than toys. The interactive stations in the Pink Store overwhelmed customers and the communications were in American English, not Mandarin.
In contrast, Starbucks understood their market – Bubble Tea is a hugely popular beverage across Eastern Asia. Starbucks successfully infiltrated the Chinese market because they offered this drink to their consumers. Serving variations of coffee would not have been enough, despite the company’s recognition for it in the US and Europe.
Knowing your market can therefore make or break your company, regardless of its size and status in other countries.
Make sure your brand is in line with the current market and stay true to the core brand. This will set you up for a much stronger presence online. Websites should present a consistent look, but also reflect the requirements of each market.
Don’t be hung up on price, it is better to be different. Rubik’s Cube could never compete with the cheap mass market sites such as eBay, Amazon, and Toys R Us. Instead, the highest selling product on Rubiks.com is not the famous, original cube, but rather The Speed Cube – a niche product which has been specifically designed to turn faster, allowing “speed cubers” to complete it more quickly. The gap in the market for this new product was discovered when avid fans of the Rubik’s Cube concept were buying fake cube toys which turned faster. Once The Speed Cube was developed and made available for international e-commerce, Rubiks.com sold as many Speed Cubes in a three-day period as what they were expecting to sell over a 6-month trajectory.
Think about how your product speaks to its market. Think back to Barbie in China – Mattel did not understand that for the consumers in Shanghai, education and child’s academic progress was more important than fun and excitement in toys.
Endorsements are the most effective form. If you preach personally about how your product is great, chances are the world won’t listen. You need to ensure that you’re getting the right people to endorse your product through content such as third party bloggers, testimonials and spokespeople. And make those voices relevant to your brand. For example, puzzle reviewer Kenneth Brannon aka RedKB gave rave reviews bout the Speed Cube. This fired the new Rubik’s Cube product directly at its target audience and helped aid its phenomenal sales.
The customer is always right. You need to consider currency, language and support when designing your website. These factors need to be relevant to different countries, in order to generate a positive user experience. Go further and consider factors like mobile shopping – 60% of people in the UK and 75% in China use mobiles and tablets to search or buy online. Now that Germany and the USA are catching up, how will your website calibrate?
Offering local currency is incredibly important. Not only does it make it easier for the consumer, but it places their trust in your website and enhances your chances of them making a purchase. This relates back to logistics; understand what is important to each market. A faster and cheaper delivery is a key factor for consumers in Europe, for example.
It has to be right for the consumer to establish credibility and again links back to trust in logistics. Whilst Google can translate many websites into local languages, your website will be much more effective if the content matches colloquialisms and other vocabulary styles of that language. This is obviously dependent on whether your products are B2C or B2B, but getting the right words on the site is as valuable as the product itself.
Don’t risk alienating your consumers in their user needs, or by not providing appropriate, high quality support for customers. Even if the product is not what they wanted or expected, having the right online support to deal with their queries overrides this.
The Mix is a proven successful strategy for business growth. It is not a complex idea, but the more time and energy placed into The Mix, the more successful the future for international e-commerce growth for your product. It is not only important to implement these factors, but it is crucial to get it right.
For more information, download our FREE guide to international ecommerce