In his bestselling book ‘The World is flat’, Thomas Friedman describes the interconnected world in which we now live as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity. His book refers to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies, and individuals to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
This metaphor is particularly apt in the world of e-retailing which globally has already become a trillion dollar industry in its own right, with double digit growth expected year on year in the foreseeable future. Whether they like it or not, online retailers throughout the world all have access to a vast and growing global audience. And like it they should, not least since this universal reach represents a fantastic opportunity to make money on a global scale.
But online retailers with worldwide aspirations must first overcome a series of challenges before they can start to do so. For starters, there’s the issue of language. If they are to start winning business from overseas customers, online merchants must communicate with prospective customers in a language they understand – theirs. And whilst automation tools like Google translate are useful for ‘getting the gist’, for longer descriptive sentences they more often than not do more harm than good, which is why it is best to engage in the services of a native human translator for such work.
Mindful of the many languages spoken throughout the world, such an undertaking would be a herculean task, so it is probably best to begin with the obvious ones. For example, US e-retailers who take the time and trouble to translate their website into Spanish will then be able to reach out to not only the South American market, but also the 45 million Hispanophones living within the United States itself.
Then there’s the issue of arguably the most crucial stage of the sales process – the check out. Each market has its own unique payment mechanisms, so it is important that these be offered to customers ready to click the all-important ‘Buy Now’ button. For example, IDEAL has become the standard method of payment within the Netherlands, so e-retailers must offer it if they want to win more Dutch customers. As for Europe’s largest market next door, German consumers are not so keen on credit cards – so merchants must make it possible for them to be paid via regular checking accounts instead. Thankfully, a wide range of processing aggregators can help offer these and all other available payment options.
Finally, once an order has been placed, the sales cycle must depart from the hyper fast online world and engage with the more sedate offline one – the goods need to be shipped to the customer. This is where the whole process can become costly and excruciatingly slow. Customers increasingly expect that they receive their chosen goods the next day. If the merchant and customer are on different continents, the time taken to deliver the product can take weeks, not days, and international shipping fees and associated taxes can sometimes equate to more that the original purchase price.
However, by working with fulfillment partners in key strategic locations throughout the world, online retailers can outsource shipping and delivery to such companies, who can integrate with the merchant’s website, and dispatch orders on their behalf.
Going global is seldom easy, but can pay enormous dividends for online retailers that do. The world is indeed their oyster.