International Expansion: Going Global Online


In just a couple of years we’ll be celebrating 20th Anniversary of the first Internet sale. Since 1994 more than 90% of businesses claimed their spot in the celestial space called e-commerce. While International Expansion became an available option for enormously large corporations likewise mom-and-pop shops it also presented a big range of obstacles and missteps. Savvy ventures with lateral thinking made millions right in front of our eyes but even bigger number of online enterprises disappeared from the face of the Internet faster, than my teenagers can spend their Christmas money. So what is a survival plan? The good news is that while other industries sunk under fathomless water of global economy crisis e-commerce sailed through like an icebreaker, reaching year of 2011 with solid profitability marking whooping $816 millions over Black Friday in the United States along. And this fact proves once again that going Global is not only an option, but almost a necessity for majority of online retailers.

Almost anyone would agree, that the beauty of e-commerce lays not only in its growing money-making potential. The main ingredient of its powerful success is the instantaneous global audience exposure with its unlimited opportunities to expand. The World becomes smaller by the minute as we pushing the boundaries with innovative technologies that intrudes our lives whether we want it or not. And it seems only natural to explore the new horizons to see what markets out there that desperately awaiting on our products and services.

But being exposed and commercially appeal to that audience are two different matters, and expanding internationally means a lot of homework for companies ready to launch their intercontinental web-selling machines. Twisting whirls of unknown traditions or national mentality can send underwater even most comprehensive marketing plan. For example, a discount mark that looks so appealing to the eyes of Americans can create an image of an outdated merchandise to the eyes of Japanese shoppers. Colorful storefront with animated interface can seem destructive, to say the least, to a European shopper but have good influence on Chinese buyer who would consider less “fleshy” design as cheap and underdeveloped. Poorly translated websites with no localization often arise suspicion from native communities and thus hardly ever profitable.

Then there are differences in payment ways, sales tax collection, disclosures, privacy, security regulations and currencies. What could be defined as a streamline checkout process in U.S.A. is not necessarily the same transaction system in Germany. In fact, when it comes to online purchases so-called “giros” or “bank transfers” are payment method of choice for 85% of Germans. Or, let’s say, address format. In some countries like Ireland a zip code is almost non-existent which means that postal code that is often a part of completing an order is not available and the sale becomes void. Hence if your channels are not ready to integrate with local customs and preferences you might lose good chunk of a Global market.

Complexities comprehension is a strong base in developing effective International Expansion strategies despite many obstacles of today’s modern commerce world. A consultant or an e-commerce provider can make sure that your Global infusion does not get lost in translation. And even though it is extremely important to have every bit of a shopping experience ultimately localized, English is still a “lingua franca” for macro-commerce consumers and enterprises. Subsequently, by offering pricing for alternative currencies, adding some extra payment options and optimizing your site for local search engines you might prove that the contemporary market is larger than what you initially outlined in the demographic research section of your business plan.

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