Best-in-class retailers are considering the benefits of expanding their brand and inventory to international shoppers. While some merchants have opened brick-and-mortar locations overseas, others have begun their strategy by enabling e-Commerce purchasing and shipping to shoppers worldwide.
In this Q&A, Kris Green, Chief Strategy Officer for FiftyOne, an international e-Commerce solution provider, offers detailed insights into how retailers can plan and roll out an optimal shopping experience across international borders.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How can retailers decide whether going global is the most advantageous decision for them?
When deciding to go global, it’s important for retailers to understand how unique their product assortment is in key markets. Merchants also must consider how much of assortment can be availed, sold, and delivered for a fair and competitive price. Having that knowledge will allow retailers to create the right customer experience when they first turn the lights on in new markets, creating positive first impressions with new customers as well as customer acquisition teams for success.
RTP: Are there any notable “first steps” retailers must take before diving into the international retail market?
Taking your e-Commerce initiative global can have many advantages — but it’s important to consider all of the challenges carefully in advance. Talk to your peers and see how they’re doing it. Have they gone it alone or through partnership? Where did they see the biggest challenges and how did they overcome them? Although international expansion is still emerging as a strategic project of choice for many U.S. retailers, there probably is an array of other retailers in your category or network with first-hand experience, anecdotes and words of wisdom. Leverage their experiences to help drive your success.
RTP: FiftyOne specializes in international e-Commerce. What are the primary challenges for retailers attempting to ship internationally via their e-Commerce site?
The biggest challenges retailers face are mainly focused on the need to document and categorize new dimensions of merchandise data to meet the requirements of various U.S. export and international import laws and procedures. Some factors that aren’t considered when only selling and shipping in the U.S. can be the difference in a package making it through customs or not internationally.
The most elusive data point for many retailers is the country of origin of the goods they sell. While your buyers might be sourcing the same product from different countries at different times, your warehouse might have bins of a single product with varying countries of origin. Capturing and declaring the correct country of origin for all goods in all parcels can be a big roadblock.
Additional challenges to manage include:
- Estimating, collecting and paying duties and taxes to foreign revenue authorities;
- Managing legal and contractual export restrictions;
- Drawing back U.S. import duty on exported goods; and
- Adjusting back office order management systems to handle the input and storage of new international data elements.
Navigating the rules, regulations and processes for expanding your e-Commerce presence globally can be a multi-year undertaking if retailers try to do it on their own. And although the various rules and regulations applied to exports and imports can be intimidating, they are only success-limiting when not understood.
RTP: How can retailers ensure international shipping processes are easy for shoppers?
An efficient and reliable global logistics partner is essential. Hidden fees, unknown costs, and lengthy delivery times will create substantial dissatisfaction for international shoppers. Additionally, high shipping costs are the single largest factor in online shopping cart abandonment. In fact, customers worldwide place just as little value on shipping costs as customers in the U.S.
Retailers must focus on diversifying and optimizing your supply chain so that you can offer reliable shipping options to your customers with costs that range from compelling to defendable. Additionally, for most merchants who aspire to manage global expansion in-house, understanding and managing legal and contractual export restrictions present formidable challenges. To ensure your international shipping program is frictionless for customers, be proactive and transparent. Understand any export restrictions on the merchandise you’re selling. Some items can’t be exported from the U.S. without licenses — or at all. For example, certain goods can’t ship via air or be imported into certain countries altogether. If you do sell such items, remove them from your international e-Commerce site. Making customers guess regarding what they can and can’t buy will create frustration.
Kris Green is the Chief Strategy Officer for FiftyOne. He joined the company in 2007 and has more than a dozen years of experience building, selling, and marketing technology solutions that facilitate cross-border trade. Green is a recognized authority on international ecommerce best practices and helps guide strategy for FiftyOne and its merchant community. Prior to joining FiftyOne, Green held key sales, product development, and finance roles at Canada Post Borderfree. He was instrumental in transitioning Borderfree from a fledgling start-up to one of Canada Post’s core business units. Earlier in his career, he was at IBM Canada where he consulted with enterprise clients on e-Commerce environment infrastructure and technology asset management.