E-Commerce Without Borders – What It Takes to Cross Frontiers

Today’s increasingly connected world makes it possible for anyone to transact and do business anywhere — from anywhere. But just because we now increasingly live in a “global village,” that doesn’t mean place has become irrelevant. In fact, it matters more than ever. Despite the fact that we’re all aware of our global citizen status, the reality of consumer behaviors and mindsets means that people still retain a local perspective — especially when it comes to customer service.

How can e-tailers map consumer expectations to achieving their desired global e-commerce goals? Along with overcoming the complications around automating business processes across the supply chain and the need to accommodate new purchasing practices quickly and with ease, e-tailers have to navigate the challenges of territory-specific regulations relating to pricing, taxation and shipping.

What’s more, low consumer trust in cross-border purchases means e-tailers must demonstrate they understand — and can deliver against — local consumer expectations. That means delivering the content, product options and choice of multichannel services and payment methods that are appropriate to the territory and targets audiences e-tailers want to do business with.

Going Local

It’s true to say that doing business in international markets means recognizing that “one size does not fit all.” Because at a purely pragmatic level, uncertainty surrounding payment and delivery means consumers are unwilling to shop on foreign websites. They want the confidence of knowing the brand they’re about to do business with understands them and their market.

So, if e-tailers want to successfully enter a new geography, they have to be able to generate localized sites that are tailored and country-specific — populated with the currency, languages, order cut-off, delivery and payment options that are appropriate and relevant to the specific territories. From a competitive standpoint, they need to be able to achieve this quickly and without “reinventing the wheel.”

What’s more, when it comes to delivering that all important customer service, e-tailers require the ability to offer local call center numbers alongside other local support options that demonstrate their brand specifically operates in-country. In short, they need to create a local presence.

Managing Content

Handling different languages and local pricing, taxation and shipping legislation is just part of the challenge. To operate successfully, it’s necessary for e-tailers to have the capability to create a product catalog that’s targeted and specific to the local market — offering the right products in the right colors and combinations and configurations, while ensuring that sizing, weights or measurements are all pertinent.

In today’s visually led world, that will also mean displaying or demonstrating products with images and video content that are appropriate to and reflect the culture of the region — making the brand both accessible and relevant to target consumers.

And that’s not all. To enhance customer loyalty, e-tailers need the capacity to selectively build, refine and apply merchandizing programs that work in-territory, offering promotions and response mechanisms that reflect local consumer buying habits.

Achieving this with ease across all geographies means gaining mastery of the complexity of single-site, multi-site or multichannel communication and e-commerce strategies, while successfully managing all product-related data and content, in any language — ensuring it remains up-to-date, accurate and consistent, no matter how many country-specific websites or channels an e-tailer operates.

Taming the Monster

The more foreign markets the e-tailer conquers, the more languages, currencies, prices and different products there are to manage. If product data is stored in a variety of locations and in a variety of channel-specific applications and formats, retailers face a potential explosion of “data islands” that makes the expansion into near or international market opportunities costly, cumbersome and complex.

To achieve end-to-end global commerce that flexes with ease to support an expanding business strategy, e-tailers need to tame the many-headed data Hydra, implementing a single e-commerce platform that’s capable of spanning multiple brands, channels and audience types.

For e-tailers, this means executing the following:

  • Requiring multichannel support on a single and highly scalable platform;
  • Integrating the administration of all channels — e-commerce, mobile, call center, and affiliates — in one location;
  • Operating a single set of base data to enable the efficient administration of all content — including catalogs, products, images, product descriptions and specifications — ensuring consistent information, in any language, can be delivered to all channels;
  • Implementing an integrated content management solution for Web content that makes it possible to address the problem-free handling of multiple languages and currencies, regional product variations, local taxes and shipping options — making it easy to enter new territories without undue cost or complexity;
  • Achieving centralized product management to ensure consumers receive consistent information across any and all sales channels, regardless of language, without sacrificing the ability to provide local control of content for territory-specific merchandizing and marketing programs; and
  • Fully integrating the e-commerce platform with back-end systems, making it easy to add new product lines, new channels, and geographic-specific content and sales cycle workflows that support the creation of a highly targeted and personalized buying experience for customers around the globe;

Selling in the global village is easier said than done. A wide range of languages, currencies, taxes, user habits and brands — and their geographic spread — need to be brought together on a single unified platform. Once e-tailers are able to manage their e-commerce content efficiently, they’re free to concentrate on what really counts — addressing the local characteristics of markets to maximize brand reputation and revenue opportunities.

Carsten Thoma is president of Hybris US.

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