Choosing the right channels for international ecommerce

Retail is abuzz with new ideas around ecommerce, mcommerce, omnichannel and multichannel marketing. From click and collect on your commute to work, to same day or even drone deliveries, it’s obvious that the world is moving fast. Customers have more choice than ever before, and they have equally high expectations.

Managing this complexity and speed of change in your local market is one thing. But trying to do the same thing internationally can seem a daunting challenge – and often puts companies off embracing the opportunities offered by international trade.

Choosing the right channels to market for your products will depend on the maturity of your business. It’s an important decision to make early on, since there are so many supporting solutions now to make the journey to being a thriving international business a reality.

Obviously, retailers have an advantage if they already have a store network in the target country, especially when it comes to dealing with returns and having the credibility of being a recognisable brand.  Even if your company has only been operating as a concession, it will give you a head start.

But don’t worry if that’s not the case. There are easy ways to test the international ecommerce markets with a minimum of investment and risk.

To get started, you’ll need to be able to target customers through an online presence – and make sure they can easily find your products. You’ll also need to manage payments in multiple currencies, and deliver and manage returns, and ideally, communicate in the right language.

One of the easiest channels to use for testing the waters is an online marketplace. This gives your business credibility and reach. You can piggyback the stock holding and returns process, and there’s no need to worry about payment integrations.

Cross border trade is a big priority area for Amazon and eBay – which now reaches 233 million customers in 27 countries. A quick look at Alibaba’s recent performance shows that online marketplaces have an ever increasing role to play for successful retailers. Now the question facing retailers isn’t whether or not to use these marketplaces, but how to use them successfully as part of your overall strategy.

This is particularly true in China, where marketplaces such as Tmall should be the first stop. This huge online mall dominates ecommerce in the country, and hosts numerous “mini sites” for brands such as Nike and Gap. For foreign brands, it offers trust, reach and an established route to market. This approach has proved far more successful than trying to build a standalone website from the ground up.

So how do you make the most of selling via marketplaces? You do need to translate your content, but there are lots of fast and accessible options for doing this. For language, the key thing is understanding what is suitable for your product.

For certain low-value products, with a high turnover, machine translation would make sense. Investing in more expensive translation services for product listings would be slower, and might not deliver a return on investment. However, it’s important to remember that even the best machine translation options won’t give you flawless results, and there’s always a risk of errors.

If you have strong brand values, and brand saliency is a critical part of your offering then professional translations would be a better fit. There’s always the option of mixing professional translation with automatic options, depending on your products and positioning. There’s never been more flexibility in the options on offer from the language industry.

Marketplaces can also help smooth your path to global customers when it comes to logistics. For example, eBay makes it easy to choose which countries you can ship to and set up different international postage rates. You’ll still need to research local regulations in each country, including cancellation policies, and consider how to deal with customer service across language barriers.

Whether you choose to use Amazon, Tmall, or another specialised site, marketplaces can be an important part of your overall ecommerce strategy. They also offer a cost-effective way to tap into new markets. Depending on the results, you can decide whether it’s worth setting up a localised website or even a physical store in a target country.

Sectors: Online Retailing and Wholesale & Retail
Topics: Direct Selling and E-commerce
Export Action Plan