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International Ecommerce: 19 Experts From 10 Countries Share Their Experience

International Ecommerce: 19 Experts From 10 Countries Share Their Experience

The world of e-commerce is becoming increasingly competitive. Today, developing an online store requires a regular analysis of the constantly changing market. Strategic monitoring is a real challenge, especially for an e-commerce business that is trying to go International. Each local market has its particularities, and online retailers need to know them to develop a coherent strategy to reach their target audience. Recently, SEMrush published an e-commerce study presenting trends of e-commerce in different countries and industries. This study revealed some interesting findings:

Direct traffic represents the most significant portion of traffic for e-commerce (42.1%).

Desktop traffic prevails for all the industries analyzed in the study.

Most e-commerce businesses do not invest in paid advertising, spending only $0-1000 monthly.

The electronics category is the leader in using the PLAs.

U.S. e-commerce leads the International market with 42.9% of organic traffic, followed by the United Kingdom (6.7%), Germany (6.2%) and France (4.5%).

“Free shipping” is the most popular keyword used for ads in English-speaking countries (the United States and the United Kingdom). In Germany: "Big choice" (big auswahl). In Italy: "Official website" (sito ufficiale). In Spain: "Best price" (mejor precio).

50% off is the most popular discount in the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Germany. In Spain, a 70% off discount is offered most often.

This study has shown that e-commerce strategies and customer behavior vary widely across sectors and countries. Therefore, adapting your strategy to local markets is a key step in International positioning.

To help online retailers understand specifics of foreign markets, we collected tips of e-commerce experts from different countries.

United States Australia United Kingdom Brazil Italy Spain France Benelux Russia China

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United States

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In the U.S., consumers are looking for both the lowest price and, more and more, the most ethically produced. There are grassroots movements around "Who Made Your Clothes" and other online goods, and consumers flock to that. They want to know who made it, why they made it and really connect to that mission. Then, you have to balance that with the U.S. society of convenience and speed - which in retail, means Amazon.

It is a balancing act for U.S. retailers, but more and more brands are understanding the nuances between selling on a webstore and selling on a marketplace, and how implementing the best SEO e-commerce practices in both can ramp up business growth very, very quickly (often in less than a quarter from what I have seen).

Think about your "why." The industry is overly crowded in the U.S., and PPC is getting more and more expensive. You need both a good quality product and a good story. Why are you selling this? Why did you make it? Why should I care? U.S. consumers are wooed by the Hero's Journey story - so tell it to them! Be honest. Be human. That's your marketing mantra.

If you have reselling items - rather than selling unique goods - you are going to run into trouble. Some brands do it incredibly well, but with niche industries like baby clothes. For most goods, Amazon will beat you out on price, speed, and convenience. And if they don't, someone else has already started selling what you want to resell. So, you are going to struggle to beat them out.

Great marketing is the key answer here, as well as re-pricing automation. But the best advice is to make your own unique goods, and have a real “why” behind your business.

Start local with advertising. Expand within the U.S. the same way you would to International regions. Get love from Houston. Then, expand to Dallas. Next, look to Kansas City. Regions in the U.S. are very different in terms of mindset, style and even sophistication with online shopping. Learn how to launch in a city successfully, and then expand.

Do not ignore the power of the people. Make sure your customer service team speaks English, and well. Make sure they are readily available to answer questions in U.S. times. And make sure they are falling on the side of the customer as often as possible. Word of mouth spreads fast. Bad customer service spreads even faster.

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My country, the U.S., is the 2nd largest country in terms of e-commerce sales which means you can access a tremendously large buyer pool and many opportunities exist for niche sellers.

With the large pool of buyers - and the fairly mature e-commerce landscape - competition is getting fiercer each year. Additionally, Amazon has emerged as the default trusted retailer to sell known goods. While you use to be able to survive reselling goods a few years ago, the future belongs to companies with strong brands and/or proprietary products. Without them, it will be difficult to differentiate yourself and build a moat that will keep out competitors.

My favorite e-commerce companies are ones that have a strong personality and unique product behind them. Take, for example, ManCrates. They sell gifts for men that are delivered in a wooden crate and opened only with a crowbar (which, of course, is included). They have been successful because of their uniqueness and their humor. Also because they solve the real-world problem of coming up with something cool to give to a guy in your life.

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The Asia-Pacific region, in general, has really boomed when it comes to e-commerce over the past 10 years. And for Australia, total online sales are expected to tip AUD$32 billion this year (2017). This will make Australia a top ten e-commerce country in terms of total online sales.

Australia has all the key ingredients to be a sound e-commerce market with 85% of the population having access to the Internet, 12.1 million social media users, 19.4 million mobile phone users, a GDP per capita of $88,000 and an urban population of 89%. Australian consumers are well connected, easy to target and easy to get products to.

Although Australia is a highly active e-commerce market, our market size is often the constraining point. With a population of only 24 million people, successful Australian e-commerce businesses need to look at overseas markets a lot earlier in their life cycle. While this provides a great opportunity for Australian businesses, it also means that an even steeper learning curve is required.

Many e-commerce businesses do not focus on the right things. E-commerce is all about the brand. It is not about selling products; it is about selling the lifestyle that your products enable your customers to have. This requires a strong investment in branding and ensuring your customer is at the center of everything you do.

As Amazon expands into more markets internationally (including Australia in late 2018), this means many e-commerce retailers will no longer be able to compete on price. Instead, they need to create crafted brand experiences and build a connected community around their brands.

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United Kingdom

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In my opinion, the UK offers some of the best e-commerce opportunities. Because the country is small, and the delivery network is efficient and highly-moulded for e-commerce, our buying habits have evolved to be e-commerce first, and high-street second. The UK population is impatient when it comes to purchasing - they want it all, and they want it now. Due to this fact, one of the biggest tips I can give is to take advantage of this impatience and incorporate fast and cheap delivery into your strategy.

I would recommend start up e-commerce businesses to avoid spreading themselves too thin and to focus on core strategy for the first 12 months to build strong foundations. A huge mistake I see too often is when start ups spend 100% of their digital budget on making their website look nice. Instead, use 10-20% of the budget on the website and 80% on generating high-quality traffic. You can then reinvest the revenue you generate from the traffic increase back into the design and let it pay for itself.

The biggest challenge for already-established businesses sometimes goes deeper than just digital. It is easy to turn a small speedboat, but much more difficult to turn a large cruise ship. Most established businesses already have fixed ways of doing things and are reluctant to change. In these situations, it is vital to educate and encourage the whole business to understand digital for a common goal of success. A very quick-win could be as simple as writing unique and detailed product descriptions, which shouldn't be too difficult for established businesses to dedicate some time to.

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The Brazilian market is huge, with 48 million buyers concentrated mainly in the south-east region (60%). The average ROI is well above the ordinary developed market ratio. The market is already settled in a marketplace concept. However, some niches still do not have a major player.

The Brazilian economy is showing growth signs after a profound crisis in the last 2 years. The supply chain is extremely developed, including payment options, logistics, platforms, and marketplaces. Taking these factors into account, it is possible to reach great results on the Brazilian e-commerce market.

One of the most important challenges for any e-commerce brand is the complexity of the Brazilian tax system. It is nearly impossible for someone from another country to fully understand its functioning because it is always changing.

Another challenge is the size of the country. Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world covering 8,5 millions of square kilometers. However, the infrastructure is not fully adequate for such a big country. The costs and transit time are high, and 50% of the costs are covered by the companies themselves. The port structure is also a little outdated. Some operations require a long time to pass customs control, which has a negative impact on the flow of goods.

The third challenge is the Brazilian consumer which have some specifics needs/wants. In Brazil, clients are not happy about using Paypal and Google Wallet, as it makes them go to another page to finish the purchase.

65% of all payments are made by credit cards with monthly installments (opting for as many installments as possible). Promotional offers and coupons are very popular and work as a great incentive, so it is important to ensure that your e-commerce site provides good offers.

Some of the best examples of Brazilian e-commerce businesses are Mercadolivre (one of the strongest marketplaces), CNova and B2W (two strong local players),and Netshoes (an online player who has strengthened its positions in the last 5 years).

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As far as I can see, there is still plenty of space for entrepreneurship in the Brazilian e-commerce space, but it is important to find the right niche. Competing with big brands may lead to failure. So, the first biggest challenge is to find a market with a good demand rate.

There are also some political challenges. The government creates barriers for small business instead of supporting it. That is why many entrepreneurs decide to shut down their businesses after a while. One of the examples is the ICMS tax; another one is logistics. Brazil is a continental country of such size that it is difficult to deliver products everywhere regarding the delivery time specified in the order. On top of that, freight prices are difficult to offset.

One of the main mistakes happens when people underestimate what is needed for a successful online sales operation. An e-commerce website demands great involvement and knowledge in different areas. For example, if you are an individual entrepreneur, you will need to have some knowledge in Communication, Digital Marketing, Logistics, Finance, Customer support, Administration, and Taxes.

Many e-commerce sites stand out thanks to consolidated and strong offline branding, well-known to the consumers (for example, Americanas, Walmart, Casas Bahia and Magazine Luiza). But emerging e-commerce brands can obtain great results too, especially if they find a niche (for example, Nerdstore and Wine).

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The Italian market of e-commerce is very specific. Two cities driving online business are Milan and Rome. These are two big cities with a large number of e-commerce consumers. In addition, buying behaviors are different between the north and south of Italy. In the north, people typically work from 9 AM to 6 PM with only an hour of lunch break. In the south, working hours are from 9 AM to 1 PM and from 4 PM to 8 PM. So, hours of online purchases vary by region.

Another feature of Italian e-commerce is the cash payment on delivery (CoD): people prefer paying after touching a purchase with their own hands. Credit cards are also used, but requesting a password or a pin (3D secure code) can be a reason for website blocking. In fact, prepaid cards (for example, Postepay of Italian mail) are more common and play an important role in the online world.

A big problem of Italian e-commerce is the low conversion rate. Today a lot of people surf the Internet without buying in online shops. Italian consumers love shopping at brick and mortar stores. So, the average basket in Italy is lower than on other European markets.

According to some Italian case studies, YOOX is the best e-commerce brand made in Italy. Marchetti found the "missing link" in the fashion field by buying clothes of old brand collections from Italian stores and reselling them online in the world. Today, YOOX Net-a-Porter Group is one of the most important players of the fashion e-commerce world.

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In Italy, the share of online users is much lower than the average number in Europe or worldwide. There is certainly a lot of mistrust regarding online shopping. Just think that nowadays cash on delivery is still among the most used payment methods.

A good analysis of the market and the competitors is an aspect that should never be overlooked. Then, you definitely have to consider that e-commerce is a company in all respects, with a lot of costs and associated investments. As a result, it is indispensable to have a long-term structured plan, with well-defined actions aimed at achieving profitability. Without a well-defined plan, it becomes a problem to determine the actions to be taken, such as defining resources involved in the project and allocating a budget for marketing activities. On the other hand, the challenge might be to conquer the largest market share in a particular niche.

One of the common mistakes is not investing solid and reliable resources in the development part of the e-commerce website. Traffic sources, advertising platforms, automation, UX enhancements, and various tools require ongoing technical assistance. Today, we can not count on the constant development and upgrading of e-commerce platforms on which websites work - it inevitably will mean depriving yourself of the market opportunities.

There are thousands of great e-commerce brands, but how can one not mention names like Amazon and Zalando? Customer service, tailored services, fast shipment, merchandise return, and flawless customer support are just some of the key factors of their success.

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In Spain, e-commerce represents an economic activity that exceeded 6,100 million euros in the third quarter of 2016 with a growth of 16.3% over the previous year, according to the CNMC. As a country that emits and receives travelers, activities related to the travel industry have the greatest weight followed by clothes, electronics, books, etc. 57% of e-commerce revenues come from Spanish websites - it gives an idea of how powerful this industry is in our country.

There are many players in e-commerce (such as PCComponentes.com, EfectoLed.com or MiFarma.es) competing with International giants in their market niche.

It is also worth mentioning that too many online retailers underestimate the investment in acquisition, conversion, and retention of traffic. Before launching an online store, you should not only assume the cost of development of the store itself but also find the right product and price, as well as promotion and optimization of the website. Only in this way can you achieve success.

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One of the particularities of e-commerce in Spain is the mess that we have at the logistics level: packages that arrive late, do not arrive at all, arrived damaged or messed up orders. Recently, I was at a conference where an expert in logistics, Carlos Zubialde, commented that 3 out of 10 e-commerce orders in Spain are not delivered. It means that, from 1 million orders, about 300,000 orders do not arrive to customers. They are not delivered due to logistical companies (delays, thefts, damages, inappropriate delivery time), but also because of buyers (they are not at home, they do not pay refunds).

If our market were more mature, that number would be greatly reduced, but unfortunately, this is our reality. The majority of Spanish companies are not prepared to absorb a flow of deliveries from big e-commerce like Amazon, Zalando or El Corte Inglés.

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Although the e-commerce sector continues to grow and improve year after year, it is still far from the penetration in other countries. Spanish online stores - except big players - still do not count on the SEO and especially on the CRO.

The average conversion rate in our country is around 1% and even less if visits come from mobile devices, which nevertheless attract more than 60% of traffic. Small online stores suffer from designs based on outdated templates and loading speed problems. In addition, only a few companies work on credibility and trust by using quality stamps, personalized photos and content appropriate for the target audience.

The biggest failures that we detect in terms of traffic acquisition are related to an inappropriate use of AdWords and Facebook Ads (poorly optimized campaigns at the level of objectives and segmentation). If we talk about SEO, beyond the basic on-site optimization, online retailers do not pay enough attention to common problems such as duplicate content, keyword cannibalization, page indexing, and website architecture in general.

The Spanish e-commerce sector continues to grow thanks to the apparently easy, fast and inexpensive set up of online stores, which allows many to embark on an e-commerce adventure. However, only those stores that work from the beginning on their positioning and invest in acquisition and loyalty, increase their profitability month by month.

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E-commerce in France is doing well with a growth of 14% between 2016 and 2017 for the first quarter according to the FEVAD. We also note the rise in mobile transactions in France during these months: mobile sales rose by 31% in one year, the revenues from mobile or tablet were also multiplied by 10 in 5 years.

The most visited e-commerce in France is Amazon with 23,499,000 unique visitors per month, followed by Cdiscount with 16,659,000 unique visitors and Fnac with 13,267,000 unique visitors per month.The best commercial website in terms of turnover was Voyages SNCF with € 3,430,800,000, followed by Cdiscount with € 2,959,000 and Vente Privée with € 1,950,000.

In the Ecommerce Mag June interview, the main e-commerce players identified the key factors that contributed to their visibility development. For Voyages SNCF: the introduction of "intelligent tourism" and the integration of bus and TER fares. For Cdiscount: product development (diversity, quantity, low price) and fast delivery. For Vente Privée: the European expansion strategy with the buyout of local players in events and cross-channel development.

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French people need a certain transparency on the products and on their origin. Today, many online retailers use the image of "Made in France".

With our Latin culture, we have a preference for contact and exchange. Therefore, the customer relation is essential: having a discussion by phone is reassuring and allows you to establish a closer connection with a brand. In addition, you have to take care of product reputation and brand image.

Quality is one of the essential criteria in the purchase process in France. In our market, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out by the price and the only possibility to stay ahead is to build a strong brand and remain close to customers.

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The important factors for positioning of an e-commerce website in France are the volumetry of product offer and the competition. Competitor analysis is important to capitalize on your strengths and identify categories where you will be most likely to achieve the first page.

The main mistake is to focus on the most competitive search queries. It seems to me more relevant to work intermediate queries to start generating SEO traffic. This strategy is profitable for business and can reassure decision makers.

Among French e-commerce sites, I find the progress of Cdiscount very interesting. They were able to improve their ranking by managing SEO issues that big websites typically have: crawl, indexing, and duplicate content.

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The maturity of the Benelux market is still behind the saturation of the e-commerce landscape in Germany, UK, and many others. This makes it an attractive market to sell in a fast-growing environment. Belgian e-commerce grew by 13,4% in 2016 and the Netherlands - by 11%, compared to UK and Germany with 10%. According to the “2015 global Retail E-commerce Index”, the Netherlands is ranked at the 13th place worldwide with an 8,1 growth potential and Belgium on the 9th place, heading up with 15 places compared to the previous year, with a 48,3 growth index.

Bol.com is selling in two countries, Belgium and the Netherlands, focusing on Franders. Although those countries have the same language - Dutch (in the Flemish part of Belgium) - it is a big mistake to think that you can reach the customer in the same way. There are quite a lot of cultural and linguistic differences that make an impact on the success of your online marketing strategy (SEO/SEA). At Bol.com, we adapt the website to each market.

An often overlooked aspect is the tone of voice of the local market. In many countries, e-commerce websites are gaudy with a lot of commercial offers to attract customers. Having this kind of website in Benelux could confuse or afraid customers. The Dutch sites are clean and structured. They are focused on people and guide customers through the buying process.

Another important factor for e-commerce development in Benelux is the delivery. Customers are used to having the most popular products delivered within 24 hours. We know some cases of online sellers who have doubled their revenue by adapting the 24-hour delivery time depending on product-price mix.

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In our country, the share of online shoppers makes up only half of all active Internet users. At the same time, Russia is one of the leaders in terms of growth of its consumer base. Therefore, the e-commerce market in Russia has good potential.

Given the size of Russia, logistics is a real challenge for online retailers. Working effectively over a huge territory is extremely difficult. This peculiarity encourages the expansion of large online businesses which try to increase their presence in distant towns through logistics. The level of competition is growing even in remote areas. Therefore, the "entry ticket" to the e-commerce market in Russia can be quite expensive. At the current stage, it is better to opt for long-term investments. Preparing a business plan based on a fast ROI does not make sense.

To be successful, it is very important to know specifics of your niche. As in other countries, the top-sectors of Russian e-commerce are very competitive, so you have to define very clearly what you sell, where and to whom. Online sales of certain categories of products are limited or prohibited by law - such as, for example, the sale of food products which is limited by a large number of regulations.

Our strategy is to expand and deepen our product range. With that, we have managed to position our brand as an expert in our industry. The diversity of products and the expertise are two levers that have allowed us to become a leader in our sector.

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We target a narrow range of goods which allows us to have a special status as a merchant. Being a Premium Partner of our suppliers, we have several privileges such as access to first sales of new products and quality content prepared by the brand. Thanks to this strategy, we have more loyal consumers and a higher conversion rate.

Regarding advertising, we focus on contextualization and targeting on social networks. We also use direct marketing in the form of push notifications and newsletters.

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In China, e-commerce sites have to be well supplied with products and regularly provide novelties, offers (often “1 purchased, 1 offered”), and promotions (discount codes, sales).

Alibaba Group (including Aliexpress and Taobao) is undoubtedly one of the biggest e-commerce leaders in China. Thanks to a wide range of products, everyone can find an article that meets his expectations in a few clicks. Besides, low prices encourage users to navigate on the website to find a good deal.

Today, a big trend in China is WeChat which is widely used by the Chinese. It has become a "must have" social network for all kind of brands and companies.

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The Chinese government strongly defends its market, so it is impossible for foreigners to hold shares of a company at 100%, there must be at least one Chinese shareholder. In addition, the authorized share capital requires huge investments.

One of the main differences between Chinese and European market is that in China everything is very veiled. A commercial offer should not only represent a financial interest, but it should also be consistent with their beliefs and philosophy. The Chinese value friendship, so negotiations are often accompanied by food, drinks, and gifts. It is another culture of negotiations, with its own rules and principles.

Another characteristic of the e-commerce market in China is a strict monitoring of web content that should be as decent as possible.

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