We’ve been having a series of conversations with brands and retailers recently about how to effectively plan for global online expansion. While approaches vary, eBusiness leaders cite similar challenges. In particular, two hurdles to successful international expansion tend to come up repeatedly in conversations:
“Our ROI scenarios are unrealistic.” In a survey of eBusiness professionals in the B2C space, we asked how quickly they expected to see a return on their investments in new global online initiatives. Over three-quarters said either in less than one year or in one to two years. By contrast, leaders of successful global eBusinesses frequently highlight the fact that payback on new initiatives takes at least two years, with many citing three years and up. As a result of this disconnect, eBusiness professionals overseeing new global businesses often find themselves falling short of expectations and struggling to secure the funds needed to succeed. Today, the mismatch between ROI expectations and performance is one of the leading reasons why new global initiatives fail.
eCommerce is becoming more globally pervasive. Therefore, retailers must continually adapt their expansion strategies to reflect changing retail consumption behaviors. But what makes a country ready for eCommerce? When making investment decisions, it's certainly important to get the facts about macroeconomic conditions, Internet access, and consumer market size. However, there is much more driving the eCommerce market.
In order for firms to get a full view of a country’s online retail readiness, they must also consider its online activity, consumer payment behavior, and postal courier infrastructure. In a recent study conducted by Forrester's ForecastView team, we investigated 55 global economies to discern the readiness of each eCommerce market. The underlying quantitative framework captures 25 variables under four pillars: consumer behavior, merchant adoption, macroeconomic conditions, and the retail opportunity. The analysis is distilled in the Forrester Readiness Index: eCommerce (FRI).
This is a guest post from Lily Varon, a researcher serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy professionals
Today, eBusiness professionals are struggling with how to engage their clients around the globe via a website that meets varying language and cultural needs. Additionally, they’re faced with deciding between the different technical implementation methods with language service providers. Forrester has recently published a report to help eBusiness professionals navigate the maze of solutions and vendors at hand to help implement their translation and localization strategy.
Before evaluating solutions and signing contracts, eBusiness professionals must consider these important questions:
What is the right mix of translation methods? There is no replacement for translation done by a professional translator in terms of quality output, but the sheer volume of website content, the increasing demand for quick turnaround, and the number of languages needed far exceed the capacity of using all human translation. Many enterprises use a combination of translation methods (e.g., human translation, machine translation, human-aided machine translation, crowdsourcing) to execute on their international initiatives and fulfill their translation needs while keeping project costs under control.
Is Jon Stewart’s recent online success in China a sign of new opportunities for non-Chinese brands? In China, the demand for global brands and content continues to grow - to the point that it has spread into new industries like comedy shows, where cultural cues are paramount to success. Jon Stewart is just one of many western icons with newfound success in China, all in part to the accessibility of new consumers through the internet.
Online businesses selling anything from humor, makeup, or shoes to baby formula can’t ignore these demands for their products in China: More and more consumers are exposed to global brands of all kinds through online offerings and travel. There are huge advantages to being one of the first brands to be noticed in the market, but just showing up isn’t enough. To be successful, learn from Jon Stewart and:
Localize your offering. Give your consumers things they can relate to and use. Jon Stewart did this by coming up with culturally relevant jokes about China’s culture. For retailers this could mean offering products that respond to needs specific to consumers in China, like Godiva’s Chinese New Year Chocolates.
Develop a fan base online. By giving your very social Chinese consumers a platform to talk about your brand, you can generate free marketing and new insights. Jon Stewart’s fans aggregate his videos in one place and work together to translate and upload subtitles on his video clips.
Last week Forrester published a report on the state of online retail in Canada. We surveyed 1,103 adult online shoppers in Canada to understand what challenges the Canadian public face when shopping online. We found that Canadian online shoppers have many complaints; among them high shipping costs and lackluster product assortments. Furthermore, Canadian online shoppers are acutely aware of the gap between the online experiences of domestic sites versus those in the US. Canadian sites are missing key online capabilities like free shipping, flexible pickup options, a stress-free return policy, and omnichannel payment options in addition to the obvious price discrepancies.
Some of the reports highlights include the following facts:
Shipping costs are too still too high. Despite the eventual arrival of Amazon Prime in Canada and the increasing commonality of free shipping thresholds, sixty-eight percent of Canadian online shoppers we surveyed cited that delivery costs are their primary concern when shopping online.
Product assortment online in Canada is lackluster. Thirty-seven percent of Canadian online shoppers say they can't find the products they are looking for online in Canada. Consequently, 32% of these frustrated shoppers ultimately end up buying instead from US or International sites and incurring the cost of shipping, custom duties and Canadian taxes.
About two weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Shanghai for Forrester’s first event in China, “Winning the Dynamic Digital Consumer in China”. (To read all about it check out Andrew Stockwell’s blog post here.) At the event I gave a quick presentation about the potential opportunity that retailers have to engage with mobile shoppers in metro China where nearly 100% of online adults have at least one mobile phone and more than four-fifths of those mobile phones are smartphones.
It is critical for eBusiness professionals to put mobile on the top of their to-do’s when creating their China strategy because of the huge opportunity to engage with consumers - and the fact that the market remains vastly underserved. After spending a week and a half in Shanghai and Beijing and visiting American and European retail establishments this proved to be the case - only a handful had any type of mobile offering. A few things to think about when considering your mobile strategy in China:
There are 1 billion mobile phone users in China, but 3G has yet to hit 25% penetration.
Free Wi-Fi is available nearly everywhere – malls, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, train stations and even in some taxis.
Unlike their U.S. counterparts, it is very likely that the first connected device for consumers in China is a mobile phone and not a PC.
There are specific opportunities for successful mobile campaigns. 39% of Tmall and Taobao’s sales combined were made on mobile devices on Singles Day (China’s equivalent of Cyber Monday).
Android is the highest adopted operating system by far.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Recently, I've been editing some reports on how consumers are using their mobile phones and how that has changed in the past couple of years. We only have to think back to the Nokia 6510 or Motorola flip phones that we were using a few years ago to see how the introduction of smartphones has changed our world. In many countries, people spend more time texting and doing other data-related activities on their phone than using it for actual voice calls.
And in many countries, the impact of mobile uptake and its evolution has been even bigger and more different than in the US and Europe. In the West, mobiles are often an addition to a PC or game console; in many developing countries, a mobile phone is the only device that most consumers own. This is reflected in the activities for which they use their mobile. For example, Forrester's Technographics® studies — involving 333,000 respondents in 18 countries — shows that Indian, Chinese, and Mexican mobile phone owners use their phones more to listen to music and play games than their European and US counterparts. [Note: this graphic shows selected activities from a list of possible activities]
Online retailers are rapidly adding emerging markets to their list of new global opportunities to explore, as these markets are set to take a growing percentage of global eCommerce sales going forward. However, it’s important to remember that Europe still ranks as at the most popular region outside of North America for US online retailers expanding internationally. The market is set to grow at a healthy pace over the next five years: Clients can read my colleague Martin Gill’s recently published forecast of online retail sales in key markets across Europe.
Some takeaways from recent conversations with online retailers expanding into and within Europe:
FiftyOne, the company that provides globalization and international logistics services to US-based online retailers such as Gap, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barrel, announced today that it is acquiring Canada Post’s Borderfree unit. Borderfree, one of the first organizations to play a role in driving cross-border eCommerce, carved out a niche for itself helping US online retailers target online shoppers in Canada.
A few observations:
The acquisition does not disrupt the landscape of solution providers. With this acquisition, FiftyOne boosts its Canadian offerings and takes a small competitor out of the market, but the acquisition does not counter any direct threat from another solution provider in the space. Other providers tend to focus on different market segments, for example, International Checkout counts hundreds of clients in the SMB space, while BorderJump focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean (For an outline of different vendors, clients can read our 2011 report on Using International Shipping To Reach Online Shoppers Around The Globe). Today FiftyOne does not face another rival with the same roster of large clients.