Three Things We've Learned About Emerging eCommerce Markets

As global eCommerce players like Alibaba and Rocket Internet have made headlines in recent weeks, there has been much focus on how eCommerce is emerging around the globe. While a lot of the media coverage has looked at the specific operations of these two players, it’s important to note some of the trends that are powering growth in emerging eCommerce markets. Below are two themes we discuss in our research — and one more that keeps rearing its head in the media:

  • If traditional retail stores don’t meet rising consumer demand, eCommerce will fill the void. In some emerging markets, the nature of the traditional retail market left consumers particularly ripe for eCommerce. In markets like China and India — which have highly fragmented traditional retail landscapes and few retailers with nationwide footprints — consumers in smaller cities have traditionally had little access to global brands. This situation leaves an opportunity wide open as the growing number of middle-class consumers seek out access to a greater variety of products. Even as eCommerce revenues have soared across Asia, few traditional retailers have been quick to embrace the new medium. Today, eCommerce in many countries across the region is almost completely dominated by Web-only players.
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eCommerce Evolution In Brazil

Many brands eyeing Latin American eCommerce markets look first to Brazil, and with good reason. Brazil is Latin America’s largest online retail market by a wide margin and growth rates remain high: Our forecast shows the market growing by a CAGR of 18% to reach $35 billion in 2018. 

As in every fast-growing eCommerce market, however, companies that compete in this environment face numerous challenges. Issues like complex tax navigation and the long path to profitability are well documented. In addition, companies need to prepare for shifts in what consumers buy online and how they make these purchases. The dynamics of online shopping are shifting.   

Our report published today on The Evolution Of eCommerce In Brazil (client access req’d) discusses five trends that will impact the online retail market in the country. While these same trends will play out in many markets around the globe, our report dives into how and when we expect to see shifts in Brazil. 

For example, in Brazil:

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Five Global Marketplaces All Brands Must Know

Global online expansion is not the same game it was just a few years ago. Today companies are taking a multi-pronged approach to international expansion and looking at a variety of different ways to tap into online shoppers in different markets. One approach that has been gaining momentum is the use of global marketplaces.

Traditionally dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses, online marketplaces have been extending their offerings for global brand owners. Brands today have a growing number of options to build out enhanced official storefronts on these global marketplaces, reaching hundreds of millions of online shoppers in the process.

Our report published this morning on Five Global Marketplaces All Brands Must Know (client access required) focuses on the opportunities and challenges of selling through global marketplaces. In the report, we profile:

Amazon. The giant of US online retail offers brands more than just a point of entry into the US market – brand store options are available in all 10 markets in North America, Europe and Asia in which the company operates marketplaces.

eBay. eBay's global offerings are growing rapidly: Current marketplace options for brands in countries such as the US, the UK and Australia being supplemented with new offerings in emerging eCommerce markets. The company has taken innovative steps to tap into the cross-border online shopper. 

MercadoLibre. This long-time leader in Latin American eCommerce has rolled out enhanced brand store options over the past year, opening up opportunities for brands looking to tap into the millions of new consumers starting to shop online in the region every year.

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eCommerce Evolution in Latin America

I just got back from a couple of days at eTail Latin America in Miami — it was my third year at the event and I always come away having learned an enormous amount from the other attendees. This year, some of the takeaways included:

Everyone’s talking about mobile, but the real shift is coming. The online retailers I spoke with had all either rolled out or planned to roll out smartphone offerings, but mobile investments overall are still quite small. Tablet commerce initiatives are few and far between. Retailers’ mobile revenues, while growing, are not typically at the same levels seen by many leading eCommerce players in Asia. This dynamic will shift significantly as both smartphone and tablet penetration increase: Across the region, penetration of both types of devices will shoot up over the next few years.

Payback periods on new eCommerce offerings remain long. A theme we write about frequently is the fact that businesses often assume short payback periods on new global digital offerings. The unfortunate reality, however, is that eCommerce initiatives often take many years before becoming profitable. This challenge is front and center in Latin America. There are some profitable businesses — the founder of Brazil’s Beleza na Web talked about how he got his company into the black — but many large online retailers continue to suffer losses. Businesses jumping into any of the Latin American eCommerce markets must be patient.

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Common Themes Across Three Global eCommerce Markets

Over the past few months, I traveled to several different eCommerce- and retail-related conferences, including events in Brazil, China and Colombia. The eCommerce markets in these countries are wildly different, yet a few common themes emerged at the events, especially in relation to omnichannel:

Retailers aim to leapfrog with their omnichannel initiatives. In all three markets, there are a number of traditional retailers that are just launching or building out their eCommerce offerings. Given that these retailers are starting with a clean slate when it comes to digital initiatives, they are aiming to forego the siloed approach that many US and European retailers took when they launched eCommerce. Instead, as these retailers look to develop or expand their eCommerce initiatives, they seek to create integrated offerings across all of their channels that emulate best-in-class omnichannel offerings around the globe.

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Four Takeaways From An Evening Of Omnichannel Retail In New York

Last night we held an event here in New York in which VP & Principal Analyst Peter Sheldon presented some of his recent research on the new omnichannel imperative.  He talked through the state of omnichannel retail today, why omnichannel is now essential for retailers and which changes retailers must make in order to drive their omnichannel initiatives forward. A few takeaways from the event:

Online sales and web-influenced sales now represent the majority of all retail transactions in the US.  This year’s $3 trillion US retail market is dominated by a combination of online transactions and offline transactions influenced by online research (our colleague, Sucharita Mulpuru, documents this trend in our cross-channel retail forecast). Peter pointed out that high-value purchases tend to be the most heavily researched, with some categories like cars seeing extraordinarily high levels of online research prior to purchase.

Retailers are thinking creatively about in-store pickup. Today’s in-store pickup initiatives vary greatly in terms of execution: Not every retailer has determined it’s best to place in-store pickup areas in the back of stores, forcing consumers to walk past a variety of potentially tempting products en route to the pickup area. In Canada, for example, Future Shop (a division of Best Buy Canada) offers items for pickup within 20 minutes of the order being placed online and provides a separate pickup area just inside or outside the front of retail stores. Consumers don’t spend precious time waiting for pickup and navigating to hidden-away pickup areas – instead, the idea is to provide them with time to shop after collecting their purchase.

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Take Your eCommerce Business Global With Our New Playbook

eCommerce revenues are soaring around the globe. This year, the US, Western Europe, and China alone will generate over $800 billion in online retail sales. Growth rates, too, remain staggering in many countries: China’s massive online retail market will more than double between 2013 and 2018, as will Brazil’s. India’s much smaller market will grow by eight-fold during this timeframe.

However, a litany of businesses have failed as they attempted to tap into shoppers outside of their home markets, with many large US and European brands factoring prominently on the list of casualties. eCommerce is no exception: Numerous eCommerce businesses have taken the plunge into new markets, only to find their offerings didn’t resonate with local consumers or they were outsmarted by much savvier local rivals.

What separates successful global eCommerce businesses from their counterparts? Which tactics have proven particularly effective for brands aiming to extend their reach into new markets? What are some of the most common challenges businesses tend to encounter? Our newly published eCommerce globalization playbook helps brands through the thorny process of global expansion. Clients can read our playbook for insights on how to:

Discover and quantify international revenue opportunities. Our playbook includes reports outlining the global opportunity and identifying how eCommerce markets typically develop with time. Our online retail forecasts for the US and Canada, Western Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America provide a quantitative look at market sizes and eCommerce trends in these regions.

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Three Days Of eCommerce In And Around Shanghai

A number of us from Forrester offices inside and outside of China converged on Shanghai for a few days last week for our annual Marketing & Strategy event. The trip proved to be especially timely given the extensive media focus on China’s eCommerce market with the recent news on Alibaba's US IPO.

My agenda was largely packed into three days:

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Creating Customer-Centric eBusiness Experiences In China

On March 19th, I’ll be joining several of my colleagues in Shanghai, China for our Summit for Marketing & Strategy Professionals. One of the themes we’ve been exploring recently is how the age of the customer translates in the Chinese market. During my session at the summit, I will discuss some of the following things that the most customer-obsessed businesses, and savviest eBusiness leaders, are doing to effectively compete in China. These leaders:

Understand their customers and use this information to be as relevant as possible. In China, a growing number of eCommerce players are using customer data to help drive sales online, for example, by providing detailed product recommendations. As in other parts of the world, however, many eBusiness executives in China are at the early stages of truly understanding their customers and using this information to be relevant in their daily lives. We’ll look at how some brands use customer data effectively today, and what some of the more innovative use case scenarios look like in eBusiness.  

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More Trends In Emerging eCommerce Markets

In our research, we’ve talked about some of the trends that mark early-stage eCommerce markets. This year I’ve been to a few events to talk about how different eCommerce markets are evolving – today we see that:

Retailers’ ownership of logistics networks is now widespread. The model of online retailers owning and operating logistics networks in emerging markets is well established. While there used to be a handful of examples to point to, it’s becoming increasingly common for a number of the top eCommerce players to operate their own logistics networks - Amazon in India is just one recent headline-maker in this area. Indeed, in the BRIC countries today, only Brazil does not currently see many of the leading online retailers operating their own networks.

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