E-commerce similarities and differences around the world

by | Nov 23, 2017

Want to know how the e-commerce retail world is changing? I have a friend who ordered a fountain pen and some ink cartridges from Amazon last year. He was surprised the pen was relatively cheap — only $8 or so — but thought it was worth the gamble.

The pen and cartridges took over three weeks to arrive, something my friend didn’t realize until after he had placed the order. Long shipments are not uncommon for third-party fulfillment, like buying a used book from a used bookseller and not the Amazon Retail fulfillment center, but not three weeks. All was made clear when his pen finally arrived, and he saw it had been shipped from China.

He went back to Amazon to check, and saw that there were a lot of items for sale that were made in, and shipped from, China. Tablet covers, mobile phone covers, fountain pens, and so on. Not a lot of items, but enough to realize that Chinese manufacturers are breaking into the American market and selling products at full retail prices.

That means even more competition for U.S. retailers – but it also means increased opportunities, international style.

International e-commerce

These kinds of e-commerce situations are happening all over the world. Whether it’s Chinese manufacturers selling through Amazon, or American suppliers buying direct from the manufacturers via Alibaba.com, or even large e-commerce providers setting up warehouses in other continents as a way to easily ship online orders to other parts of the world. And in many cases, it’s all happening because those parts of the world are doing more and more with their mobile phones and other connected devices.

According to a recent Curalate.com article, Argentina has the highest mobile phone penetration in Latin America, and 17 percent of them used their mobile phone to make an order in the last 30 days. Similarly, Brazil is fashion mad, spending $18.8 billion in retail e-commerce in 2015, with 18 percent of that going for fashion and accessories.

And in 2014, four of the top 10 e-commerce sites in the world were based in the United States — Amazon (#2), eBay (#3), Etsy (#8), and Fiverr (#9); the other six were based in China, India, and Japan; three of those remaining six are owned by Alibaba.

E-commerce doesn’t live in a vacuum; it takes logistics to get all of those packages to where they need to go. In the last 10 years, logistics have resulted in growth and efficiency in the delivery of goods, whether from across town, across the country or across the world. Between e-commerce and logistic advancements, it’s incredibly easy now for small, local businesses to have a global customer base.

Reaching new markets

The global market is opening up and people in other countries are buying from the U.S. directly through e-commerce. For companies that want to reach such an international audience, this may mean doing things differently. Like finding new ways to accept payments. For example, in some countries, they also accept real-time bank transfers, mobile payments (think Apple Wallet), and direct debits.

It also means expanding your international search capabilities. That doesn’t just mean rewriting your product pages in other languages. It means hosting websites in other countries and having those websites run by in-country web, SEO and e-commerce experts. Google isn’t always the most popular search engine in some countries, and those other search engines won’t necessarily index U.S.-based websites and hosting providers.

There’s more to worldwide e-commerce differences than simply language and preferred devices, though. Every culture affects e-commerce in a different way. Grab in Singapore is more popular than Uber because it accepts cash and adheres more closely to the local cultural idiosyncrasies and sensitivities. In China, Amazon failed where Taobao succeeded because the latter ran as a marketplace that allowed for cheaper prices, while the former gained a reputation as being the more expensive option (Amazon had gone into the Chinese market as a direct-seller and hadn’t yet introduced Amazon Marketplace). Meanwhile, India’s e-commerce retail is 10 years or more away from reaching the status of American, European and Chinese markets because the country’s population is poor and fewer people shop online.

E-commerce is different from market to market, country to country. When you purposefully decide to go international with your digital retail strategy, know your market as well as you can. Your success on the international markets likely depends on it.

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Brandon Pierre

Brandon Pierre

Customer Success Executive at SPS Commerce
As a customer success executive at SPS, Brandon Pierre works alongside many retailers and suppliers to develop strategies to address their merchandising and supply chain business objectives. With more than 14 years in the buying organization at major retailers, he has experienced first-hand the opportunities of the digital era and how technology can transform the consumer experience through improved retailer and supplier connections.
Brandon Pierre

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