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Why is Global Ecommerce So Damn Complicated?

By: Howard West
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Few industries are being disrupted more urgently than retail. Headlines detailing a retail meltdown, price wars and mass store closures are now commonplace. The “retail apocalypse” has its own Wikipedia entry, and there’s a 14-year-old on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 2018 Retail and Ecommerce report.

If your brand is reliant on retail channels to sell your products, you have reason to be concerned.

How can you protect your brand against online disruption?

The first step is to gain back the control – take control of your ecommerce destiny, as I like to say (and discussed in a recent webinar I did with DHL). The reality is, the current disruption is creating a survival of the fittest and not all companies will survive. To stay relevant, brands must obsess over delivering value at every part of the customer lifecycle, with a direct-to consumer (D2C) ecommerce channel being the best tool for the job.

This is true whether you’re selling only in your home market or if your eyes are set on global domination. When looking to expand your brand globally, however, there are added complexities that need to be considered. It’s important to first recognize that expanding into new countries is more than simply taking what works at home and applying it to a new market abroad. The new customers you’re trying to attract have different expectations, and your brand must meet these expectations 100% or risk irrelevance. Too often I see companies focused more on demand generation activities tied to their new ecommerce channels, while falling down on operations needed to deliver a complete shopper experience.

This is at the heart of why global ecommerce is so damn complicated – it’s nuanced and specific, and it changes for every single country on the planet.

What do you need to consider before expanding cross-border?

If you’re a brand owner building your global D2C ecommerce strategy, here are some areas to focus on.

  • Billing & Payments – Do you have the right payment options for the markets in which you sell (or wish to sell)? In Germany, for example, consumers often prefer to pay by direct debit – not a debit card, mind you, but a direct debit from local German banks. In fact, most countries have their own nuances in how consumers are used to paying for online purchases. If you don’t offer their preferences, they’ll find someone who will.
  • Microtransactions & Wallet – How shoppers want to pay for your products or services is about more than just the ability to buy with their preferred payment type. Are you prepared to allow for new and different monetization models? For example, you may be able to convert more users by offering microtransactions or a freemium model vs. an all-in, one-time purchase.
  • Accounts & Entitlements – One of the key benefits of a direct ecommerce channel is the ability to build relationships with your customers. But if not taken seriously, you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity. What tools and staffing do you have in place to properly appreciate these new relationships and keep your loyal customers happy? Are you setup to meet local regulations on privacy and consumer protection laws?
  • Order Management – How is your order management going to flow? Do you have processes in place to offer localized languages, site flow, address validation and customer support? The tools and staffing necessary to manage every order through its lifecycle is often more than what is provided in your “typical” ecommerce solution.
  • Fulfillment – What is your plan for getting your product to the customer? Will you use off-shore or local warehouses? What are export and import regulations for each of your products? What are the import duties and taxes associated with each delivery option? Who is responsible to meet legal requirements, you or the shopper? What should the shoppers’ expectations be, and how does this all apply to returns? The complexities of cross border fulfillment are often overlooked, and can create significant pain for the shopper and risk for you, the brand owner.

With all the nuances associated with global ecommerce, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Many brands I work with are uncertain about these complexities when we set out to expand into new countries. This is why finding the right ecommerce partner and taking the time to get it right is imperative. As a brand owner, having a D2C ecommerce channel is now a necessity, and while gaining complete control over their buyer journey leads to tangible business results, it also comes with great responsibility.

My suggestion is to take an honest assessment of what level of commitment is required to be successful and what level your organization is willing to support. Don’t go it alone, find the right partner that will be accountable to your brand experience.