Looking to export through eCommerce? Planning is key to success. This article provides a road map for evaluating and choosing the appropriate mix of online marketplaces, self-managed transactional website, social media communities, affiliate sales partners, and in-country partners.
Last Published: 12/5/2016

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Before ecommerce became a true driving force in revenue, businesses had to choose between direct and indirect sales channels.  Now with eCommerce, your sales strategy has many more considerations, allowing you to take full advantage of its power and opportunity.  Choosing the right eCommerce channel mix depends upon your products/services and customers.  The mix you choose will form your marketing channel strategy.   Understanding what you are selling and to whom, is the starting point for your eCommerce strategy.  This will also later determine your strategy for blogging, social media engagement, direct and indirect marketing, and website content.    In other words, you need to know who your customers are and from where (brick and mortar stores, online marketplaces, social media, or direct from websites) they are buying.

Do you currently sell your products online in the United States?

If you have determined that selling your products online via transactional site in the United States is not the appropriate channel, then in most cases, selling online to overseas customers is equally inappropriate. In that case, you may want to focus  resources on hosting a more non-transactional or educational site. Such a site usually involves a listing of product specifications and sales contacts who can respond to  international visitor inquiries within 48 business hours.)  

Does your U.S. website already show up in overseas search engine results without your active use of online marketing?

You should conduct an analysis of your website traffic to first determine from which countries current website visitors are seeking your site. From there, register your company’s URL on the local search engines (eg: Google Spain, Baidu, Yandex). You can get a good idea of which countries your website traffic comes from by using freemium analytics tools such as SimilarWeb  or Google Analytics. A Global eCommerce Specialist can also perform a free Website Globalization Service that provides a comprehensive analysis of your website’s performance, with suggested corrective actions and customized tips to optimize your online presence.

Are you aware of the ecommerce channels (marketplace options) available in your target markets, and the associated costs?

Keep in mind the varying costs for a single and multiple market entries. For example, different marketplaces charge varying percentages of commissions, payment processing fees and inventory management. Solutions that reduce these costs such as embedded payment gateways may be found on your own site or through virtual bank accounts and tax filing solutions. See our “Getting Paid from Cross-Border eCommerce”  section for more details.

Is a similar product already available in overseas markets at a cheaper price than yours?

If the local market already has a product similar to yours, what sets yours apart from the competitors?  Conduct product due diligence on foreign search engines in your markets of interest to see if it makes sense for you to pursue new sales.  If English is not prevalent in your target market, make sure to translate the keywords you enter on these overseas search engines and online marketplaces, as potential customers are likely using their native language while they are searching. One great tool for translating keywords into target market native language is Google’s Market Finder , which also lists the popularity of the search word by the relative value placed on it.

Is your product unique and not readily found in overseas marketplaces? Consider a local partner.

A relatively obscure product - like filler necks for car gas tanks in the automotive industry - is one example of a product that is probably not readily available in overseas marketplaces.  Such a product likely has a highly-specialized and rare-in-numbers consumer base.  Therefore, it makes more sense not to start your own network, but to work with an established local partner’s  existing sales network and marketing strategy which is already tailored to that market. However, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers should first evaluate selling through established cross-border eCommerce partners in overseas markets.  These partners are already in country, and should already have the strong connections, marketing, and resources to sell your goods.  Additionally, if you have a niche product that does not have local competitors and for which customers will wait for the item to come from overseas, you may be able to build traction to your U.S.-based site.  

Is social media an ecommerce channel that I should invest in?

Some social media platforms are moving toward hosting eCommerce transactional solutions. This can be a great opportunity for U.S. brands looking to establish a presence by focusing on a small target audiences while building a loyal following through informal social engagement. However, be aware of the local culture’s target market.  Social media campaigns will likely need to be customized and localized for each country, and oftentimes require separate cultural campaigns and messaging within a single country.  It is important to be considerate of local traditions and sensitivities in order to protect your brand’s image in these markets.  It is highly recommended that businesses hire experienced local social media marketing firms to handle their business and brand messaging. Heavy industries (ie: machinery, aerospace, chemicals, etc.) can also benefit greatly from social media, although  not to the extent and saturation of the retail and consumer goods industries Many heavy industries have enhanced  their image and brand through thought leadership—such as publishing on business-related social media sites, maintaining a  YouTube channel for product demos, or posting content during industry trade shows on media sharing sites.

What online tools are readily available to perform a basic market analysis?

USG provided resources:
We always recommend contacting a local International Trade Specialist or Global eCommerce Specialist within the U.S. Commercial Service’s worldwide network to receive free counseling.  Through our International Expansion Blueprint service, our trade professionals can help map out a global ecommerce strategy and to determine which markets might be best for your product or service.  Also, you can do some preliminary homework by taking advantage of the Country Commercial Guides (CCGs).  Produced by U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, the CCGs provide the latest “boots-on-the-ground” market intelligence on more than 140 countries.​

Industry provided resources:
Watch our interview with Rakuten USA, a direct-to-consumer marketplace option for Japan.

Follow the U.S. Commercial Service on Twitter, Instagram (IntlTrade), and Facebook !

For Further Consideration :
 -  Identify eCommerce Market Opportunities
 -  Protect Your Online Brand
 -  Optimize Your User Experience (UX)
 -  Build Your Digital Brand
 -  Getting Paid from Cross-Border eCommerce
 -  Ship Your eCommerce Products
 -  Manage After-Sales Service
 -  Price Your eCommerce Products

Related Export.Gov Articles:

Choosing a Sales Channel: https://www.export.gov/article?id=Choosing-a-Sales-Channel

This Article brought to you by the eCommerce Export Resource Center

DISCLAIMER: Links to websites outside the U.S. Federal Government, or the use of trade, firm, or corporation names within the International Trade Administration websites (export.gov and trade.gov) are for the convenience of the user. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the U.S. Commerce Department of any private sector website, product, or service. When selecting links, be aware that you are subject to the privacy and security policies of the owners/sponsors of the outside website. Prepared by the International Trade Administration. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting http://export.gov/usoffices.

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