Recent research shows that e-commerce is thriving and that businesses are adapting to selling online - two thirds of businesses predict that up to 40 per cent of overall sales in the next 12 month will come from their e-commerce operations. However, the same research found that businesses are struggling to extend their online footprint abroad.
The survey, carried out by Coleman Parkes on behalf of Stibo Systems and digital agency Salmon, revealed that, although 67 per cent of UK B2B organisations already had online offerings and 72 per cent sell internationally, only 40 per cent are doing so online. This clearly highlights the fact that, although many businesses have invested in online, they have not yet taken the step of extending it overseas. So why might this be?
There are a number of challenges that B2B organisations in the UK seem to be facing when operating internationally, the most significant of which is the cost of service, encountered by 87 per cent of respondents. Trading overseas for any business has significant cost implications ranging from logistics, of concern to 49 per cent of businesses, to a lack of market knowledge, concerning 58 per cent.
However, while businesses may be rightly apprehensive about extending their online operations into the unknown, they should be aware that data, which they often already have, can help to bridge knowledge gaps. Yet in order to use this data effectively and widely in new territories, it does need to be in order.
With the amount of data flowing through businesses on a day-to-day basis, it’s crucial that they know which information will be beneficial to them and what they can afford to ignore. Consider, for example, what level and type of product information is most useful. It’s clear that customers have high standards that companies need to meet to ensure sales, so a business should already know what product data its customers value most highly. Whether they’re stock supply levels updated in real time or measurements displayed in both metric and imperial for flat pack furniture, etc, the details matter.
It should be remembered though, that one of the main rules of business is to know your market - this also applies to data. After all, product information is not always one-size-fits-all. What one online customer needs from their product information may not be the same as a customer in another country.
A business can shape its product information by considering what types of marketing are more successful in different countries for example, or where local SEO and regional translations are most successfully employed. Businesses need to utilise the market knowledge that they have gained over the years of selling through existing channels and integrate this into an online offering that works both at home and abroad.
By making sure that the right data is in place for its customers’ needs - which may be something as simple as providing them with local pricing - a business’s chances of success overseas are substantially higher. And not only does product information need to be in order, but touchpoints need to be clear and consistent to ensure that customers enjoy a seamless online experience wherever they may be logging on from and in whatever language.
The development and tailoring of an international e-commerce offering that fits into an existing UK solution can significantly reduce the costs of doing overseas business and serve as a business growth opportunity. With the right measures in place, taking a business’s e-commerce offering abroad should be manageable and - ultimately - highly profitable.
Creating consistent and relevant local versions, using a singular master data source should reduce the crucial cost of trade that is clearly holding back companies from doing business in other countries.
(To download the full research, go to http://goo.gl/DrknqM)