‘Virtual’ Global Growth

U.S. retailers increasingly tapping into global markets via online efforts

Demand for American brands around the globe is getting bigger every day. There are currently more than 2 billion prospective global customers, and about 25% of the traffic from U.S. retail sites comes from international shoppers, according to industry experts, with Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Russia and Hong Kong currently the top international markets for U.S. retailers.

“Consumers around the world covet iconic American [retail] brands like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue that are just not available in the countries they live,” said Kris Green, chief strategy officer, Borderfree, an e-commerce technology and services company that works with U.S. companies to make sure their e-commerce sites don’t get lost in translation. 

In addition to handling the logistics of U.S. retailers global e-commerce operations, Borderfree provides market intelligence on countries worldwide. It also localizes the sites for international consumers so that Crate & Barrel’s Brazilian Web shoppers, for example, are greeted in Portuguese and are shown prices in Euros.

Marketing and merchandising to local tastes and preferences is critical to wooing a global audience. Retailers also need to be aware of country-specific shopping patterns.

“For example, Canadians tend to shop in the evening after work,” Green said, “Australians tend to shop on their lunch hour, and in markets such as the U.K., a ‘free returns’ message will have a positive impact on sales.”

Lane Bryant, the 800-store U.S. women’s plus-sized fashion retailer, started its online global push in 2011 after noticing heavy international traffic at its tourist-frequented New York and Los Angeles stores. The retailer partnered with Borderfree, launching in Canada.

“They have the scale and expertise that we don’t have in shipping to more than 100 countries,” said George Hanson, VP e-commerce, Lane Bryant, a division of Ascena Retail Group, Suffern, N.Y.

The retailer currently sells in more than 100 countries with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel and Mexico its biggest markets. Lane Bryant is working with Borderfree to grow its online global revenue by customizing its pricing in top international markets and tailoring its e-commerce marketing efforts, country by country.

“They (Borderfree) can help us understand local marketing practices, introduce us to local advertising agencies, online shopping engines and malls, holidays that matter, and influential bloggers who can help carry the brand message,” Hanson said.

On a category basis, Lane Bryant has already identified intimate apparel as a growth opportunity in global markets.

The plus-sized market is even more under-served overseas than it is in the United States, Hanson added.

Barbara Thau is a New York City-based business writer.

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