If you have a website, you already have global exposure, whether you want it or not. You are out there for all to see. So the question is, do you take advantage of the enormous international opportunities the web affords?
(Please read-on, or if you prefer click here for our webinars on the subject.)
Global web potential
If you consider the number of internet users worldwide, both Asia and Europe have far more than North America. And, look at the growth in other regions such as Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. Its almost double in each one of these regions, far outpacing that of North America.
This translates directly into opportunity for those companies that are willing to go after customers via the web in these other regions, and capitalize on the explosive growth that is taking place. While the growth in internet users is extraordinary, its even more impressive when we consider the potential for growth worldwide.
As you can see from this chart, North America has pretty much maxed out the number of internet users for its population. And, Europe will do so soon. But, look at the huge potential for growth in Asia and Africa. Internet use there could easily double or triple before they reach their growth limit.
Asia already has the most internet users, but these represent just a 25% market penetration rate. Clearly, the prospects there are staggering. This chart also shows the incredible opportunity for US companies to market internationally via the web.
So the question really becomes, do you take advantage of the enormous international opportunities the web affords? Is your international strategy simply going to be not to have one at all…or do you want to do what you can to attract and retain foreign customers?
Globalization is the process of optimizing your site for international visitors. It is typically done using a phased approach. This MASSIVE topic which is addressed in our three webinars on the subject. It can be discussed for days…weeks even! So, we only provide a high-level overview, plus some actionable information to improve your online presence for export marketing.
Enhancements – To start, you can do many simple enhancements that will have a huge impact on the way international visitors perceive your company, and your capabilities to do business overseas. These simple enhancements are very inexpensive — things you can easily do today, but will have an enormous impact.
Internationalization – When a company decides to put a little more time and investment into their globalization efforts, they typically move to website internationalization – a process that focuses more specifically on developing a website that is culturally neutral, and functional in any part of the world.
Localization – Then, following website internationalization, companies will often modify their websites for a specific target country, a process known as website localization. It includes, but is not limited to translation.
There are some simple enhancements that you can make that will have a huge impact on the appeal of your website to international visitors. One of the biggest complaints we hear from buyers overseas is that on many websites, its not obvious if the company is willing or capable of doing business internationally. Fortunately this is something that’s really pretty easy to remedy.
Contact us page – Consider modifying your contact us page so that it makes it obvious that you are interested in doing business internationally. On your contact us page:
- Don’t use general email aliases for information requests, like firstname.lastname@example.org. A much better practice is to have a specific link to indicate that you are interested in international sales for example have a link that shows international sales Tony@company.com.
- Better yet, create a completely separate page for international sales. This will clearly indicate that your company is interested in international business.
- Show your address as you would on envelope, except don’t use abbreviations because people in many other countries won’t know state abbreviations. And include USA in your address since a visitor from overseas may not inherently know your companies in the United States.
- Provide direct dial phone numbers in addition to domestic toll-free numbers if you have those, because toll-free numbers won’t typically work overseas. Use the international dial codes format for the United States which is +1 is shown in this example.
Inquiry forms – Make sure it’s very easy for an international visitor to ask for information.
- Don’t use auto-open email addresses. – Keep in mind that links that auto open e-mail often won’t work in foreign countries. Access to the Internet and e-mail is not as common in many developing countries as it is in the United States, and people are often working on computers or cellphones that don’t have an installed e-mail client, and will be using online e-mail systems like Gmail or Hotmail. This means that auto open email links will not work.
- Use online forms – Have available both an online form and an e-mail option, and I’ll show you some examples of this in a moment. If you do decide to include a form be careful in the design, and only asked for information you really need. Since this will be your initial interaction with this client, minimize the information that you request as you can obtain detailed information at a later date if you end up doing business with the person. A good example of this is street address – for an initial inquiry, do you really need to know the visitor’s street address in Japan in order to share information?
- Make sure you really do need all of the information you request for this initial interaction. This is important because in some countries you pay for the Internet based on the amount of time you’re connected. So, the more information you ask for the more costly it is for that international visitor.
- Don’t have too many required information fields. A good example of an inappropriate required field might be the one for zip code. Many countries don’t use a zip code at all, and the format varies greatly from region to region. The point is, if you include a required field make sure you really do need that information.
- Respond within 48 hours. Even if your response is that at this time you can’t do business with that particular country, you still want to reply to ensure you don’t potentially burn any bridges in the future. It’s just simply good business practice.
Internationalization and localization
Discussing all of the many factors associated with internationalizing and localizing a website is beyond the scope of this short narrative. However, these topics are covered in our related videos on Website Globalization.
From a general perspective, there are really three types of e-commerce sites out there on the web.
1. Information delivery sites are the most common type, particularly from a business-to-business perspective. In the business-to-business world, deals are typically done via real-time interaction, and not solely through the Internet. For the most part, these are the kind of clients with which our organization is engaged, so most of the information in this section is specific to business-to-business types of companies.
2. E-marketplace sites bring buyers and sellers together, such as may be found at machinery trader.com. They don’t typically enable the execution of a transaction online, but are designed to connect businesses with other businesses as opposed to end-users of products, although there are some e-marketplaces that are designed to connect businesses with the final consumer.
3. Transactional sites, like target.com. They enable full start to finish processing of an order including payment with little or no need for interaction between the company and customer. Transactional sites for international sales are not very common today, although in some cases it can make sense depending on your business model and global structure. Transactional sites can be a great option if you have a stocking distributor in the country. In effect, having a stocking distributor with a transactional website makes the actual sale to the end-user a domestic sale, and not really an international sale from the transactional website perspective. Transactional sites can also work well for intangible items, like software as a service, perhaps translation services and other products that don’t require the shipment of a physical item.
One best practice is to leverage the many existing online e-marketplaces that are out there in many regions of the world, for example eBay in France, IndiaMart, and AliBaba – currently the world’s largest e-marketplace. These can give your company great exposure to potential customers in other parts of the world, so take advantage of them. And they’re easy to find – just use Google, or the other regional search engines discussed in our previous sessions to track down the best regional e-marketplaces for your particular products.
No discussion about e-commerce is complete without consideration of the payment mechanisms that can be used.
Credit card use is pretty common in the US, where cards are pretty common means of paying for everything, including products and services purchased on the Internet. But, credit cards are not as common in all countries around the world, so keep that in mind when you’re considering international payment mechanisms… not just for the Internet, but in general as well. Credit cards also run the risk of charge-backs, where the customer electronically takes the payment back for up to 30 days after the transaction.
Person-to-person transfers, like those provided by PayPal, Google checkout or Western Union are great options but they limit sales volume. For example, today PayPal limits its transactions to a maximum of $10,000. Each of these person-to-person payment mechanisms has their limitations, so although in some cases they’re in excellent option, you need to review them and compare them to your business needs to determine if they’ll actually work.
Wire transfers and letters-of-credit are more common in global commerce, especially when it comes to business-to-business transactions. Your specific business needs will determine which payment mechanisms are most appropriate for your situation, and most companies end up using some combination of the three mentioned above.
(For further details, please view our three webinars on Website Globalization.)