Finding Foreign Buyers Through eCommerce Sales ChannelsDecember 15, 2016
James Bledsoe is Deputy Director of the eCommerce Innovation Lab
eCommerce is the future of cross-border trade. Most conservative estimates posit that ecommerce will be responsible for over 50 percent of all global sales by 2020; this percentage is even higher in the retail sector. Around the world, 95 percent of the global consumers hold 75 percent of the global purchasing power—is your business in a position to connect with these online consumers? With ecommerce sales, it is not so much about finding the buyers online, but rather finding out where it is online that the buyers can find you.
Before you invest heavily in an ecommerce market strategy, I and my office of the ecommerce Innovation Lab, part of the Department of Commerce, recommend that you should first take time to conduct basic research about the existing ecommerce market for your products or services.
There are Country Commercial Guides available for you to use, as well as ecommerce-specific Country Briefs that will help you to Identify eCommerce Market Opportunities for your target markets. There are many online tools to help you find out which market is right for you; for example, Google’s Market Finder can help translate keywords into target market languages to see their popularity by the relative values placed on them.
I also recommend that for your online business you should work on an ecommerce strategy:
- Objectives: What do you want your online presence to achieve? Are you looking for an active sale through your website, or are you educating the potential buyer for a more passive sale?
- Resources: What are your contingency options for sales? The return-on-investment (ROI) you put into building your consumer networks may be months away.
- Target Market and Audience: Who are your buyers? Businesses? Young consumers? This will determine how you will approach your online presence.
- Competitor Analysis: Who are your closest competitors? What makes them successful online? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
- Website Feature List: Create a simple mockup of what functions and abilities you want your site to have before you decide on a professional web developer to help you.
Next, you will want to Choose the Right Channel Mix of ecommerce sales channels to pursue in your target market to help you be found by the consumers you are targeting. There are four general sales channels for ecommerce:
- Your Own Website – you educate for a passive sale or actively process sales through your own website. This can be your US-based site, or a country-specific site through your web developer.
- Online Marketplaces – Amazon, eBay, Baidu, Mercado Livre.
- Third Party Distributor – they will sell your products through their website, utilizing their existing in-country sales and marketing networks.
- Social Media – a great opportunity to establish a presence/brand, but be sure to use a local marketing firm that is aware of and sensitive to local culture and traditions.
I don’t recommend that you solely focus on one ecommerce sales channel, but rather choose the right mixture of sales channels for your business. For example,70 percent your own website, 20 percent online marketplaces, 10 percent social media; or 40 percent online marketplaces, 50 percent third party distributor, 10 percent social media, for example. In other words, cast the widest (and smartest) net possible to establish yourself in online positions where your consumers frequently visit.
My best advice for businesses looking for online buyers, both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C), is to work with a local distributor to get established in that market. Local partners have the existing marketing infrastructure that you don’t have to invest in, the existing customer networks that you don’t have to build, and most importantly, the local recognition and reputation that you don’t need to establish outside of your product/brand. There are Matchmaking Services that our International Trade Specialists can assist you in finding the right in-country partner through our 85 overseas U.S. Embassy postings. You should also consider contacting your nearest trained Global eCommerce Specialist for free counselling to help you develop your eCommerce strategy and guide you through the cross-border ecommerce landscape.
For more information on resources available to find reliable partners and foreign buyers, see the Exporting Basics videos on Finding Foreign Buyers.The videos discuss the many ways to find foreign buyers, including: using local sales representatives, taking advantage of customized exporting services, attending trade shows or trade missions, and connecting through ecommerce.