Disapproving neighbors…are still neighbors
International attitudes toward the US have been, some would say, challenged in recent years. This led us to launch a new phase of our BOXpoll research—we recently surveyed consumers in six other countries about their cross-border shopping habits and perceptions of US brands. The six are Canada, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Australia. Nothing against other countries, but in our experience supporting cross-border ecommerce for top brands and marketplaces, these are the top target markets for US retailers.
In this longer-than-usual post, we look at how international ecommerce has shifted during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and what that means as we start to see a post-pandemic future on the horizon.
What do international consumers think of US brands?
The US is anything but uncontroversial, but how much do international consumer perceptions of the US government and culture reflect on American brands? Note that our survey questions focused on retailers located in the U.S. and who ship to the consumer’s country (as opposed to being a US brand having a multinational presence).
- We found that nearly half (48%) of international online shoppers have an opinion—whether positive or negative—about US brands.
- The good news for US brands is that positive sentiments outweigh negative by a margin of 2:1 (33% to 15%, respectively).
- We’d be remiss to gloss over the other half (45%) of cross-border consumers who have a neutral perception of US brands. Those with neutral opinions should also be considered addressable because they may be more receptive to offers and product value than those who have a preconceived bias about all US brands in general.
- In all, 33% of consumers with positive perceptions and 45% with neutral perceptions nets us 78% who are addressable for US brands looking to expand internationally.
But perception isn’t everything
So, what does this mean for US brands and how should they weigh the importance of specific markets in their overall cross-border strategy? To create a more comprehensive view of how US brands should consider prioritizing investments in these markets, we developed a Cross-border Market Value Model using results from our surveys, our own proprietary cross-border network data, and experience, as well as third party market forecast data.
Measure 1: Brand perception
We calculated brand perception by weighting each response using a point system: very positive (5), somewhat positive (3), neutral (1), somewhat negative (-3), very negative (-5). Example: if 8% of respondents said they were “very positive”, then that index rating would be 40 because “very positive” has a weight of 5 and 8*5=40.
- When taken by itself, brand perception per country paints a picture that is very interesting, but admittedly one-dimensional.
- Consumers in Australia and the UK are the most exuberant about shopping US brands, while Chinese and Canadian consumers rank least positive.
Measure 2: Complexity to serve
Based on our two decades of experience in supporting cross-border ecommerce programs for marketplaces and retailers of all sizes, we ranked each of these six markets based on how hard & expensive it is to sell and ship to consumers. Some notes about each of these markets and our rationale for how we ranked them:
The whole world may not be an oyster, but understanding nuances of international markets could yield some pearls for US brands.
Measure 3: Market size and cross-border ecommerce purchase rate
Brand perception and complexity to serve are great leading indicators of success, but they both need to be grounded in actual performance that drives a quantitative forecast. To do this, we took a recent forecast from Statista (also recently highlighted by Shopify) around ecommerce market size and overlaid our own findings on cross-border purchase adoption from our most recent survey.
- We can see a direct correlation between perceptions and actions (and market complexity) among Chinese consumers regarding US brands.
- Actual purchasing behavior from Canada implies that a lack of choice among domestic retailers limits the downside of negative perceptions of the US.
- Meanwhile in Europe and especially Australia, higher levels of positive sentiment doesn’t necessarily translate into higher cross-border purchase rates from the US—giving greater credence to our ‘complexity to serve’ rankings.
Bottom line for US retailers…
Cross-border continues to be an area of opportunity for US retailers who are prepared to take a selective and measured approach to specific markets. Across all countries measured, 76% of international consumers have made at least 1 online purchase from a US brand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and cross-border shoppers reported spending an average of 35% of their total online purchases on retailers located in the US.
Looking ahead to a “post-Covid” world, consumers expect to continue to buy cross-border at these levels, both in terms of likelihood to purchase from US brands (78% vs. 76%) and average % of total purchase from US brands (33% vs. 35%).