woman looking at dress price tag with her cell phone


4 principles for reaching the global consumer

By Jonathan Kapplow, Senior Vice President, Consumer & Merchant Solutions, Pitney Bowes

Today’s consumer is a lot different than the consumer of 5 years ago, or even one year ago. Consumers today are making purchases both on and offline, through mobile devices, and even social channels from all over the world. Retailers are transforming their business strategies to engage these consumers, wherever they are, but not every retailer is seeing the payoff for their efforts.

For example, a very well-known online retailer decided to go cross-border. As they transformed their business strategy to engage cross-border consumers, they naturally opted for a business model that put an emphasis on transportation of their goods—because moving stuff from Point A to Point B is essential. No surprise, after launching the cross-border offering, the retailer saw very little business from the global consumer, plus an increase in abandoned carts.

Where did this retailer go wrong? While they introduced a cross-border solution, they completely left out a necessary emphasis around customer engagement. Logistics is important but only half the battle and maybe a little less if you have no one shopping on your site. Creating awareness and getting traffic to your site takes effort, and what works for your domestic site does not always translate cross-border.  Just having a presence and the ability to offer international shipping does not make a successful program.

When it comes to cross-border shopping, marketing is an essential. While the “what” may be similar to your domestic operations, the “how” needs to be stepped up. So how do you ensure your cross-border strategy is a success and not a flop?

Here are four principles to reaching the global consumer:

  • Provide an ease of experience. Cross-border shoppers are some of the savviest shoppers that I have come across. Most know the current exchange rates can make a pretty good guess on the costs of duties and taxes and are savviest in getting the best price.  So having your site be clear about this information is a first step in creating an authentic experience that will reduce cart abandonment.
  • Know your market. Who are you trying to target?  Females age 30 and up? Brand-conscious Millennials? Luxury-loving global travelers? What are your top countries? While I see China on a lot of retailers’ cross-border wish lists — Korea, Canada or Saudi Arabia could be huge wins for you as well. One of our retailers saw 55 percent of their 2015 “Cyber Weekend” sales from Korean consumers due to social media pick-up.It’s also important to know what your competitors are offering. Flash sale? Invite only sales?  Limited time deals? Use your unique value propositions and top sellers to stand out from the pack.
  • Meet them where they are. No one channel is right for a market or for a consumer. People search differently, some prefer marketplaces, some prefer dealing directly with their brands of choice. On a recent trip to China I met with an up-and-coming start-up that is using social media images to tag items for shopping. This ease of click to purchase is not unique to China but in this social media-centric country, it’s a strong partner opportunity for certain retailers. About 86 percent of Chinese consumers said they had purchased products using social media, as opposed to only 48 percent of global shoppers (2012 study by McKinsey & Company). On the flipside, Chinese consumers tend to check private email infrequently and are apt to miss emails from you regarding new sales.A good cross-border plan includes a variety of ways that consumers can shop. It’s more than a physical store and an online presence. Being part of the conversation means taking a look at the various options available by country and by consumer.
  • Test, test, and test some more. Consumer preferences continue to change, so your sites and your promotions need to change. This is one case in which “set it and forget it” does not work.  Mastering a testing schedule and discipline requires commitment. A/B testing allows you to try out some ideas on your web sites and truly see if there is lift.

I have seen retailers experiment with DDP presentment, shipping fees and returns. Successful retailers know that they need to be ready to act based on the results and not wait.

When you look at any successful cross-border business, you won’t drill down their success to their ability to ship between countries. You’ll likely note that in addition to an excellent shipping model, the brand has successfully engaged customers based on the individual’s market and shopping preferences, and provided individuals with a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience.  The rule that applies for domestic shopping and global shopping is the value of the customer experience is relevant no matter where you are in the world.

Can you deliver? Read more about today's consumers in the Pitney Bowes 2016 Global Online Shopping Study  today.  


  [This article first appeared in August 2016 issue of MultiChannel Merchant and is re-posted here with permission]