By Philip Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt
Inspiring customer experiences, amazing sales figures and a savvy marketing plan, are only part of the story of a scale-up strategy for an e-commerce company when the world of retail, technology and rapid delivery to global consumers is moving so fast.
While I am the first to say “95% of success is showing up” the advent of better e-commerce platforms, cheap translation services and global provisions means that pretty much anyone can “show up“. All the successes generated by launching in new countries and new markets can be rapidly jeopardised with a poor delivery and supply chain. Without establishing a solid plan and network you might as well have thrown away the money spent on expanding.
As the CEO of an e-commerce platform for creating, selling and buying ideas on things that consumers love to share, use, and carry, I am tasked with scaling-up our company internationally. We are already active in 17 markets, nine languages, and our customers can pay in seven currencies. We also deliver to 200 countries from Afghanistan to Singapore. And this year we are in the full roll out phase of our marketing, sales and operations strategy outside Europe and the USA.
So how does an e-commerce company in rapid international scale-up mode embrace these business realities? Our approach is an agile strategy for gaining international access and continual investment to engage and retain customers and partners. My top three areas of focus in order to become a significant global player are:
• Keep it simple: It is imperative for anyone selling products across countries to keep it simple so that they’re able to sell everywhere fast rather than restricting access based on assumptions that may not be valid. Our goal is to allow our shop-partners the ability to publish ideas on merchandise for sale in every country within seconds by leveraging our print-on-demand expertise.
• Get everywhere fast: Shipping is a vital component in the supply chain and it must be fast, reliable and priced right. This year we added delivery to over 150 new countries. Within weeks, we had to delist 10 countries due to fraud and delivery problems. However, there were some nice surprises within the mix. Some countries even with small populations are doing very well. Other countries like Russia had good sales but had to be paused until delivery issues are sorted out. Spend time getting this right.
• Grow the global footprint: Many of our key sellers build a fan base on global social platforms such as YouTube and Facebook - making demand for their products truly international. Notable huge audiences come from countries like India and Brazil where we see huge traffic meaning that eventually shipping will not be enough to satisfy consumer expectations so the aim is to have a true footprint in these countries soon. A demand driven approach from traffic or shipped orders always governs our next steps.
Regardless of whether a customer is from an established country or a new market, you have to manage their delivery expectations and value. We intentionally locate production facilities in strategic locations to keep customers satisfied and meet their expectations and demands. For example, in the USA, our Las Vegas facility reduces a day in delivery time to the west coast compared to shipping from our east coast site. It is also ideally located for rapid and cost effective distribution to Asia and Australia. Orders get to customers in Australia only two days after California for only $1 or $2 more.
Traditionally companies have been wary of rapid international expansion due to the fear of potential fraud or lost orders. Many countries are treated as guilty until proven innocent and are blocked from platforms. However, the world is a great place to do business and in our experience more valuable orders were gained than lost due to problems. Glitches can be easily sorted out by switching off certain payment types, changing a shipping provider or turning off a whole country.
Our approach is working: the addition of 150 new shipping countries puts us on par with retailers like H&M and Zara and far ahead of most other custom apparel and accessory retailers. Going global has been a positive move and the outlook for the rest of the year is extremely optimistic. Each week, several hundreds of additional orders are coming from our newly listed shipping countries.
In addition to increasing marketing activities in core markets and new European regions opening up, e-commerce companies also have a couple of new and promising countries further afield to get excited about. The short list of countries with good web infrastructure and a growing e-commerce market include Brazil and India. Having spent time in both these countries this year; there is a booming internet audience waiting for quality services with local fulfillment.
Our goal and plan is to continue global expansion via acquisition, access, and strong international partnerships with an eye towards local production hubs. I envisage an online retail future where everyone wherever they are in the world can order merchandising, in the language and currency of their choice, and have it delivered within the week (obviously with maybe a couple of exceptions!).