Meet the International E-Commerce Contenders

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In June 2012, Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) released some compelling numbers that serve as a wake-up call to any retailers that still operate under the belief that they don’t need to invest in international e-commerce strategies. The report predicts that global business-to-consumer e-commerce sales will pass the $1.25 trillion mark by 2013, and the total number of Internet users will increase to approximately 3.5 billion. And while the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan still top the list of nations whose consumers make the most online purchases, the study revealed that Brazil, China, and the Middle East are areas of significant opportunity for e-retailers. Is your online store prepared to meet the unique cultural and linguistic needs of these e-commerce contenders?

Brazil: Home of the World Cup and 2016 Olympics

Brazil is now the sixth largest economy in the world, and its fast economic growth is spurring business development, infrastructure construction, and a high demand for B2C and B2B businesses. The country will host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – a rare feat for any city – and needs to go to great lengths to prepare for the influx of visitors. Hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses are already working to establish themselves in Brazil. E-retailers are also quickly expanding to Brazil because, as eMarketer predicts, the e-commerce industry there will grow 21.9 percent by the end of 2012, and 34 percent of Brazilian Internet users, or 23.2 million people, will make online purchases this year alone. Portuguese remains the primary language of Brazil, but retailers should realize that most consumers in this country are at least bilingual. Other languages spoken here include Spanish, German, and several indigenous tongues.

China: Home of the discerning online shopper

The Ministry of Commerce in China reported that e-commerce transactions in the country totaled 5.9 trillion yuan in 2011, a 29 percent increase from a year earlier, and accounted for 12.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). E-retail is booming  – but sellers must approach this market with care. The Chinese evaluate products differently from Westerners. Online shoppers in China are savvy and require a clear return policy and product warranty before they check out. The one-size-fits-all model does not apply, since the Chinese range from poor rural farmers to urban billionaires. Overall, most Chinese consumers are highly sensitive to price. The most challenging aspect of reaching Chinese consumers: While Standard Mandarin is the official spoken language, a staggering 292 living languages are spoken in the country, not to mention varying degrees of dialectical influence.

The Middle East: Home of the luxury retail experience

E-Commerce in the Middle East is growing at an amazing rate. In 2011, customers in the region spent around $1.1 billion through the Internet. But by 2016, that spending will double to $2.2 billion, according to research by Euromonitor. This is being driven by recent relaxation of regulations regarding credit card payments online. A 2011 study by the Arab Advisors Group of Saudi Arabian online purchasing habits revealed that 39 percent of the adult Internet users in the country use their broadband connection specifically to buy products and pay for services online. High-end electronics are the most popular products bought online, followed by software, airline tickets, and hotel reservations. Middle East consumers expect top-notch customer service,  in their own language and customs. Online communication in the Middle East requires intimate knowledge of regional languages. While the predominant languages are Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish, there are many more unique languages and dialects spoken in the region. In many areas, the local dialect is mixed with one or more languages. For example, in Lebanon, French and English are often mixed with the local Arabic dialect. 

To successfully establish a loyal following in these emerging, fast-growth markets with complex shopping and linguistic preferences, businesses need to translate and localize their online presence with careful consideration for local habits. Just like consumers in the U.S., shoppers in these contending regions won’t purchase your goods if they can’t find you through an organic Internet search and understand your content once they arrive on your website. The best way to gain market share is to provide quality shopping experiences that make consumers feel included and valued. Approaching consumers in these fast-emerging markets using the languages they’re most familiar with is the key to winning and retaining business.

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