North America may be home to 195.5 million online shoppers, but according to the Small Business Association, only 28 percent of U.S. small businesses take advantage of this bonanza by selling their goods on the internet.1, 2
Here are some tips on how to expand your opportunities to the rest of the world, whether you’re new to selling your products online or you’re extending your e-commerce reach.
- Get on the forefront. Surprisingly, only 5 percent of U.S. small businesses export. So, you may have less competition than you think. Now’s your chance to get ahead of the curve yet again — especially because the international online marketplace is growing. A 2015 report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development projects that from 2013 to 2018 the number of global online shoppers will have increased 50 percent, from 1.079 billion to 1.623 billion.
- Find buyers for your company’s items outside of the U.S. North America may boast 195.5 million online shoppers, but it’s only one small piece of the overall world retail picture. Europe contains 273.9 million potential online customers, and 523.1 million people in the Asia-Pacific region report buying goods or services through the internet.3
- Grow the economy stateside. Studies show that small businesses that export sell more, create more jobs, and pay up to 18 percent higher wages than the companies that limit themselves to selling domestically. Higher wages mean happier, more qualified employees. And that means more people with the money to support you and your fellow small to mid-sized businesses.
Get in on the action
Clearly, thinking ahead means thinking globally. For some businesses, their first international lead falls right into their lap. Just by setting up their online store, they’ve opened the door to interested consumers on the other side of the world. If you’re looking for a way to build a more deliberate strategy, check out these tips:
- Choose your target. Looking for the best tactics for reaching an international audience? It depends on the market. Your first step is simply deciding where to begin. For many in the U.S., NAFTA makes it easy and affordable to start by focusing on Canada or Mexico. However, to make the most of your opportunities, consider your specific offerings and where they fit into the global picture. If you’d like some help, export.gov has put out a step-by-step guide for assessing the perfect international audience for your company, including links to lots of free market research.
- Tailor your selling strategy. Foreign buyers can happen across your company from nearly anywhere on the internet, but you greatly boost your chances by extending yourself to their home base. Research the most popular e-commerce platforms in your country of choice. For instance,Alibaba is huge in China, while Rakuten is Japan’s largest online selling destination. And if you’re reaching out to Indian customers, your best bet may be Flipkart.Although most research suggests that mobile shopping is the way of the future, the percentage of online sales conducted on mobile devices varies widely by country.7 For instance, mobile phones account for 50 percent of e-commerce purchases in South Korea, but only 8.7 percent in Canada.6
- Make use of free resources. For any small business looking to reach out beyond the U.S., the Small Business Administration can help. Get free counseling from export and industry experts. Download a customizable tool to hammer out your export planning. Learn how to apply for federal funding through your state’s STEP program, for services including website translation and export training workshops.And at export.gov you can download the U.S. Commercial Service’s free manual Preparing Your Business for Global E-Commerce.
- Have your shipping process ready to go. To expand your borders without breaking your stride, you’ll want to have your logistics already in place when the overseas orders start rolling in. Choose a shipping provider with a wide network and service options at every level, so you can accommodate customers whether they want their items right away, or they’re willing to wait for additional savings. From freight to flat rate to dangerous goods, you might have more international options than you think.
Expand your borders
Learn more about bringing your business to the next level by expanding online to shoppers around the globe.
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1 Froman, Michael, “What the TPP Means for Small Businesses,” November 28, 2015. Fortune Insider.
2 Galloway, Victoria, “Five Surprising Stats From 2014 That Will Help Shape Retail in 2015,” December 29, 2014. Smart Focus: The Message Cloud.
3 “Global E-commerce Sales Growth Figures 2014; Ecommerce Foundation,” September 17, 2015. About Payments.
4 Evans, Katie, “The number of global online shoppers will grow 50% by 2018,” March 31, 2015. Internet Retailer.
6 Keith, Maddy, “Global Ecommerce Sales, Trends and Statistics 2015,” September 2, 2015. Remarkety
7 Weissman, Saya, “The state of mobile in 5 charts,” April 1, 2014. Digiday.
8 Levy, Oren, “A Guide to International Payment Preferences,” April 24, 2015. Entrepreneur.