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How Online Retailers Can Ride the Exports Growth Wave

How Online Retailers Can Ride the Exports Growth WaveIf you've been looking to grow sales for your ecommerce website, consider targeting the places where online sales are still booming: Spain, Brazil, China, Russia, and Mexico. Ecommerce growth rates in these countries are expected to far outpace growth in the U.S. in the next four years, according to a new report from Cisco, "The Global E-Commerce Gold Rush: How Retailers Can Find Riches Overseas."

America's ecommerce industry is no longer the startup scene it was a decade back. In the early 2000s, many U.S. business's ecommerce sales grew 30 percent a year or more almost on autopilot, simply because more consumers were getting high-speed Internet and discovering the convenience of online shopping. Those days are over now. But Internet use in other countries is still ramping up, so big growth still lies ahead, the report says.

It's also a good time to look at expanding into foreign markets because there is new federal support for small businesses looking to begin exporting.

Conquering foreign markets online isn't a snap, though. E-tailers face language and culture barriers that can doom their effort. How can you avoid wasting time and money trying to appeal to overseas shoppers? Here are some tips, both from the report and from my own research on the National Export Initiative

Start slow. Choose one foreign market to enter and concentrate all your resources there. You'll learn a lot from your first exporting effort you can apply to additional countries.

Do your research. Is there a country where your products are already being purchased online, even though your site isn't in their language? Look for where foreign customers are already showing an interest in your products.

Hire locally. If you want to conquer Brazil, you should have buyers and marketing expertise in that country. Make sure both your products and your marketing message are appealing and appropriate for your new market.

Know the culture. For instance, in some countries such as Korea and Japan, consumers trust brick-and-mortar stores' online sites more than pure ecommerce companies. Be sure to match your company's strengths to a country where they'll be valued most.

Get tech support. Usability needs vary between cultures. To really grow sales in a new country usually takes a separate, customized site designed for shoppers in the new place. For instance, Japanese customers expect to pay C.O.D. for deliveries rather than paying on your site, and in Germany customers prefer online bank transfers to PayPal. Make sure you can provide the payment mode needed.

Study global brands. If you're considering moving into a new country, see what the big names are doing to appeal to that audience. You'll probably get great ideas for products, packaging, and marketing.

Conquer cross-border challenges. New third-party providers such as FiftyOne and Borderlinx can help you figure the taxes, tariffs, and shipping costs involved in selling to your new market.

Take advantage of federal help. The National Export Initiative provides new funding to assist businesses in finding overseas buyers. Be sure to connect with available federal assistance at the Department of Commerce and other federal agencies.

Will you expand into new countries in the next year? Leave a comment and tell us your plan.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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