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The golden rule to successful internationalisation

It was not so many years ago, before Amazon had a Dutch online store – I was living in The Netherlands at the time - I would make my orders on one of their other international sites.  With no address verification we would have to try to enter our address details to fit the national pattern Amazon was then using – and labels were printed in the same local format, so that labels on deliveries couldn’t be machine read and packages were often delayed, taking weeks to arrive. Deliveries were lost, only to suddenly be delivered weeks after ordering when a replacement had already arrived.  The number of replacement and lost items, wrangles with customer service and the time wasted by both the customer and Amazon made the process fraught and meant I’d often look for another alternative before ordering from Amazon. 

Then Amazon upped its game. It started validating addresses, even those of international customers; using the correct local address format, partnering with postal services and tracking deliveries. Delivery times dropped from weeks to days. The whole process became as smooth as ordering from a local company. The consumer benefitted, Amazon benefitted. They had hit on how to go global by going local.

Retailers such as Amazon are successful internationally because they have understood that one size does not fit all, and have followed the golden rule of successful internationalisation. Here is how.

The golden rule: think global, act local – especially when it comes to data.

Across each border lies a whole new set of requirements and cultural differences which a successful organisation takes into account in their online offerings. Many differences can be obvious – different currencies and languages, for example. Others are less obvious but can lead to just as many problems if ignored – different address formats, other personal naming norms and varied preferred payment options, to name but a few. Retailers need to avoid alienating cross-border customers, and, as importantly, they need to give each user the feeling that their sites have been created with them in mind. They must be as easy for any customer to use and, importantly, to complete a purchase, as any local online store. They need to leave users with the desire to come back again, just as bricks and mortar stores need to do. In a world with over 130 address formats and 6000 languages, over 40 personal name formats and a host of other differences, care and planning are required for successful, rather than just sufficient, cross-border selling. 

You can find more information on understanding international data in this guide to understanding international addresses.

Though it can be tough to move into international retail markets, it can also prove to be very profitable for those companies that manage it successfully. Cross-border trading is growing. As the report mentions, Forrester's estimates that cross-border eCommerce will outpace domestic eCommerce growth to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 17% between 2017 and 2022, and that 20% of global eCommerce sales will be made up of cross-border purchases by 2022.

Though going global is an inevitable step for most companies, and data can be collected quickly and easily, good international data collection is a challenge. To achieve the same quality of international data as you would expect from your domestic data, ensure that you are prepared for all the diversity you will encounter, and utilise available knowledge and tools to achieve top quality data collection. Only in this way will you be able to act local as you go global. The Loqate Internationalisation Retail Index shows that it can be done.

Guest blog by Graham Rhind


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