Putting Your Foot in the Virtual Door

Article by:
Hannes Blum, EO Victoria
Hannes Blum
EO Victoria

Hannes Blum co-founded JustBooks in 1999. He went on to serve as the President and CEO of AbeBooks Inc. after it bought his company in 2001. He remains an active investor in several Internet and consumer-related companies and serves on two boards outside of AbeBooks Inc. Hannes can be reached at [email protected].

If you’re like most people, you grab some coffee in the morning, switch on your computer and log on to the Internet. In a few seconds, you’re effortlessly connected to the World Wide Web and its global community. The very notion of international borders seems irrelevant when the Internet transcends them so easily. So running a global e-commerce business must be easy, right? Just build a website and off you go? Wrong.

There is so much more to global Internet retailing than what’s found on the homepage of your monitor. There is a mistaken belief that e-commerce operations can set up an office anywhere and start selling products to the world. The old saying, “fail to prepare, and then prepare to fail,” applies to this concept. Just like a traditional bricks-and-mortar company, an Internet business requires extensive analysis and research, local knowledge and local people before approaching a new overseas market. The preparation prior to the launch of a regional website can take years.

As the world’s largest online marketplace for new, used, rare and out-of-print books, my company, Abebooks.com, exists purely online. As part of our global marketing plan, we host five foreign websites that specifically target regional markets (Abebooks.com, Abebooks.co.uk, Abebooks.de, Abebooks.fr and iberlibro.com for the Spanishlanguage markets).  Although anyone in any country can log on to our website, we’ve developed a regional presence with regional content, making it easier for international customers to purchase a book. By maintaining convenient websites, we’re able to retain  our existing customers and lure in new ones. It also allows us to develop more effective relationships with the booksellers and book-buyers needed to make our online marketplace tick.

To build an effective Internet business, it’s important that the potential size of a market is properly assessed. Conducting research into each country’s Internet system, investigating the business structure, reviewing online buying habits and analyzing credit card usage is also important. And then there’s the postal system— online retailing requires a reliable postal service to be truly successful. All these questions should be answered before you give the green light to an online retailing business.

Once the decision has been made to enter a specific international market, you have the choice of buying an established web presence or creating your own. If making your own website sounds more feasible, test the country’s market through what’s known as a microsite, an off-shoot of a parent site. It will provide a wealth of feedback you can leverage when building a main website from scratch.

To ensure an online business is off to a good start, visit the country as often as possible. You will not only garner a greater appreciation for the community, but you will also better understand its commercial culture. Airports, air miles and Internet expansion go hand in hand.

Today, breaching international markets has never been more necessary. Creating a virtual presence in countries of interest can mean an increase in investments and brand recognition for your company. If you’re eager to spread your wings, consider putting your foot in the virtual business door today.

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