Reshaping Product Data for Cross-Border Ecommerce

Now is the time for companies to revamp their online product catalogs to align with global markets. Forrester predicts that cross-border ecommerce will account for 20% of online sales worldwide by 2022.

For retailers, cross-border ecommerce is an easy and low-cost way to enter new markets. Companies that want to leverage this shift have a growing need for efficient product data management solutions to control and customize their product data so it’s useful and relevant to customers worldwide.

Beyond translating product descriptions into different languages, retailers need to convert additional data like product specifications and sizing information to meet and conform to local standards. Cultural norms and local laws are also crucial factors to consider with expansion into new markets.

Ensure Relevant Product Data

As companies expand into cross-border ecommerce to reach international customers, it’s critical to localize product information across channels, including online catalogs and promotions. This includes updating product information with market-appropriate specifications, attributes and descriptions that make sense in multiple language and dialects. Sizing information may also need to be flexible to accommodate different systems of measurement, especially when it comes to clothes, tools, equipment and machine parts.

Returns are costly for ecommerce merchants. According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Postal Service, between $113 billion and $132 billion of online purchases were returned in 2017. Furthermore, a June 2017 survey by Narvar found 70% of returned clothing came back because of inaccurate sizing or color. That’s why merchants need to have tighter quality control over their product descriptions and specifications. While it is relatively easy to make returns domestically, cross-border ecommerce returns can be extremely costly for sellers and a pain for customers.

One way to target additional markets is to establish several versions of your website that cater to different geographical regions. Quad Lock Case, an Australian maker of smartphone mounting systems, found this approach to be productive. The company, whose website originally catered to U.S. customers, launched additional localized versions of its online store for customers in Canada, Europe, the UK, Japan, and Australia, and saw a substantial uptick in cross-border purchases as a result. This approach can help merchants customize product information to specific markets, keeping in mind differences in sizing, local vernacular and other factors.

Adhere to Cultural Norms

When companies fail to develop a systematic approach to managing and customizing product information for individual markets, this can jeopardize future sales. Many product descriptions need to be customized in accordance with cultural nuances. For example, many countries associate the color purple with royalty, nobility, and wealth; in Brazil and Thailand, however, it is the color of mourning.

Retailers that sell to different markets need to consider many factors, including differences in seasons and holidays. Clothing retail giant H&M, for instance, maintains dozens of websites that cater to countries all over the world. Each year starting in late September, its U.S. site features a line of Halloween-themed clothing – a collection missing from its Chinese site as it’s not celebrated there. H&M’s Chinese site does, however, run a sale during “Golden Week,” a weeklong national holiday.

Ensure Quality Control and Legal Compliance

In addition to regional standards and cultural norms, retailers need to know and adhere to local laws. This is no easy task: In a 2018 survey about cross-border selling from Oro Inc., 33% percent of respondents pointed to local laws and regulations as the biggest challenge for international B2B ecommerce.

Countries have variable rules regarding labeling, licensing and merchandising. The rules often pertain to highly regulated industries such as financial services, healthcare and food and beverage. For example, different states and countries require different labeling for ingredients, country of origin and health warnings.

The European Union has some of the strictest and most comprehensive regulations covering essentially every product category, including electronics, toys, textiles and furniture. It has also implemented strict regulations for the distribution of chemicals, heavy metals and other pollutants in consumer products and food packaging. The onus is on retailers to understand these regulations inside and out and to tailor their product information accordingly, or risk having their products seized by customs.

Retailers, especially those with vast product catalogs, need sophisticated product information management systems to help them easily and automatically customize, edit, maintain and manage product selection and key attributes across numerous markets.

Expanding to new markets can lead to increased revenue and an ever-widening customer base. However, retailers that aim to increase cross-border purchases are likely to miss the mark unless they plan accordingly. It’s imperative to make certain that their information is comprehensive, relevant and accessible to buyers.

Fred de Gombert is CEO and co-founder of Akeneo

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