Selling through the Internet has become an increasingly vital component of many retail, and even wholesale, operations. The prevalence of personal computers in most homes in developed countries and the ease and convenience of Internet shopping has made it an enormously important outlet for goods. The success of Amazon.com, followed by the proliferation of retail sales by hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world, has illuminated the scale of personal shopping now done over the Internet. According to data compiled by one research firm, Americans currently spend over $200 billion a year in online purchases, with that figure expected to rise to well-over $300 billion by 2016. [See the Wall Street Journal linked below] What this means is that marketers, international or domestic, cannot afford to ignore the world of e-commerce. Additionally, with the spread of e-commerce or Internet shopping globally, the challenges of marketing to a global constituency is considerable.
Challenges specific to international marketers include basic concerns regarding language. While English is a close as the world has to an international language, there are many millions of consumers around the world who cannot read English and so cannot peruse English-language websites. Consequently, marketers targeting foreign consumers must be sure to have their clients’ products marketed in multiple languages. This is not as daunting as it sounds, as many multinational corporations already provide multilingual documentation with their goods. For example, instructions for assembling a consumer item might include English, Spanish, French, and Japanese, depending upon where the products are likely to be sold. While being somewhat routine, however, marketing over the Internet to a global or multinational consumer base does still present a challenge in terms of language.
A more important challenge to international marketers is assuring consumers that their privacy will not be violated through the use of the Internet to make purchases that cross international borders. As most people are aware, an elevated level of risk accompanies online shopping in terms of the vulnerability of personal information to criminal hackers. Such cybercrimes present a particularly difficult challenge for law enforcement given the skill of many such criminals in concealing their point of origin and breaking into presumably secure websites, often without detection until it is too late. Assuring consumers that their online transactions will be secure from such intrusions is next-to-impossible, but the effort by marketers is made nonetheless. Additionally, assuring consumers that payment processing systems are secure and will not result in stolen credit card information is a growing challenge even within one country; across international borders, the challenge is much greater.
Another challenge for international marketers is understanding the unique cultural distinctions between countries and regions. For example, marketing designed to appeal to Swedish or Canadian consumers can involve relatively cosmopolitan imagery. That same imagery, however, might be insulting to consumers in Saudi Arabia or Malaysia, two relatively wealthy Islamic countries, with high rates of computer activity. Similarly, what is acceptable in Bahrain or Dubai may not be acceptable in Saudi Arabia, despite all three being Persian Gulf neighbors with a common religion. Failure to understand cultural sensitivities and to market accordingly can result in lost business, and even being shut out of particular foreign markets.
While challenges to international marketers certainly exist, many companies conclude that the rewards are worth the risks. It is up to individual consumers to determine whether they agree.