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Going Global With E-Commerce

Gaby M. Rojas

Note: This article from James Bledsoe is reproduced from the July 2021 issue of the U.S. Census Bureau’s TradeSource.

The U.S. Commercial Service (CS) is the trade and investment promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. It has a network of offices in more than 100 U.S. cities, and more than 75 international markets dedicated to helping U.S. businesses export. U.S. businesses looking to grow their export sales through e-commerce can maximize their efforts by following key steps and taking advantage of federal government help. James Bledsoe, director of the E-Commerce Innovation Lab based at the CS in Tacoma, Washington, provides insight into common e-commerce questions on exporting.

Q: Could you briefly describe e-commerce, and distinguish between B2B and B2C online sales?

A: Simply put, e-commerce is the online sales channels through which a business sells or promotes products and services. Cross-border e-commerce is selling online to a country outside of yours. Business to consumer (B2C), or retail e-commerce, is online shopping for personal consumption. Business to business (B2B) e-commerce focuses on business resources and materials needed for creating consumer products.


Q: COVID has negatively impacted my ability to sell overseas, how can I take advantage of e-commerce to overcome this, and continue to grow and thrive as a business?

A: Create a digital strategy to organize and prioritize your online sales effort. The digital strategy integrates into your overall business export strategy to set you up for international online sales success. There is free help with this and more from your local CS office. Reach out and let them know you would like help with improving your cross-border e-commerce sales.

Q: What resources are available to U.S. businesses to help them learn how to acquire more overseas consumers?

A: Your website is a great online consumer acquisition tool when it is working properly. Make sure you are using search engine optimization (SEO) best practices so you can be found during Internet searches, and to let international visitors to your website know you are “open for international business.” Contact your local CS trade specialist to discuss SEO as a part of developing your digital business strategy.

Q: What should I focus on to begin finding more online consumers for my products or services?

A: Make sure your website is functioning properly and can be found online overseas when searched for by potential consumers. Begin with a website globalization review (WGR) gap analysis service if you are already working closely with your local CS trade specialist on a digital strategy.

Q: What are the most common mistakes you see from business clients looking to acquire more overseas consumers online?

A: Not understanding the difference between website internationalization and website localization as you work towards customizing your overseas consumer approach. Companies need to understand their website visitor analytics, SEO performance data, and international user experience. Website internationalization makes you more effective at acquiring international consumers and provides sound insights into website localization efforts (translation, etc.) that can boost your return on investment (ROI).

Q: When selling online overseas, what about planning for budgeting, investment, and time frame for a return on investment in the digital marketplace? Are there criteria for measuring success?

A: The business capital investment and ROI on e-commerce sales channels vary from business to business and industry to industry. Luckily, there are many resources to help you measure success. Your website visitor statistics can be used in e-commerce key performance indicator formulas (KPI) to learn things like your website’s sales conversion rate.

Q: What other federal resources can help U.S. small- and medium-sized businesses succeed in selling more online to overseas markets?

A: Speaking of business working capital, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) STEP Grant can help you offset the expenses associated with generating online overseas sales. Make sure you are working with a local CS trade specialist on a digital strategy to help you invest wisely in your cross-border e-commerce sales.


Q: Which international markets or regions are seeing strong long-term growth in e-commerce activity? What are some good research tools to find out more about doing business in a particular country?

A: Yes, quite a few regions are seeing e-commerce growth. Asia, led by China’s sheer volume, is forecast to lead B2B online manufacturing growth for the next several years. Europe and North America should also see strong growth. As technology continues to evolve, we are seeing more and more markets come “online” with real opportunities for U.S. small- and medium-sized businesses. Our e-commerce resources page on trade.gov will provide you with the help and market intelligence you’ll need to navigate international online sales for long-term success. The country commercial guides can also be a helpful resource to mention—many of which include sections specific to e-commerce.

Q: Cybersecurity and ransomware have been in the news recently for respective effect on businesses. Where can I find out more about how to keep my international online business safe?

A: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has created a ransomware guidance and resource website to educate you on the issues and the actions you can take to protect yourself from ransomware and international cybercriminals. We also have a list of cyber-security service providers on our          e-commerce Business Service Provider (BSP) directory that you may refer to in order to handle any pressing issues.

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