Live on stage at the WWD Digital Forum, Flow customer Outerknown shared valuable lessons about cross border e-commerce expansion. 

A long list of both established and emerging e-commerce brands assembled at the Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) Digital Forum in Los Angeles on November 12. Each year, this invite-only event brings together brands of all sizes to share strategies on digital engagement across fashion, beauty, and retail. 

In a live presentation at the event, Flow’s Founder and CEO Rob Keve shared the stage with Travis Heard, Head of Finance, Operations and Strategy for Outerknown, a Flow client. The brand’s mission to protect natural resources, empower the people crafting their clothes, and inspire change within the apparel industry resonated with domestic consumers quickly.

A fashion brand for the global citizen

Outerknown’s founder is Kelly Slater, a professional surfer and a true global citizen with celebrity status and an international following. And it was no surprise that cross-border demand for the brand’s sustainable apparel began to grow. As our research shows, two-thirds of global consumers have already made a cross border e-commerce purchase. As more global citizens have access to the internet, domestic brands are experiencing increased demand from cross border customers.

Heard said that Outerknown’s plan all along was to expand globally. The company knew how crucial it was to strengthen brand loyalty with these international consumers to keep growing. That meant launching localized e-commerce websites to capture these customers where they are. It also meant developing strong distribution networks through wholesale partners in each global market in which they wanted to sell.

Travis and Rob discussed the top five signs that an e-commerce merchant is ready to make a move towards international expansion:

  1. International traffic to your site is high, but your conversion rate is low
  2. There is a strong international demand for your goods or your product categories 
  3. Your brand has international consumer awareness through social media and other channels
  4. Your brand is taking market share from the competition in other overseas markets 
  5. Your brand has outgrown its domestic market

Several of these were relevant for Outerknown, and the brand knew it was time to expand internationally.

Hitting speed bumps on the road to going global

While the brand was having some success distributing its international products through wholesalers, it encountered several challenges along the way. For example, there was an ongoing struggle to match and track the wholesalers’ prices in each local market. Without the flexibility to display prices in each market’s local currency or adjust pricing dynamically, the brand was concerned that it could not provide its customers with an optimal onsite experience.

“We were hearing constantly from our international customers that our prices were too expensive, our shipping rates were too high, and duty calculations were wrong. That was when we realized we had to make a change,” Heard told the WWD audience.

All of those aspects of e-commerce are very common barriers when a brand tries to scale internationally. In fact, the high cost of international shipping is a top barrier for both cross border e-commerce retailers and consumers.

At first, Outerknown tried to solve these challenges using legacy solutions available in the market but found the cost of shipping to be prohibitive. Without sustainable unit economics in each market, it was becoming difficult to justify the international business case. Further, legacy technology solutions did not offer any control over the consumer experience leading to a lack of visibility into international sales which, combined with high shipping rates, made their approach unsustainable. Like many e-commerce merchants, Outerknown made a decision to partner with a technology company to help manage all of these complexities. And that’s when they turned to Flow.

Based on Outerknown’s experience partnering with Flow, Travis and Rob had the following advice for domestic e-commerce merchants who are considering going global:

  • Know your international site traffic. Additionally, be aware of any under-leveraged international potential.
  • When opportunity knocks, don’t wait. If you’re seeing consistently high traffic from international shoppers, act quickly on your global strategy.
  • Think big. Your consumer segment is likely to be the same or similar across multiple markets.
  • Define what customer experience means to you. Once you have a strong vision, make sure that it’s true to your brand. 
  • Solve problems early, before they cost you too much. Find ways of addressing internationally simply, flexibly and inexpensively.

“Flow allowed us to control pricing, exclude products in certain markets on a country-by-country basis, apply different checkout methods that included relevant duties, and utilize the right shipping options available in the global community by each country,” Heard explained. “This helped us run our business in a dynamic way that allowed us to control pricing. We could choose, by country, what was offered, when it was offered, and what we should charge for it.”

Read the full story on how Outerknown achieved over 100% increase in international sales while reducing year-over-year international shipping costs by 60% in our case study.

Or view the video of the session below.