Retail Resilience: Driving Business Growth with Cross-Border E-commerce

July 29, 2020

A recap of our webinar, “Navigating the New Normal,” featuring Flow CEO Rob Keve, Forrester Analyst Lily Varon, and Rowing Blazers Head of E-commerce Katelyn Glass.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that everything about daily life has been disrupted. The global public health crisis has now been around long enough to become a significant change agent. On average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become a permanent habit. That means many of the consumer behaviors we have seen as a reaction to the pandemic have a good chance of lasting long after it’s over. How can cross-border e-commerce merchants leverage some of these recent shifts in global shopping behaviors to accelerate growth?

Flow’s webinar, “Navigating the New Normal: Driving Business Growth with Cross-Border E-commerce,” sought to provide some answers. The one-hour discussion featured Flow Co-founder and CEO Rob Keve, Forrester Analyst Lily Varon, and Rowing Blazers Head of E-commerce Katelyn Glass, who is also a Flow customer both currently and in a past role at a different fast-growing brand. The hour-long discussion examined how e-commerce has managed to not only survive but thrive, and how retailers can capture even more revenue by going global.

Resiliency in Retail is Led by E-commerce

Forrester Analyst Lily Varon put into context just how deeply the pandemic has impacted the retail industry. In April, Forrester created a “Scenario Planner” for retailers that offered base, best, and worst-case scenarios for retailers. At that time, Forrester analysts forecasted modest growth in e-commerce and an overall bleak outlook on the larger retail industry.

But the analyst firm took a second look at these predictions in May and determined that, despite the loss of in-store activity, retailers were bouncing back sooner than originally expected. Varon points out that online apparel and electronics retailers experienced an increase of two to four times the amount of sales revenue they were seeing pre-COVID.

“Retailers are more resilient than we thought. Consumers are spending more online, making online the real star of the show,” noted Varon. “We saw this trend internationally. Several countries, including the U.K. China, France, Italy, and Canada, experienced remarkable growth in e-commerce spending due to the pandemic.”

Considering this unprecedented international demand, it’s never been a more promising time to expand your e-commerce business into global markets. But before leaping into cross-border e-commerce, it’s important for domestic merchants to make the proper investments to handle the increased demand.

Your Global Readiness Plan

Every e-commerce retailer has its own path towards international expansion, and cross-border is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Still, there are typically a handful of more complex areas that become friction points in the cross-border e-commerce experience. They are:

  1. Localization: This includes localized currency display, restricted product catalog depending on the country, and local payment preferences.
  2. Pricing: Dynamic, transparent pricing that adjusts based on each global market and doesn’t interfere with existing wholesale relationships in-country.
  3. Taxes and duties: The ability to accurately calculate and clearly display relevant duties and taxes on your e-commerce site.
  4. Shipping costs and carrier management: Streamlining global logistics and efficiently managing the supply chain keep cross-border retailers in competition with local merchants.
  5. Checkout and returns: Completing a transaction on a localized website should be seamless for the customer. Returns must be hassle-free for the customer and inexpensive for the retailer.

As brands and retailers weigh the pros and cons of going global, they should pay close attention to these five areas of the customer experience. If, in your evaluation, you find that your current e-commerce infrastructure doesn’t support these five areas, it may be time to partner with a vendor.

Rowing Blazers: A Modern Classic Goes Global

Rowing Blazers, a U.S.-based retailer of “preppy” apparel with a modern twist, was in the process of adapting to the new normal in March 2020. Founded in 2017, Rowing Blazers had been experiencing many of the typical growing pains of a young brand, including support for cross-border sales. This came into sharper focus when Rowing Blazers realized that the pandemic was responsible for a 44% increase in demand from cross-border customers. Traffic was coming to the e-commerce website from the Netherlands, the U.K., Japan, and other global regions. But it wasn’t converting into sales regularly enough.

Katelyn Glass, Head of E-commerce for Rowing Blazers, knew that an international shipping strategy was in order. “We were seeing international traffic to our website, but we were unable to capitalize on it because international shipping was taking too long and was incredibly expensive.”

Luckily, Glass had the answer at her fingertips. In a prior role with another company, Glass had been a Flow customer and was already well versed in Flow’s solution. She’d been through this before and knew when to bring in an experienced vendor partner.

“Because Flow uses a hubless shipping model, direct from brands to consumers, there are no days lost to the cross-docking process,” Rob Keve, CEO of Flow, explained. Additionally, Flow leverages global relationships with carriers, streamlining the shipping process and making it more cost-effective.

For Glass, this has been a game-changer. Glass also relies on Flow to support localized payment methods for Rowing Blazers’ optimized e-commerce websites. For example, in South Korea alone, Rowing Blazers’ localized website supports 26 different local payments.

With these friction points resolved, Glass is thinking more strategically about Rowing Blazers’ next cross-border expansion. “At first, it was a matter of going after low-hanging fruit, before the site was optimized,” she said. Now, Glass says, she can think about emerging markets beyond the initial wave of demand. “We can look at Brazil or India in ways that we couldn’t before.”

Flow makes international e-commerce easy for brands like Rowing Blazers. The flexible, modular solution gives brands the power to remove friction at every step, boosting international conversion rates. To watch the full webinar, download the free, on-demand recording. You can also download our International E-commerce Kit to determine your brand’s readiness for global expansion.

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