RealTime IT News

E-Commerce to Go Increasingly Global

Merchants who have tackled the international aspects of e-commerce have found a brave new world of opportunity that can help them bring their products to the world or the world to them.

"People are going online looking to buy stuff, and buckets of it," said Nick Jones, general manager of Canadian book site Chapters Internet. "Credit cards are burning holes in their pockets."

Jones, along with Alessandro Naldi, founder of the Italian tourist site Weekend a Firenze and Doug Galen, vice president of business development at online banker E-Loan (EELN), participated in the Going Global session Tuesday afternoon at Fall Internet World '99.

"There is a staggering amount of money to be made here," Galen said. Global e-commerce succeeds for a number of reasons. Galen says that people are receptive to online loans due to a general dissatisfaction with local banks. Jones said Chapters is able to leverage Canadian editions of books and music, along with superior service that customers may not find in their own country. And Weekend a Firenze is able to market unique goods from a popular Italian region as it makes it easier for visitors to beat the museum lines.

Jones said that a number of issues need to be addressed before taking on international e-commerce, including shipping, customs, and taxation. Shipping is perhaps the most complicated, and requires that the company estimate the cost for shipping packages to every corner of the world.

After research, Chapters came to a simple conclusion: They would make money on shorter distances, but break even or even lose money on shipments to remote areas.

Chapters chose not to worry about the other two for now. They charge no tax for international shipment, and contract the customs responsibility to Federal Express or another third party vendor.

"This was so reassuring," said Jones. "It was such a relief to have someone else handle this for us."

Jones said e-commerce succeeds for Chapters because it is an extension of the company that exists in all levels; from the CEO on down. For instance, a book sent through e-commerce channels can be returned to a Chapters retail store, if the customer so desires.

Naldi said his Web site began as a way for tourists to acquire unique Florentine goods, that were not readily available to people who visit the usual spots. It then added a reservation system to prestigious local museums, visitors who spent a few minutes online will save several hours of waiting on line.

Naldi, who apologized several times for his English, said that e-commerce sites depend on "mouth to mouth" support for their products. The audience and panelists were too polite to correct him, and Jones finally cited this as an improvement to the clichid "word of mouth."

"I love that expression," he said. "That's exactly how it works."