E-Commerce Is the Next Frontier in Global Expansion
Online shopping is changing how retailers develop their global expansion strategies. A.T. Kearney's E-Commerce Index reveals which developing markets hold the most potential for online growth.
Retailers are constantly seeking new paths to growth. As revenues plateau in developed markets, expansion into developing markets is a popular means for reaching new growth targets and boosting returns in overall portfolios. But choosing a developing market is more complex than looking through the traditional bricks-and-mortar lens to determine where to locate—it also requires looking through the online lens.
As e-commerce sales skyrocket across the developing world, building an online presence is a low-risk way to test new markets or complement existing store footprints. Gaining maximum advantage from such strategies requires knowing a country's true e-commerce potential and its online market challenges.
A.T. Kearney's 2012 E-Commerce Index, the first in a series, examines the top 30 countries in our 2012 Global Retail Development Index™ (GRDI). Using 18 infrastructure, regulatory, and retail-specific variables, the Index ranks the top 10 countries by their e-commerce potential (see figure 1).1 The findings provide a wealth of information for retailers use in developing successful global e-commerce strategies and identifying emerging market investment opportunities (see sidebar: About the Study).2
E-Commerce: A Ripe Growth Opportunity
Global e-commerce is thriving as infrastructure, laws, and consumer preferences evolve. Global e-commerce has grown 13 percent annually over the past five years (see figure 2).3 Retail expansion is increasingly occurring through online channels as a way to tap into growth markets, build brands, and learn about consumers while investing less capital than traditional formats. For example, American luxury retailer Neiman Marcus acquired partial ownership in a Chinese fashion website to test China's market, learn about Chinese consumers' likes and dislikes, and capitalize on the country's increasing demand for luxury goods. Neiman Marcus got all the information it needed without entering into expensive real estate contracts or trying to navigate the complexity of tier 2 and tier 3 cities. French luxury retailer Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) used a similar strategy, acquiring Sack's, Brazil's leading online beauty retailer, to develop local recognition of its Sephora cosmetics line.
E-commerce is playing a vital role in multichannel retail strategies, which are new to many developing markets. In late 2011, U.K.-based Argos partnered with Chinese electronics manufacturer Haier to create a new multichannel operation in mainland China. Argos plans to open a showroom in Shanghai and take advantage of Haier's existing franchise network of 6,000 stores to serve as delivery points for online orders.
Pursuing international online expansion often means doing battle with domestic e-commerce players that already control a large portion of a market. Chilean retailers Falabella and Cencosud combined own nearly 40 percent of their home country's online retail market, and Brazilian retailers B2W and Magazine Luiza own 30 percent of the Brazil market—similar trends are occurring across Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Competing against these domestic players requires understanding online consumers within each market and tailoring e-commerce operations accordingly.
Build It and They May Come
A country's prospects for online retail success are closely related to how many people use the Internet and how many are comfortable purchasing products online. The matrix shown in figure 3 compares these two factors for all 30 countries ranked in the 2012 GRDI. We've identified four types of online markets:
Infrastructure impediment. These markets lack the technological and logistical infrastructure for high-volume e-commerce. For example, most consumers in India, ranked 5th in the GRDI but unranked in the E-Commerce Index, lack the technology to connect to the Internet, and those who do have the technology still avoid e-commerce because of a poor infrastructure that prevents reliable delivery and returns. Succeeding in these markets may require collect-on-delivery (COD) payments to overcome constraints in the financial infrastructure and better communications with customers to help them understand delivery timeframes.
E-commerce inequality. Markets such as Mexico and Sri Lanka have low-to-moderate Internet penetration overall but have a wealthy class that uses the Internet extensively and regularly buys online. Adjusting the product mix, prices, and advertising will appeal to these high-income Web surfers. Having the flexibility to adjust products, prices, and ads for online buyers will become more important as low-income users become more accustomed to buying online.
Ready and willing. Five of the 10 countries ranked in our E-Commerce Index fall into the ready and willing category of markets because they have the full e-commerce package—the infrastructure to support high-volume e-commerce and users who are comfortable buying online. In these markets, it is important to thoroughly understand why customers buy online and to continually meet their expectations to ensure repeat purchases. Chile's Cencosud finds out what its online customers like and dislike by asking them to participate in an online post-purchase survey; participants are registered in a raffle for free gift cards after comments are posted.
Hesitant shoppers. Some markets have the technological infrastructure to support e-commerce, but poor in-country dynamics—such as logistics, digital laws, or cultural biases— that make Internet users wary of purchasing online. These markets require a combination of techniques to instill confidence in e-commerce, including in-store pickup, rebates for credit card transactions, online product promotions and value pricing, and 24-7 call centers. For example, Turkey's hepsiburada.com has overcome Turks' hesitancy to pay online by offering a pay-at-your-door option that allows customers to receive and inspect the product before paying for it with cash or card.
Top 10 Countries in the 2012 E-Commerce Index
The Index assesses the attractiveness of e-commerce in the 30 developing markets ranked in the 2012 GRDI. Following is a summary of the top 10.
1. China: leader of the pack. China's $23 billion online retail market, second only to the United States, places it atop the E-Commerce Index.4 With a 78 percent annual growth rate since 2006, its online retail market is expected to explode, reaching $81 billion over the next five years as the country's infrastructure improves and online purchasing behaviors evolve.
China has 513 million Internet users, the largest online population in the world, and 164 million online shoppers who are drawn in by lower online prices, promotions, and free shipping on transactions over a certain price. Chinese online buyers value the ability to read consumers' online comments and reviews of stores, products, and service quality. Consumer electronics and apparel are the two most popular categories among China's online shoppers. Apparel attracts more than half of all online shoppers (both men and women) in metropolitan areas, a higher percentage than in the United States. Beauty is also popular, as almost half of women online buyers in China's big cities purchase beauty products online.
Infrastructure challenges continue to stymie China's e-commerce potential; however, only 34 percent of citizens use the Internet, lower than other markets primarily because of a large rural population that is less likely to use the Internet. The quality of China's transportation infrastructure also varies outside of its metropolitan hubs, inhibiting deliveries. In tier 1 and tier 2 cities, online retail purchases are typically delivered by couriers, which are price-competitive with high-end express services offered by FedEx, UPS, DHL, and EMS.
Payment solutions such as Alipay are the most popular form of online payments and are frequently the first option offered by leading online retailers. COD exists but is less popular, and some retailers, such as U.S.-based amazon.com, cap the amount that can be paid via COD because of security concerns. Luxury goods sellers go even further. For example, Swiss-based Richemont has partnered with security companies such as Brinks to ensure delivery and payments, while others send two couriers to deliver high-priced items and to guarantee that funds are deposited correctly.
Local Chinese retailers, including Taobao, Paipai, and 360Buy dominate the online retail market. 360Buy, originally selling consumer electronics online, has expanded into clothes, food, cosmetics, and books. The company owns 16 percent of the market and is considered China's homegrown version of amazon.com. International retail leaders, including Carrefour, Tesco, and Wal-Mart are attempting to take online market share from the domestic players. Wal-Mart has a controlling stake in the Chinese e-commerce firm Yihaodian, allowing it access to the company's premium customer base and extensive logistics network. Other foreign retailers are close behind, with Spanish apparel retailer Zara and U.K. online luxury goods seller Net-A-Porter establishing an online presence.
2. Brazil: a not-so-distant second. Brazil has 80 million Internet users who spend $10.6 billion online per year, the largest total in Latin America, and are expected to spend $18.7 billion by 2017.
Brazil's strong and growing middle class shops online to get more "bang for the buck." These shoppers are price conscious, demand free shipping and interest-free payment terms, and frequent group-buying sites to look for the next big bargain: In 2011, 10 million Brazilians made more than 20 million transactions on Groupon-like websites. Appliances and consumer electronics are the most common products sold online. Online apparel sales remain marginal as fashion-savvy Brazilians still value the social experience of in-store shopping.
Local Brazilian retailers already have an online foothold, with B2W (owned by Lojas Americanas department stores) possessing 20 percent of the online retail market. Local electronics retailer Magazine Luiza is on a mission to increase its online presence by tapping into Latin America's largest social networking base. The company encourages consumers to open their own digital Luiza stores on Facebook and Orkut and sell products to friends and family. These social entrepreneurs are paid anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 percent in commissions.
Although Brazil's e-commerce market is thriving, the country has issues with logistics and online payment security. To combat these, the Brazilian government has invested in air and shipping ports and is strengthening its digital commerce laws.
3. Russia: an online giant awakens. Russia has the largest online population in Europe (60 million users) and 15 million online shoppers. Russians also browse the Web regularly from their mobile phones—there are 1.8 mobile phones per person in the country. These market dynamics translate into a $9 billion online retail market, with growth projected to reach more than $16 billion by 2016.
To sustain online sales growth, Russia must address its poor financial and logistics infrastructure and consumers' lack of confidence in delivery. Russians primarily buy with cash, as only one in five households has a credit card. The country is also heavily reliant on rail for transporting goods, so products ordered online may take a week or longer for delivery to the outer provinces. As a result, 70 percent of Russia's e-commerce sales are concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and 20 percent are in second tier cities that have more than 1 million people.
Both domestic and foreign retailers are investing in e-commerce operations to position for future growth. Leading Russian grocer X5 Retail Group recently launched an e-commerce site, while French retailer Auchan plans to establish collection points for online orders. In April 2012, Spanish apparel chain Mango announced plans to continue its online expansion by selling through its own website and partner websites.
Russia's e-commerce market is hampered by poor digital consumer protection laws and active, regular censorship of digital content, so the key to growth is building trust with Russian consumers. This is most often done through promotions and customer service. Ozon, for example, operates a 24-7 call center to field inquiries and M.video offers a 5 percent discount for online credit card orders.
4. Chile: Latin America's hidden gem. Advanced technology and telecommunications infrastructure and an active base of online buyers have propelled Chile to a 27 percent e-commerce growth rate since 2006 (see figure 4). Seventy-one percent of Chilean Internet users shop online, highest among the 30 countries ranked in the GRDI. However, because of the relatively small size of Chile's online market—just $749 million in sales compared to Brazil's $10.6 billion— it is easy to overlook its vast potential.
Chile's Internet users are not afraid to purchase online. The average Chilean household has four credit cards and spends $158 per year online, compared to $44 in the rest of Latin America. Over the next five years, Chile's online retail market is expected to double to $1.5 billion as more people shop online.
Chile's domestic retailers control the market, but international players are gaining traction. As such, domestic retailer Falabella is trying to stay one step ahead of the competition through heavy investment in the online buying experience. It has developed a ground-up e-commerce logistics network, intelligent routing systems, online order tracking, and a strong reverse logistics system for returns.
5. Mexico: the next breakout star. Mexico is Latin America's second largest online retail market (after Brazil) with $1.2 billion in sales per year, and the fastest-growing Internet penetration rate in the world. As more Mexicans obtain Internet access, online sales are projected to nearly triple to $4.4 billion by 2016.
Despite its potential, a poor technological infrastructure hinders Mexico. The Internet penetration rate is 31 percent, with users primarily connecting at slow speeds to avoid paying for faster but higher-priced broadband connections. Still, Mexico offers some of the most unique e-commerce innovations, such as the BanWire system, which allows customers to purchase a product online, print a voucher, and pay for the product in person at a nearby convenience store.
International retailers are seeking to capitalize on Mexico's potential. The Gap offers international shipping to Mexico on its U.S. website; its long-term goal is to operate country-specific websites that fulfill e-commerce orders domestically. Wal-Mart's Superama chain allows customers to order products online and either pick them up (no charge) in the store two hours later or pay for home delivery within the hour.
6. United Arab Emirates: gateway to the Middle East. The UAE boasts an advanced technological infrastructure, an active Internet user base, and strong retail development. The UAE's 76 percent personal computer household penetration rate is the highest of all ranked countries in the GRDI, and its 78 percent Internet penetration rate leads the Middle East. In addition, its retail sales per capita of $9,155 is on par with the United States and Sweden, which indicates that UAE residents have money to spend across retail channels.
While the current size of its online retail market ($227 million) is relatively small, the UAE serves as an e-commerce gateway to other oil-rich Middle Eastern markets with advanced technological infrastructures, high retail sales per capita, and a common Arabic language. Souq, a leading online retailer in the Middle East, has established websites in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait as part of a regional strategy. International retailers, such as Carrefour and coffee brand Nespresso (a unit of Switzerland-based Nestle), are testing online sales in the UAE before expanding regionally. Carrefour's UAE website gives customers access to more than 3,000 items, some not sold in stores, with free delivery on purchases over a certain amount.
However, a few characteristics may hinder the UAE's e-commerce development. Credit card penetration is low among local residents (albeit high among expats), and bricks-and-mortar stores also offer free delivery as a customary service, diminishing the convenience of online shopping.
7. Malaysia: Asia's next e-commerce leader? Half of all households in Malaysia own a PC, and 56 percent of the population is connected to the Internet. Malaysians are relatively heavy users of credit cards (1.1 cards per household) and debit cards (5.6 per household), allowing for easier online shopping. Moreover, Malaysia's high-quality logistics infrastructure ensures that online retail purchases can be delivered in a timely manner. According to the World Economic Forum, the quality of Malaysia's transportation services is on par with the United States.
Malaysia's active online user base has embraced e-commerce. More than half of users shop online and rely on personal recommendations, search engines, and special Internet offers to make purchasing decisions. Today's online retail sales level of $250 million will double over the next five years. Some of the main challenges to e-commerce in Malaysia include cyber-security concerns and the need to touch and feel products before purchase.
Malaysia's online potential has drawn, among others, Germany's Rocket Internet GmbH, which designed and launched local versions of Zappos and Amazon, and Zalora, an online fashion retailer from Singapore that began e-commerce operations in Malaysia in February 2011 and offers 48-hour delivery, COD delivery payment, and 30-day free returns on all orders.
8. Uruguay: an urban stronghold. Uruguay has an active online user base in urban areas and a 48 percent Internet penetration rate—highest in Latin America. Uruguayans are proving ready to shop online—70 percent of Internet users make online purchases, second among GRDI countries only to Chile. A highly urban population also helps improve the reliability of deliveries. To date, Uruguay's online retail market—$43 million—is small, but sales are projected to double by 2016.
9. Turkey: a quiet success. Turkey features a strong logistical infrastructure that allows consumers to make online purchases and receive their products within one or two days. In fact, most online purchases made within 350 miles of Istanbul arrive within 24 hours. The country also boasts an engaged base of Internet users who spend an average of 30 hours online per month; half of all users make purchases online. The Turkish government has also aided the e-commerce boom by enacting digital laws that protect online consumers and oversee e-commerce companies.
Turkey's $1.3 billion online market has already drawn interest from many retailers and investors. For example, Turkey-based Dogan Online, which operates hepsiburada.com, has recently purchased evmanya.com (a Turkish home decorating site), and is in talks with as many as four other online retailers. In 2011, Naspers, the South African media conglomerate, acquired 70 percent of Markafoni, one of Turkey's largest private online shopping sites.
10. Oman: small but important. Oman has an advanced technological infrastructure to support e-commerce and an active Internet user base. Half of Omani households own a PC and 62 percent of the population (roughly 1.7 million people) are connected to the Internet. Omani citizens own, on average, more than one phone, including smart devices that connect to the Internet. Still, Oman's online market remains small at $111 million.
As more Omanis are buying consumer electronics online, the bricks-and-mortar retailers are noticing. Domestic retailer OHI Electronics launched e-commerce operations in 2011 as part of a multichannel strategy, and its website is notable for offering customers a unique and interactive shopping experience.
The Path to Profits
Success in online retail requires patience, persistence, and an ability to adapt to local markets. There are four main success factors for entering new markets either online or as part of a multichannel strategy.
Develop a customized value proposition. As in bricks-and-mortar retail, e-commerce requires adaptation to local markets. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work because online consumers in different countries exhibit unique behaviors and make Internet purchases for different reasons. Success requires adjusting websites, payment methods, shipping options, and business models according to the needs of each market.
Manage the customer experience. The convenience of ordering products at the click of a button and having them delivered to your home is a main benefit of online shopping. Thus, managing the customer experience from online browsing and product purchase to delivery and return is critical. In markets where logistics are a challenge, constant communications with customers about shipping timelines can help manage expectations and build trust.
Do not underestimate local players. Domestic companies dominate online retail in developing markets because they understand local consumer preferences and the e-commerce challenges and have well-honed online retail skills developed in their home countries. Even as foreign retailers enter, these local firms will continue to be formidable competitors.
Have a long-term focus. Launching e-commerce operations in developing markets demands patience. It takes time to navigate a market, learn about online consumers, and build a reputable online brand.
Expansion and Long-Term Rewards
The race to expand online retail in developing markets has already begun for both international and home-grown retailers. E-commerce and multichannel integration in emerging markets offer tremendous opportunities—at potentially lower risk and investment than building bricks-and-mortar stores. The best path to online retail success is the one that creates an immediate impact in developing markets and builds a growing, long-term advantage.
1For findings in the 2012 GRDI, see "Global Retail Expansion: Keeps on Moving."
2E-commerce is defined as the sale of consumer goods to the general public through websites either operated by online-only retailers or store-based retailers.
3In this paper, growth rates are CAGR.
4All monetary figures are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted; online market size throughout the paper refers to sales.