We've all read the story in the local press about the bloke working from his own garden shed who
is selling custom painted pens to Chicago and New York. Wow, that superinterwebbyhighway eh? Folks anywhere selling things all over the world.
OK, let's assume these businesses do exist - and I have to be honest, I've seen little evidence beyond the anecdotal that
they do - but if they do, just how many pens do they sell? In business terms, how many pens do you have to sell to make
a living? Per day?
So beyond the odd pen [or whatever] seller who gets their picture in the local paper and then disappears, how many websites
sell goods to any other country but the one in which they are based?
Let's start with the B2C market:
Amazon - as big as it gets in terms of online brands - but each 'country' site [eg .co.uk] ships only to its
Tesco - big on groceries, but UK delivery only.
e-Bay - OK, some overseas sales, but see 'pens' example above.
Any of the major offline retailers that sell online - eg whitegoods - local only.
In fact, think about this logically: why on earth would I order - and pay shipping - for an Indesit washing machine from
Italy, when I can get it from Dixons.co.uk? Or vica versa? Unless it is significantly cheaper. Which it isn't.
Is there anything you can't live without that you cannot get locally, or at least from your own country? If we discount
price as a motive [do you really think those Ralph Lauren Polo shirts from Taiwan for £5 each are genuine Ralph Lauren
products?] we are talking about pretty rare, niche products. Sure, there is the long tail,
but is there an international long tail? That is; one that generates sufficient sales to warrant the description
'business' rather than 'hobby'?
Oh, and by the way - surely there is someone in America who custom-paints pens?
So what about the B2B market?
As with the B2C argument, realistically, can you expect to sell a product or service around the world if it is not a
specialised or niche market? And those markets do exist - particularly if rare skills or expertise are involved. But -
and you need to see my what is e-commerce? argument to appreciate this - those
products and services are not sold [or purchased] online. They are promoted online.
If we are talking highly specialized [and so expensive] services, those deals are done in person. Often with
significant negotiation over an extended period of time. They are not competed by filling in your credit card details on
an online form.
My message to businesses: Unless you have something very special to offer, optimize your site for local users -
that's where the money is
This musing was written circa 2006