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Eastern promise

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Nearly half of UK shoppers now use the mobile device – the smartphone and the tablet – in the shopping decision making process, with a quarter using mobile as their main and preferred way of researching and buying things. So finds the second annual UK Mobile Path-to-Purchase Study conducted by Nielsen of more than 2000 UK smartphone and tablet users.

And that is great, if unsurprising, news. But perhaps more interesting is that while UK shoppers can be said to have totally integrated mobile into how they think about the retail journey, the same is starting to happen in China. And that is a very interesting prospect.

Official World Bank figures reveal that household consumption expenditure in China has now overtaken the UK and Germany, making it the next high-growth market for international retailers, according to Demandware, which also expects mobile to play a key role in retailers exploiting this marketing.

The Chinese have a burgeoning middle class and they are as into mobile devices, tech and the web and they are embracing shopping online – particularly through mobile – with alacrity. And they are hungry to pay a premium for western brands, goods and to shop through western online shops.

But while there is potentially huge rewards for tapping into this marketing, international online commerce has many challenges. In fact, the mobile side of it is pretty much child’s play compared with the actuality of tapping into the Chinese market.

There is the language barrier for one. And then there is shipping. The key it seems to opening up this market is to go local. According to Demandware’s research, the likes of CLARINs which has tapped successfully into China is to look at creating a local presence, using local payments providers, hold stock locally and ship locally. Even down to looking at one city or province at a time (China is a vast country after all).

And this is where international online retail gets tricky. The rewards are there and the technology is there, but is it really viable to create an actual presence in other countries –especially when they are as far -flung and as culturally divergent as China?

International sales are clearly one of the areas to grow the online retail industry of the UK, but the challenges around doing so are legion. Something to mull over over the summer.

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