Women in Exporting, Part 3 Digital E-Commerce
We listen to a conversation led by Jessica Gordon. She’s joined by Cynthia Torres, Trade Specialist and member of the U.S. Commercial Service E-Commerce Innovation Lab; Susan Lin, board-certified surgeon and founder of La Canada Ventures Inc; and Maria Lusia Boyce, VP for International Policy for UPS, as they discuss international trade using digital and e-commerce platforms, best practices and how to overcome obstacles to becoming successful.
Evan Scritchfield: ES | Jessica Gordon: JG | Cynthia Torres: CT | Maria Louisa Boyce: MLB | Susan Lin: SL
ES:(00:01) Welcome to Export Nation. This is part three of our four part series on women in exporting. On this episode we listen in on a conversation led by Jessica Gordon, the director of the U.S. Commercial Service office in Dallas-Fort Worth. She’s joined by Cynthia Torres, Senior International Trade Specialist and member of the U.S. Commercial Service E-Commerce Innovation Lab; Dr. Susan Lin, board-certified surgeon, physician and expert in medical aesthetics and the founder of La Canada Ventures Inc. in San Mateo California; and Maria Luisa Boyce, the Vice President for International Policy for UPS Global Public Affairs, bringing over 20 years of experience and leadership in international trade, customs issues and cross-border trade.
The views and opinions expressed by the guests of Export Nation are those of the individual themselves, they do not necessarily reflect official policies or positions of the United States Government, U.S. Department of Commerce or any sub agency. The United States Government, U.S. Department of Commerce or any sub agency additionally do not endorse any websites, programs, products, or services mentioned by a guest.
JG (1:20) Greetings from Dallas Texas I’m Jessica Gordon your house for today and I would like to thank our listeners for joining us for today’s women and exporting episode to discuss e-commerce and digital trade I’ve been looking forward to today’s discussion as I joined by three very special guests Cynthia Torres with the US commercial services E commerce innovation lab Maria Louisa Boyce The vice president of UPS global public affairs and Dr. Susan Lynn with the La Canada Ventures. Thank you ladies for joining us.
Let’s get started with some introductions. Cynthia Torres has been an international trade specialist with the US foreign and commercial service since 2001 Cynthia served in numerous leadership positions throughout her tenure ed is currently a thought leader at the E-commerce innovation lab where she is focused on improving access to knowledge and resources for both companies and colleagues that support digital transformation and e-commerce strategies in the online sales channel. Welcome Cynthia.
CT (2:25): Hi Jessica, thanks for having me.
JG (2:28): Absolutely. We also have with us today Maria Luisa Boyce. Maria Louisa serves as vice president for international policy for UPS global public affairs bringing over 20 years of experience and leadership in international trade customs issues and cross-border trade. In her current role she advocates UPS’s priorities on Capitol Hill, Supports the company’s government affairs efforts in Latin America and is part of the UPS core team leading The UPS women exporter program and serves as a liaison for UPS national Hispanic organizations. Thanks for joining us Maria.
MLB (3:08): Thank you so much Jessica for having me and I started when I was five years old.
JG (3:17): Absolutely. We’re so happy to have you with us today.
And last but certainly not least we are very pleased to have with us Dr. Susan Lin who is a board-certified surgeon physician an expert in medical aesthetics since 1991 she is the founder of La Canada Ventures Inc., holding patents for hair restoration technology. MD products are focused in the beauty and wellness center and are sold in the United States and dozens of countries worldwide through various channels. Welcome Susan.
SL (3:53): Thank you Jessica so much it’s a pleasure to be with all of you today.
JG (3:58): Thanks for joining us. And so we’re going to jump right in today. Do you know small to medium size companies have been navigating in some very interesting times as of late. And speaking with exporters this theme of e-commerce has come up quite a bit as companies are exploring new avenues to reach both existing and prospective customers.
So Cynthia, companies who are new to e-commerce can you tell us what’s the best way to get started?
CT (4:27): Sure, thanks for the question. As you pointed out it’s a question a lot of people are asking themselves these days. So I think the first thing obviously the US commercial service and the local export Assistance centers but before I talk a little bit more about that let me just say that it’s important at least from the e-commerce innovation lab we like to focus on three main points about e-commerce especially for companies that are new to the space and make sure that they understand these guiding principles.
The first one is essentially that we view e-commerce as a sales channel that cuts across all industries; it’s not just for consumer goods or those retail type products that we come to be most familiar with in the e-commerce space it literally cuts across industries. So it’s important to industrial type companies as well and it’s mainly used for you to sell your products and to build your brand awareness online. That’s number one.
Number two we try to make sure that people understand that cross-border e-commerce is exporting, sometimes because of the intangible nature of e-commerce people think it’s something different than what it really is so you’re just reaching customers virtually but you’re still exporting. And this is a new potential revenue stream for companies if you’re just a traditional exporter off-line.
And then lastly we try to stress the point that developing a digital strategy from day one as to how you’re going to move forward in this transformational Process is going to be key to your success. And that’s a lot to take in even in just those three points but the good news is and what we’re most excited about is that our existing companies and new clients I’ll like start that journey by reaching out to their local expert assistance center. We also can help companies to start that journey with our public facing website at trade.gov where you can take a digital readiness assessment which we can talk about a little bit later. We do have trade specialists and tools that are geared up and ready to help companies navigate these early stage questions so I would just say jump right in and honestly these days where we are today as a collective global economy it’s kind of forcing the hand of everybody to lean in to something that maybe would’ve taken a number of years for us to get to. So with that I would say we do have some virtual services available to also help companies start that process and I think for anybody that whether you are beginning this journey with the US commercial service or some private sector third-party that you’re going to be beginning at the same spot and that’s going to be with search engine optimization. So reach out to us at trade.gov/e-commerce and you can take the digital readiness assessment if you’d like.
JG (7:44): Wow very well put Cynthia that was very helpful. I like checklists so I like how you outlined those three key points. A lot of information packed into some very concise points. So you mentioned that e-commerce is a sales channel that cuts across all industries, you also said that it can be a new revenue stream, and then you said something that I think is very key: developing a digital strategy is really important to business these days as they do more and more e-commerce. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that later but it’s good to know that there are resources available. You mentioned the US commercial services e-commerce innovation lab can we give everyone that website again? I think that there is some very good information there and we want to make sure that our listeners are able to access that site. What’s that site again?
CT (8:34): Sure, it’s www.trade.gov/ecommerce. And that’s part of our trade.gov website for the official landing page for the e-commerce innovation lab which we stood up about four years ago to anticipate a day like we’re in today where companies are needing information on exactly how to begin and navigate this new digital realm and it’s a journey for sure.
JG (9:04): It is a journey for sure but I’m so happy to hear that there are resources available for companies. So that’s the perfect segue for a question that I actually have for Maria. So Maria from UPS’s perspective what have been the main challenges facing small businesses?
MLB (9:20): Thank you so much Jessica and it has been very interesting the past six months where we have seen as a company we have had the opportunity to do surveys with the small business and see firsthand the different impact because of the pandemic and also the challenges on going after the pandemic in different parts of the world. So we have seen three different areas that we have identified and that came as a result of our assessment. One was first and foremost cash flow and they have been negatively impacted of course for having their cash flow impacted. The second one was an impact that they had in their supply chain. And this is of course small businesses that sell things One of the things that we learned through the survey is that many small businesses rely on one source for the raw material and if they were importing from another city or another state or another country that was impacted. So all of the sudden they might have had something that was selling but they didn’t have a way to do it. And then the last one is the challenges that they have had with the change in behavior of their consumers. Many small businesses had had digital presents but it was not their main source of connecting or selling their products. They were selling from a small business to a large business for them to sell their products and this has force them to deal more directly with their customers and they needed to change, and to what Cynthia was saying they needed to really reassess or to pivot and have a detailed platform that can better allow them to connect with their customers. I started answering the question very fast Jessica and I forgot to add and give a little bit of an overview of who we are as UPS. Some people might not know us or they might just recognize the brown trucks right?
JG (11:48): Oh sure, absolutely I think we all recognize the brown truck.
MLB (11:52): And thank you for that. We move on a daily basis 6% of the United States GDP in our network and 3% of the world’s GDP in our network that really gives us an insight of what are the challenges and obstacles that small medium size and large businesses are having. The survey that I mentioned, we have an advisory board of small businesses where we were able to start having input every two weeks about what were the challenges they were facing. The last point before I finish was something very important that I think impacted all businesses and that was their employees. And how for those that hired one or two or three employees first and foremost how to keep them safe and be able to continue to do business and then what changes needed to be made to the business to be able to allow for the employees to come back if it was needed. So a lot of information there but it has been a very interesting time to look and assess and pivot to see what changes needed to be made.
JG (13:19): Yes, absolutely. So I hear you say that some companies, it may be A time to assess and maybe to pivot. So you know I can’t ask you about challenges without asking about advice. So what is some advice that you might give some companies who have been facing these challenges?
MLB (13:38): I think we have in every webinar that we have been doing and outreach that we have been doing. We have come up with four items that we advise. One, know your product. I think that’s a given in a pandemic or a non-pandemic but really understand how your product works and I say this because now if you’re exporting your product, for example you’re going to other countries your product may contain material that requires a specific license. So it’s important more than ever that you know the product. The second one is to do an assessment of your process of your internal process, your management of inventory, what resources do you need to make your product and what capabilities do you have to manage that inventory and to do your sourcing. We learned the importance during the pandemic of having different alternatives and having a way to be flexible and pivot faster. The third one is train, train, train. And I mean train yourself to do capacity building. If your business is down do some webinars and do some assessments of what are the technical areas I need to train myself on to better adapt and help my business. That is something that I think has been taken for granted but it’s very important. And last but not least, these are not in order of importance but safety is important no matter what. That’s number one on the list of importance. But the last one is do some research to see what support is available. What is available for you as a small business for resources, for support that the small business administration is giving for exporting, the department of commerce there’s a lot of opportunities there so I definitely recommend that. So those are my four, but safety goes without mentioning continuing to be safe.
JG (15:54): No that’s really good information. So what I heard you mentioned was not your product, do an assessment of your inventory sourcing process, train and train some more on capacity building and then look at what support might be available. So this is a great time to bring in Susan, Susan you’re an entrepreneur and have been successful with e-commerce. I want to ask you what were your expectations for e-commerce and what surprised you about it?
SL (16:23): Sure, we tried to optimize e-commerce for the last for five years because before Covid we saw that the trend for the consumer was going towards e-commerce so about 3-4 years ago we shifted away from retail and more towards e-commerce. We’re really glad that we did and before the shelter in place we were fortunate enough to work with the US commercial service in our local department in San Francisco who referred me to the e-commerce innovation lab. I attended some of their seminars two years ago and had my website reviewed to optimize for best practices so we were ready for globalization and also had our SEO and site authority reviewed and prepared so that we could instruct our web designers and our programmers to optimize to get ready for globalization. When the Covid started they were a few things that we noticed. Number one was the supply chain because we’ve been doing this for quite some time and we were fortunate that we had some alternatives. We noticed that as far as sales channels we noticed that we needed to diversify to increase more than just our own website and having one other platform was to increase different platforms for international markets. In terms of fulfillment we use different three PL‘s in the US and we set up internationally because shipment cost has become a main concern for us. Not only did shipping costs go up but also the time and duration has increased a lot for us. So we’re really fortunate that we were able to work with the US commercial service before the pandemic and that we just continued our efforts to optimize. Like you said earlier now we have more time to sign up for webinars to learn more we are able to open up more platforms. Statistically from the E marketer it showed that the growth of e-commerce has increased close to 30% since the lockdown in the United States. And that business that only had two platforms actually experienced a decrease in sales where businesses that had three or more actually doubled their sales, excuse me increased it by about 20%. This is especially true during the initial pandemic lock down. The fulfillment time for some of the three PL has really increased by a lot for some people. It has increased from three hours to almost 14 days and also unless your product is an essential product they were also not accepting at their warehouse. So we had to set up so we could ship not only from our fulfillment warehouse but also our offices as well. We did it from different locations across the United States so that if one area is shut down the other area can continue to ship to our customers.
JG (20:07): You know you mention a lot of information, you mention e-commerce has increased more than 30% so that shows that more and more companies are really seeing the importance of e-commerce and digital trade. You also talked about diversifying sales and that was one of the reasons why you really started to review the different platforms that you were using. You talked about the importance of exploring different platforms and evaluating them based on your needs. You also mentioned the e-commerce innovation lab which I want to talk about a little bit later. But I also want to ask you since the start of this global health and economic crisis how have your operations changed concerning e-commerce?
SL (20:50): We hired another Amazon team to run our Amazon business to be more aggressive to use AI data and we heavily invested in marketing. We opened up an Alibaba platform we are about to open up a Walmart platform and we optimized our own website and started Facebook sales and Google product sales. This was mostly to advertise more and reach out more and in terms of e-commerce internationally we created new products for our distributors. Initially they were distributing into their specific Service oriented channels but because they couldn’t do that during Covid we had to develop new products for them so they could sell directly into their customers. So basically we just needed to meet the demand of what the consumer wants and we also noticed a larger trend. I noticed on the news that they are saying lipstick is not selling as well as it used to be but we noticed for our luxury beauty products that the sale has continued and we are excited to see with our wellness products if that trend will continue.
JG (22:21): It’s incredibly important to take note and pay attention to the trends that are taking place so it sounds like you really put together a cohesive digital strategy. So this takes me back to Cynthia, we’ve heard a lot about digital strategies and the importance of having one. But what is it? What is a digital strategy and why does a company need one?
CT (22:42): Sure, great question we get asked that a lot. So in a nutshell it’s really the digital strategy that actually enables the transactional side that is the e-commerce component. So without the digital strategy in place many of those things that Susan touched on are part of a very thoughtful process in her business approach to the online channel and collectively that represents her digital strategy. The reason that you need it is that it helps position you in terms of success. You can achieve success in the short term with an ad hoc approach just the same that you can achieve success off-line with an ad hoc approach. The more thought you put into the overall strategy to secure that long game the better off you’ll be so the reason why there’s about six key points to this starting with stakeholders. A digital strategy gives stakeholders a chance to actually focus on exactly what their priorities are and allows the organization to carve out some time to develop that game plan internally. The budget provides the company the opportunity to identify expected budget commitments. I say this a lot to folks e-commerce is not a one-time cash infusion, it actually is a commitment to a new business strategy that manifests itself as a new line item on your operating budget. There are some capital intensive aspects to making the digital transformation but I think the rewards if done correctly are considerable and worth the investment. The third point for why a digital strategy is important is that it provides clarity to the entire team that’s going to be working on the development of that strategy. Accountability is also part of why you need to have a digital strategy. Making sure that the group is meeting milestones along the way. And I think these last two points are really important. It offers competitiveness, the company itself is now planning and positioning themselves to remain competitive in the years ahead and as we’ve learned recently the future is today. So we want to look at a digital strategy and remain competitive, make the investments and pivot. And ultimately your website is going to be utilized, it’s going to be the number one asset any company has for customer acquisition and retention. So ultimately you want to be leveraging that asset to the best of your ability. So all of that combined is in support of the importance of the different facets you’re going to be thinking through as you move through this digital transformation process.
JG (25:42): It does sound like a transformative process. There are so many things going through my mind right now. I think about being a consumer when I’m interested in a company or their product or their services one of the first things I do is I go to their website. I want to check them out and so in this transformative process you mentioned it’s an important component to the operating budget you mentioned that it also provides clarity to the entire team as well as accountability and so that’s a lot of information. I want to ask you another question. How can the commercial service help?
CT (26:18): Well we’ve been moving in that direction for a while now so in order to help our companies actually make this pivot. It’s something that everybody can take solace in the fact that companies and organizations across all spectrums are at different levels of understanding and different points in this journey. So the US commercial service can actually help clients existing and new, I mentioned Earlier we have a virtual service called website globalization review that is a gap analysis of how your individual website is operating at this very moment. We take a three prong approach to industry-leading web crawlers to analyze your website’s operations. This is not an opinion this is based on your own data points and then we also bring in to the fold our own institutional knowledge of what’s attractive to a foreign buyer and then put that all together for you and walk you through it basically showcasing and highlighting where some improvements can be made to help increase your search engine optimization practices. We are never going to be those technical experts so we’ve also created The e-commerce business service provider directory where we began to on behalf of our clients aggregate the US ecosystem of service providers and what that functions as is a trusted source and a first point referral or pivot point if you will wear they can begin to reach out to exactly the technical expertise they need. Other services and resources that we have available are listed on our trade.gov/e-commerce website and all of our colleagues across the country from the e-commerce innovation lab working with all of them and getting everyone access to information and tools in order to help companies make this move into the online channel pretty quickly actually.
JG (28:23): Wow this is such very helpful information. I also heard that the US commercial service offers the digital readiness assessment quiz on its trade.gov website that companies can actually take to help increase their online sales and start looking at important considerations, is that right?
CT (28:42): Yes we have right at the top of the landing page for people that are new or even if you’ve been doing it for a while you can take this digital readiness assessment. It’s just a few short questions that help us gather some information on you, the company and where you are in this journey and then we share that with the local offices. We have an additional assessment conversation tool that takes that conversation to the next step with maybe a handful more questions. The purpose of that is really so that we can gain a better insight into how much you’ve invested already so that we meet you where you are today whether you’re further down the road and sophisticated and you’ve acquired infrastructure assets for your website and inventory systems or if you’re just at the very beginning. So it’s important for us to know exactly where you are in order to bring forward the right resources. So that’s what that tools for
JG (29:42): That’s incredibly helpful. And while we’re talking about resources I want to go to Maria. So Maria I want to ask what program do you have to support or does UPS have to support women entrepreneurs?
MLB (29:56): Thank you so much Jessica and before I answer your question I do want to tell you that I feel blessed to be in the spot because of you with Cynthia and Susan because it’s fascinating to hear the power of the positive and what resources are available. I think that goes a little bit too why the Women exporter program. I think three years ago in partnership with the UPS foundation we launched a women exporter program to enable women entrepreneurs to join in international trade. As we started the program and saw the opportunities that existed, and this is before the pandemic it really provided a window of opportunity for small businesses. We really wanted to empower more women entrepreneurs to be able to engage in international trade. And what we did is we launched three areas since you’re asking for the resources. One thing we did is we did a survey to see what were the knowledge gaps that were needed and sometimes you learn by making mistakes. We wanted to do training and capacity building on what was needed on those knowledge gaps so women entrepreneurs can be empowered to ask the right questions and understand the framework. We have those available and we launched several Topics and we did it in partnership with an international trade center that is based in Geneva that is available online where they can go and get training in logistics and exports but also on finance and business etc. so that’s at shetrades.com If people want to join. The second one was, not only do you need the training but then how do you access markets and I think those tools that Cynthia was mentioning and how Susan confirmed that she has been doing the very thorough approach in her business was you need the training but then how do you implement it and that’s where at ups.com we have this great option that provides consulting online where you can go and get a sense of this is what I’m doing and this is where I’m going and how can I have the best approach. We really have focused on how do we tailor and be able to provide products that support the small businesses and the women owned businesses that are part of those small businesses, those small and medium size businesses. So that was the other area. Then we started partnering with other organizations internationally with the World Bank where we are part of the WDDP with USAID we are helping with programs around the world. The last one which is very important is the regulatory framework and we’re constantly looking at what regulations can help in facilitating trade for small businesses. I have to bring up US MCA because In a way it’s a circle in that, I don’t know how many people knew, but in NAFTA small to medium size businesses were mentioned in an annex in a sentence in one paragraph that was how much attention was given to small businesses. And US MCA this agreement has a whole new chapter 25 just dedicated to small businesses. And going farther it mentions the commitment of the countries to enable women entrepreneurs women owned businesses, Minority owned businesses, rural owned businesses. It really recognizes the role that small businesses are playing more and more in the economy and it requires in the whole agreement, in all the chapters that the government works to make it easier for businesses to understand how to maneuver international trade. I’ll stop there because I know I’m going long but I feel very passionate about our program and looking for opportunities for businesses.
JG (34:12): Absolutely. And as you were mentioning the programs that UPS, UPS Women exporter program, I could also hear empowering women owned businesses and so thanks for sharing that. I also overheard you talking a lot about the regulatory framework, and you also mentioned the opportunities that US MCA brings to small businesses. Now I just want to make sure our listeners know where to go to learn more about the UPS women exporter program you said just go to ups.com? Is that right?
MLB (34:40): Yes, just go to ups.com. Go to our small business area and you can learn about the program or you can start asking questions if you have any questions about exporting. And if you want to find other tools about training to build an international network go to she trades.com. And that will allow you to enter a network of women entrepreneurs from around the globe and it has the virtual learning modules that we developed with the foundation.
JG (35:19): Very helpful information. Thank you Maria. Susan I did want to ask you a little bit about what lessons you’ve learned during your process and then also maybe tell us a little bit more about your experience with the US commercial service e-commerce innovation lab.
SL (35:35): Sure. In the beginning we tried all different ways. We brought people in house because we were located in Silicon Valley. I just thought since we’re the hub of innovation it should be easy to hire someone in house. Thinking about what Cynthia said about accountability is probably the biggest lesson I learned. Because as a business owner if you do not know or understand how it operates it’s hard to hold your staff or your consultant accountable. So that was the biggest lesson that I learned was that I need to learn it for myself instead of counting on people to get it all done because you have to be able to understand so you can set the goals. And the other thing is just basically, the good thing about digital is that you can implement it very quickly and it levels the playing field between a small company versus a large company. So that was interesting to learn. But the mistake I’ve also made was that it’s easy to blow off a lot of marketing dollars in the wrong place if it’s the wrong strategy. So similar to what Cynthia was saying, the strategy is very important. Other mistakes we’ve made, we wasted a lot of time in the past switching from one platform to another. I think we switch to four different platforms and I think doing so probably wasted a lot of time. The good thing about it for those of you who are joining the e-commerce space the platforms are so much better now the marketing and remarketing and getting data there isn’t one that is really all that bad. So it’s hard to make a mistake. I’m sure we’ve made a lot of mistakes, it just seems like anything else in business we learn by making the mistakes. What I’ve learned from the US commercial service is a systematic way to to analyze in a non-objective best practice way. Because the US commercial service only has our best interest at heart to expand domestically and internationally. Whereas all the consultants that come in are pitching their services to you and they’re going to tell you that you need XYZ and sometimes those could be biased opinions. So those are the painful mistakes that I made. Not understanding it more myself and not setting the right expectations and also wasting marketing dollars because I did not know what was the right thing to do.
JG (38:41): Well it sounds like it certainly is a learning process and you learn summer much by working with the commercial service and other resources. It’s always good to know who to call.
SL (38:53): For example Cynthia really helped me a lot. We’ve been selling on Amazon for I would say eight or nine years and we are the brand owner and we manufacture our product. But Amazon is a large company so if you months ago we were shut down because they said we were not selling our own product. And two months of being shut down is a lot for a company. We tried every single way to prove that we are who we are but it was a wonderful thing to have the US commercial service on our side.
JG (39:36): Absolutely. It’s always good to have resources in place that can help you. And you also said something that was very interesting. It sounds like it’s so important to get the platform right. So that takes me back to Cynthia. Cynthia a question that I often hear is it better to sell on the marketplace or on my website? So can you tell us more about that?
CT (39:58): Sure, I just want to say to the assistance that we were able to provide for Susan, that’s the best part of the job right? When we can help a company overcome these obstacles it really makes our job the best job ever. Through that work we’re making contacts so whenever we can use them that’s great. The question between marketplace and website that’s one that everyone ponders at some point, it’s one that is also decided by a lot of different factors. You can’t answer this question without going back to that digital strategy. I sound like a broken record with the digital strategy but it is just the process itself. So I think Susan also mentioned a few things that it’s important for companies that are getting into the space that this is not like traditional business practices. Things are constantly evolving, it’s very fluid, and you have to be agile into her point you have to know where to spend your marketing dollars. Because sometimes it’s very scarce. That brings up the issue of the channel mix itself which addresses am I going to sell on the marketplace or website. Without understanding the channel mix and whether or not this component of the channel mix is going to be right for you, and let me just talk about what those components are. There’s basically four primary pieces of the channel mix. You’re going to sell through your website, you’re going to sell on a marketplace, you’re going to sell on social media or if you’re going overseas hopefully you’re going to be leveraging your country’s third-party distributor and whatever they’re doing with their digital presents. I encourage you to start asking your distributors overseas hard questions about their digital representation. Social media can be very demanding. It requires a lot of time and money in specialization. You have to feed it constantly. The marketplace and websites their pros and cons real quickly some of the pros of selling on marketplace it has a broad reach of potential customers, most of them the Amazons the Etsy is the eBay‘s I’ll have that brand recognition and a large following of customers that are going to be doing research on their site so you have that built-in to the system. They can also take foreign currency payments, they have the built-in security and gateways and they offer logistical support.
The cons of selling on the marketplace there’s a lot of competition and there’s no way to get your customer data. So you don’t have the ability to personalize that touch point with your clients and gather that Intel on your customers and build that loyalty. So it’s very difficult to send out in the crowd. Equally on Weather selling on your website. Some of the pros are first and foremost you on your data and you’re able to control the design and the content in the pricing Structure. You get to go through the entire optimization process, you’re able to build that brand loyalty and that interaction with your customer and you can stand out on your own. So you are basically on your customer when they come to your website versus when they visit the marketplace. Some of the other cons, it can be costly and require some intensive capital infusions. It requires some in-house talent or more likely for a lot of companies starting out it’s going to require that third-party vendor but by now you’re going to know those right questions to ask. It needs to be optimized your site will continually need to be optimized so if you’re here in the US, Or if you’re going to go overseas and localize the site there’s another set of activities that you need to do there. So with that said about both website and marketplace which is better, I think the best thing and timing is everything, Susan mentioned platform companies have come along way, many of these are offering, I look at them at that as they have done a lot of work to build a bridge between these two options and so now you can literally take a hybrid approach selling both on the marketplace as well as through your channel. And the platform companies themselves such as salesforce, magnetos, Shopify just to name a few they’ve actually built in enhanced features for their value proposition that allows them to bridge that gap if you will. Products such as integrating your entire product offering and then also tracking shipments so those are just a few of the things on how you can analyze which one that works better for you but ultimately the decision is going to also be wait against other facets of your digital strategy. You might opt to forgo social media right now because of limited resources, human and financial and maybe just pursue a staged approach to taking on all four components of the channel mix.
JG (45:58): That’s really good information. Thanks for going into detail about the e-commerce sales channel mix. You mentioned website you mentioned market places, social media and you also mentioned a distributor. That did really catch my attention. I do want to mention that the US commercial service does provide a service called international partner search with virtual introduction to help companies identify potential agents and distributors in your target markets to identify potential partners, they prescreen them and they bring that information back to you in a report. So to learn more please visit trade.gov and make sure you connect with your local US export assistant center. Wow this has been a really great conversation today. And we could probably go on for another hour. Yes, Maria?
MLB (46:54): Before we go, I know I’m breaking the script. I want to complement something that Cynthia and Susan mentioned that is very important in all this conversation and the ecosystem of e-commerce. And that is transportation. I work for UPS so I have to bring it up but it is very important to have the right transportation to and from your customers also if there are returns. So when you’re building the ecosystem, when you have the platform and you have the payments and the products you also have to take into consideration how to handle the transportation and I think Susan mentioned it and of course Cynthia, management inventory. And where you’re going internationally becomes very critical so that you can also understand how to manage the expectations of your clients and your customer about how long it would take to receive the goods. This is an important element and I didn’t want to leave it out because it makes a big difference, Susan was mentioning the challenge on air capacity right? The prices of shipment during COVID-19 a lot of the goods are also moved to the bellies of passenger planes. And those passenger planes were not flying. So the capacity was reduced at the lowest point down to 39% and that had an impact on prices and availability and timing and therefore all of that has to be taken into consideration. And as a business owner be certain that you have the right partner helping you to have an understanding of that impact on time and delivery. I’ll stop there Jessica.
JG (48:39): No, that is so important and I’m glad that you mentioned Maria because I think that that is definitely an important consideration that companies have to think about. I think making sure that they’re connected to the right resources that can help them navigate that and that was actually my next question Maria so that was right on time. I was just going to ask if you all had any other advice. What advice would you give to a company that’s getting started in e-commerce or even a company that is really strategic and really focused on increasing their online sales?
MLB (49:18): My advice is to understand the ecosystem of e-commerce and international trade when you’re going to do the sales for the whole experience. Customers are looking for ease-of-use, they want to know where their product is once they buy it, they want to trust the source that they’re buying from and they want to have shipping costs and timing that is competitive and transparent. Sellers and the small businesses, what we have seen they need to support the wants of the buyers. Three things. One that they have payment options that reflect the locality that their customers are, they have to make certain that they have enough inventory to support the requests that come either domestically or internationally, and they have to provide customer service. They have to be able to accept returns and have the availability of refunds. So those are the things that I think are important or and or the recommendations that I would give.
JG (50:28): That is so helpful. Thank you Maria I want to open it up to Cynthia and Susan. Do you all have any additional advice that you would give to our listeners today?
CT (50:42): This is Cynthia. I would just say that the only wrong decision is to do nothing. So do something because this is a long journey and there’s information that you’re going to have to start to uncover and start to digest and for most companies it usually falls on the lap of one individual or maybe a small group of individuals that they need to inform up to their leadership all that they are discovering. That Epiphany in the C suite is normally the hardest part of the journey, to get that message across. So start today and gather your Intel so you can understand what it’s going to look like for you and your company.
JG (51:35): Start today, that’s right. Susan, do you have any advice?
SL (51:36): I do, I would love to end on a positive note. The only good thing about sheltering in place due to the travel restrictions is that we actually have a lot more time at hand and it’s really nice to see the steady stream of income that’s coming in from e-commerce in the steady data that you get every single day. So the right time to start is now and a lot of the platforms they are fighting for our business because they understand that this is the trend for the future. So for example if you were a minority or a woman business owner Amazon does have special programs. Alibaba just launched a new program. They gave 50% for every dollar that you spend. You get $.50 to spend on marketing so look for those opportunities and the great thing about digital platforms is that you can start small and you do a little test and if it works you increase your spending. It’s very very logical and you see instantaneous reports every single day or weekly and you can analyze and then make the right move. So if you just be steady just like exercise the first few days it’s going to be painful but 34 months later it gets a lot easier and it’s nice to see a brand new body or new customers coming to your business.
JG (53:12): Absolutely, wow. This was a great conversation today. Thank you so much Cynthia, Maria Louisa and Susan for sharing your experiences and stories with us. We’d also like to thank our listeners for joining us today. If you enjoyed today’s program you’ll definitely want to check out the US commercial service women’s global trade empowerment forum as we are gearing up for our third session of a six part series on August 25. Where we will discuss e-commerce and thriving in the digital economy under the US MCA. So you definitely want to join to hear from speakers from GoDaddy, eBay, UPS and Mexico. I think you’ll find it very valuable so to learn more visit our website at WWWtrade.gov/women’s global trade empowerment forum. And follow us on social media on the US commercial services LinkedIn page and follow the #Women’sGlobalTradeForum.ThanksForJoiningUsToday
ES (54:34): For more information on the upcoming Women’s Global Trade Empowerment Forum, please visit www.trade.gov/womensglobaltradempowermentforum to register your interest and receive event updates.
The International Trade Administration and U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service are temporarily reducing or eliminating the costs of several of their export services, providing relief to U.S. businesses affected by COVID-19. These efforts are intended to encourage the export of non-COVID-19-treatment-related “Made in the USA” products around the world in this moment of economic transition and recovery. For U.S. companies that produce goods or services for export, the USFCS is authorized to reduce user fees and services by up to 100 percent for U.S. small and medium-sized enterprises and economic development organizations, and by up to 50 percent for large U.S. companies. Reduced fees will be provided until September 30, 2020. For more information, please contact your local USEAC or visit us at www.trade.gov