Global marketplace alive and well on Internet American cyberspace stores are seeing more customers from overseas

December 28, 1997|By Matthew McAllester | Matthew McAllester,NEWSDAY

The Indonesian man was setting up in his new home in Jakarta and he needed to fill it with the kind of stuff you or I would buy at Sears. Stoves, refrigerators and other appliances for the proud new homeowner. The thing is, it's a lot harder to find those kinds of goods in Indonesia, especially at American prices.

So the man paid a visit to http: //www.cybershop.com, which is based in New York. He did his shopping there.

"It all arrived in a certain consolidated point in Los Angeles," said Linda Wiatrowski, vice president and general merchandising manager for the 3-year-old Manhattan company. "Then he had it all forwarded. He had a half container. It went from L.A. to Jakarta."

For some shoppers of the world, the global marketplace that President Clinton and other prophets of the economy have been touting in recent years is already here. In increasing numbers, people who live overseas are turning to American Internet stores for their shopping needs.

"It's a small but growing slice, especially for certain kinds of merchants, particularly those who already serve international customers," said Kate Delhagen, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "It ranges from 2 or 3 percent of their total sales to 15 Often, people overseas can't get those products, period. In some cases it is the price. Even with shipping it can still be cheaper."

Japan, South Korea, Germany and Britain are all hot markets for overseas online sales, merchants say.

For two major online booksellers -- books are perhaps the most popular product among online shoppers -- the foreign market is even bigger than Delhagen's estimate. Both Seattle-based Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, the online presence of the mammoth bookstore chain, say that customers beyond the U.S. border account for about 25 percent of their total sales.

"There's a real demand and need for English language books," said Susan Boster, director of marketing for BarnesandNoble.com.

That's understandable. English-language books are, predictably, mainly published in English-speaking countries. By the time they're in bookstores in South Korea, for example, they're rather pricey. And limited in their variety. Compact discs, while manufactured all over the world, are comparatively inexpensive in the United States and are also popular products among overseas Net shoppers.

It's worth noting that books and CDs are small and easy to send. You don't have to try to see if they fit in with the look of your home. They don't break in the mail. They don't need spare parts and they don't need servicing. None of which can be said for stoves headed for Jakarta.

That may explain why only 10 percent of Cybershop.com's total sales come from abroad. But that 10 percent is an important start, Wiatrowski said.

"We have always anticipated our main focus to be our U.S. business," she said. "But we have always from day one thought of the international business potential as a real sleeper with enormous, enormous potential. But we've got to work through some pretty serious operational issues, mainly shipping and duty."

In other words, if you're going to put a fridge in the mail and send it half the way around the world, how do you prevent its becoming prohibitively expensive? And how responsible are you for paying duty or getting customers to pay duty on their goods? If, of course, any duty has to be paid.

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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