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U.S. E-Tailers’ Cross-Border Sales to Hit $45B: Study

U.S. e-tailers are expected to see their domestic sales shoot up 56 percent to $234 billion by 2020.

The Web is bringing the world’s customers to U.S.-based e-tailers — which are expected to grow their international business fourfold to $45 billion by 2020, according to a new study.

That’s just the fastest growing part of an already expanding business. U.S. e-tailers are expected to see their domestic sales shoot up 56 percent to $234 billion by 2020, according to research from OC&C Strategy Consultants and Google. The study, titled “Retail e-mpires,” estimated the value of the online retail export market by analyzing 2011-13 Google search volumes from across the world.

U.S. e-tailers are projected to get 16 percent of their business from abroad by the end of the decade, up from 7 percent last year.

Interest in American e-tailers is rising most sharply in Russia, where searches for U.S. retailers grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 51 percent from 2011 to 2013. Also growing keener were Web searchers in Brazil, up 40 percent, and Mexico, 39 percent.

“What you see globally is fashion is the largest category, doing the largest volume of cross-border trade,” said Rambaut Fairley, associate partner at OC&C.

But trade cuts both ways and overall, the U.S. is a net importer of fashion, according to the study, which looked at U.S.-based pure plays and retailers that also have Web operations, but not stores in other countries.

All told, U.S. consumers bought $470 million more in fashion from sites overseas than American companies sold abroad. (The U.K. was the largest net exporter of fashion, selling $1.22 billion more than consumers in that country bought from abroad.)

Fairley said it’s easy for companies to dip a toe in international waters online.

“What you can do is open up your proposition and make it more accessible to many of these markets without necessarily heavily investing behind the proposition,” Fairley said.

That way brands can see how much traction they get from which markets and spend accordingly.