Flow, which offers payments and logistics solutions for online retailers, wants companies and brands to think big. Cofounder and chief executive officer Rob Keve is looking to help brands and retailers sell globally without the frictions associated with cross-border commerce.
And given the technology of today, selling in a global marketplace has become a whole lot easier. Here, Keve discusses cross-border commerce and the opportunities for fashion apparel retailers and brands.
WWD: Why is cross-border e-commerce important for brands and retailers? What are the opportunities?
Rob Keve: Cross-border e-commerce offers an enormous opportunity for brands and retailers to easily grow their customer base and increase sales, yet the opportunity is often lost because of perceived challenges to both the brand and the consumer. Brands find it challenging to provide a localized purchase experience including pricing with local currency and duty/tax and offer cross-border logistics with low-cost shipping and returns. Additionally, they are afraid to lose control of their customer experience. For international consumers, their experience is perceived as fraught with uncertainty and expensive. These challenges can now be addressed with a modern approach to systems and a proper cross-border e-commerce solution like Flow.
WWD: What role does social media play in fueling cross-border e-commerce?
R.K.: Social media allows consumers everywhere to see products from anywhere. Products feature without regard to national borders on social media, influencer posts, friend referrals and targeted campaigns generating awareness and demand in an easy and inexpensive way for brands and retailers. If the brands don’t have a way to sell cross-border and efficiently satisfy that demand, a large and important opportunity is lost. The opportunity cost is not just the obvious lost sales from existing site traffic of international visitors, but their growing global fan base is nipped in the bud. Social media is exposing consumers around the world to products that they may not find in their local markets. Cross-border e-commerce when done well can help a retailer expand their local market to a global market.
WWD: What challenges and opportunities do brands and retailers face with converting to cross-border commerce? Are there any challenges regarding local currencies in cross-border commerce?
The main challenges in selling cross border are maintaining a seamless and localized customer experience for the consumer and providing scalability, control and flexibility to the brand.
For the consumer, buying from an unfamiliar brand priced in a foreign currency with an opaque delivery service can prove daunting. Moreover, the consumer often finds that their local payment method is unavailable and as a result, they cannot make the purchase. These issues, combined with a lack of clarity as to what duties and taxes will be levied and what items can’t be imported due to restrictions, creates a poor consumer experience and leads to abysmal conversion rates.
Brands want to know that they can maintain control over products, logistics and data and in turn, their customer experience. In addition, brands need their systems and processes to be scalable as their business grows internationally.
For companies that can provide a highly localized site that meets domestic standards, and maintain control over their international sales as well as they do with domestic sales, an enormous opportunity exists to grow their customer base, increase sales and enhance the value of their brand internationally.
WWD: What is the role of artificial intelligence in streamlining cross-border commerce?
R.K.: Advanced artificial intelligence is now being used to create a better experience for both consumers and brands engaged in cross-border e-commerce. Incorporating a host of variables, algorithms can now calculate landed cost so brands have a better grasp of duties and tax to any country in the world. This allows them to price accurately and prevent consumers from being saddled with C.O.D. transactions upon delivery. AI also helps brands’ web sites “learn” about optimal customer experiences for international markets, creating a more localized experience.
WWD: How is Flow making it possible for companies to go global?
R.K.: Flow is taking a process that used to be difficult, expensive and risky and making it easy and user-friendly. Brands that use Flow are able to easily maintain control over their data and processes while offering a simple and safe option for consumers worldwide to buy their products. And because the Flow platform is subscription-based, modular and hub-less brands can easily and inexpensively integrate the Flow platform into their existing system in days.
Simply put, Flow makes it easy for brands to expand their market globally. Brands that use Flow allow consumers around the world to feel like they are shopping from a local site, thus dramatically increasing conversions and sales.
WWD: What strategies around cross-border commerce are retailers and brands implementing ahead of the holiday season?
R.K.: Retailers and brands need to look at international calendar holidays in each country in which they do business to prepare for high volume days and offer appropriate incentives, promotions and discounts. For example, the Chinese e-commerce holiday Singles Day [also referred to as “Double Eleven”] would likely have much higher than normal volume as it’s the largest online shopping day in the world.
While in the past, accommodating days or seasons of higher volumes may have proven difficult, companies using Flow now have the ability to scale their systems easily and handle increased sales volume and shipping demands. Similarly, promotions and discounts are easily handled using Flow’s algorithms and localized pricing and currencies.