With mid-2016 fast approaching, the MotionPoint team took some time to survey this year’s evolving global e-commerce landscape. Our goal: to identify several exciting and surprising emerging markets for e-commerce.
We examined data from across the 1,200+ localized sites we manage for global brands, as well as important global economic and political developments that affect the attractiveness of global markets. What we discovered was intriguing.
Here are some particularly compelling markets to consider, if your organization is interested in expanding its international e-commerce efforts.
This may very well be the last year anyone can consider Poland an “emerging” or “overlooked” e-commerce market. Companies should move quickly if they want to reap first-mover windfalls.
For the past year, I’ve recommended Poland to our e-commerce clients as an expansion-worthy global market. The country continues its rise as a powerful political and economic force in Central Europe—and as a large, underserved market with a growing taste for e-commerce.
I’m not alone in my thinking. Last year, McKinsey noted Poland’s potential as “Europe’s new growth engine.”
More than 38 million people live in Poland, making it one of Europe’s largest markets. Its GDP growth remained resilient through the European Financial Crisis—and is robust even now, during Europe’s current economic uncertainty. Analysts believe Poland’s GDP will grow by 3.6% this year, carried by strong domestic consumption and decreasing unemployment. (This is almost twice the European Union’s average of 1.9%.)
Increasingly, Polish consumers are taking advantage of online shopping to acquire a wider range of goods. In 2015, we noticed an average 17% increase in Polish traffic to our clients’ localized sites. One standout company, which embraced several key localization best practices, saw a 74% increase in sessions in 2015. (This isn’t an isolated event; the company saw a 58% increase in Polish sessions in 2014.)
Poland is a member of the Visegrád Group (also known as the Visegrád Four, or “V4”), an alliance of four central European countries working together to create modern, stable economies. As we’ve mentioned in our recent coverage of the V4, Western companies entering these markets generate significant success. Why? They’re often the first international retailers to reach these consumers, and to offer products and experiences that outclass domestic competition.
In fact, Poland’s domestic retailers are only just beginning to enter the world of e-commerce. This means the total number of potential competitors is even smaller than normal.
For instance, there were a reported 120,000 e-commerce sites in France in 2014, compared to only 15,000 in Poland. Given the reduced quantity and quality of the local competition, it makes perfect sense for savvy retailers to add this emerging market to their e-commerce endeavor. Poland is poised to instantly become among the biggest players in their portfolios.
Once companies expand into continental Europe, we’ve found they usually examine markets further east (such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia) or north, into Scandinavian countries.
There’s good reason to head northward. Historically, we’ve observed that Scandinavia e-commerce conversion rates are among the highest in the world. This should be little surprise given the wealth concentrated in the region. This affluence makes Scandinavia a very attractive secondary market to expand into, after Western Europe.
But Scandinavian-bound companies often overlook Denmark. That’s a missed opportunity. This country of 5.5 million is among the top performing countries from an e-commerce perspective—even in the high-performing region of Scandinavia.
For one MotionPoint client, revenue from Danes was more than double that of users from Sweden. The conversion rate was more than half a percentage point higher, too. Our clients are continuing to see growth in the market, as well: revenue rose an average of 17% for these sites in 2015.
Kazakhstan may be the most surprising entry on this list, but the country has a lot going for it. In addition to being an emerging market, it has a widely used official language, growing Internet penetration and evolving shopping tendencies—as well as a natural geography that lends itself well to e-commerce.
After averaging an impressive GDP growth rate for several years (an average of 8.2% between 2001 and 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund and The Economist), the GDP per capita of Kazakhstan stood at $12,276 in 2014. According to the World Bank, that’s just $500 less than Russia, and $2,200 less than Poland.
The country’s Internet population is almost 8 million, approximately 56% of its total population. And it’s growing rapidly. The country is also geographically vast, which naturally lends itself well to e-commerce: as the affluent population’s interest in a greater variety of goods begins to grow, they’ll cast their eyes online, to far flung domestic and international e-retailers.
For companies looking to launch global e-commerce sites, perhaps the most important thing to note is one Kazakhstan’s official languages: Russian. Our clients who have already localized a site for the Russian market have found that Kazakh visitors also transacted on the site. Further, this number dramatically increases when clients launch a Russian site explicitly catering to these customers.
One MotionPoint client executed this strategy, and saw continuous growth from approximately 200,000 sessions its first year to nearly 4 million in its third. By localizing its existing Russian site to a dedicated Kazakh site, the company quickly tapped into an emerging market as a first mover.
The site is performing well, with a respectable 2.4% conversion rate and nearly 500,000 products sold annually.
Like Poland, the Czech Republic is another V4 country worth considering. Its population is smaller than Poland’s, but it’s comparatively wealthier ($19,844 GDP per capita, according to the World Bank). This makes it more attractive for upscale brands.
In addition, its e-commerce marketplace is also largely underserved, making it ripe for international brands looking to quickly compete in a new market. The long-term prospects for the country are good as well, with one of the strongest engineering bases in Europe, led by the automobile industry—which has long been a leading economic engine of the economy. The Internet penetration in the country is higher too, with more than 88% of the country having online access.
We’ve seen clients find great success in this market with localized websites. One company generated 40% more revenue in the Czech Republic after nine months in-market. The market has plenty of room to grow, too: a MotionPoint client saw an 84% year-over-year increase in transactions from the Czech Republic in 2015.
Romania is perhaps the most “raw” entry to our list of 2016’s hottest emerging e-commerce markets, but certainly appears to be on the right trajectory. E-commerce sites operating throughout Europe—or planning further expansion into Europe—should definitely keep tabs on Romania throughout the end of 2016 and beyond.
We’ll soon highlight Romania as a breakout market in the inaugural installment of a four-part Trendbook series. In it, we showcase the economic growth of the market, and how it’s poised for greatness. An excerpt:
In the past year, we’ve seen overall traffic from Romanian users to these localized sites skyrocket from approximately 3 million visits to over 330 million visits. Romanians are online, engaged, and searching for content and products beyond their borders. … Low inflation and unemployment rank Romania among the top 20 EU economies in terms of size. Large portions of the workforce show a high proficiency in either English (higher than Belgium’s) or German, giving rise to the country as one of the most attractive IT outsourcing destinations.
(You can read more when our Trendbook series debuts in a few weeks.)
There’s no time like the present to assess the global business landscape and consider potential international markets for expansion. This is doubly true when considering emerging or underserved markets. Here, companies can reap great rewards by being the first international companies to enter the market—and to deliver a polished service and superior quality products through localized online experiences.
Eric Watson holds a Master's Degree in Finance from Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea). Prior to joining MotionPoint, he worked throughout Asia as a consultant. He completed his bachelor’s degree with honors at Arizona State University in 2010 with a degree in Political Science. His non-marketing related research interests include the development of new manufacturing technologies, and the new national policies necessary to encourage their efficient and egalitarian adoption. He covers these topics on his website, The Policy Wire.
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