2014 has been a year of remarkable growth for global ecommerce.  According to eMarketer, worldwide B2C ecommerce sales will rise 19.3% in 2014 to $1.47 trillion.  Much of this growth is coming from increases in digital buyers within emerging markets like China, Indonesia, India, Brazil and Argentina.  But, in addition, many retailers based in more mature markets—like the U.S.—are seeing more web traffic from IP addresses outside their markets. 

Ecommerce is no longer limited by borders.  Many online retailers—large and small—have international ecommerce capabilities.  Historical roadblocks like shipping are being broken down; for instance, UPS and FedEx were recently licensed by the Chinese government to conduct express parcel services to China. 

How can global brands best engage and convert shoppers in this new world of cross-border ecommerce?  Digital advertising dollars are following cross-border shoppers (digital ad spend will make up a quarter of global media dollars in 2014, a 16.7% year-over-year increase (eMarketer, Sept. 2014)).  But how can brands make the most of their digital ad spend?  Furthermore, how can they ensure that their ads and experiences are as relevant to shoppers in Chicago as they are to shoppers in São Paulo?

Today, many brands face challenges with global integration and alignment.  Challenges often include harmonization of key performance indicators (KPIs) that vary by market, language barriers, tax issues, cultural coordination, project ownership and best practice sharing.  As ecommerce borders blur, all brands (and their agencies) should keep some guiding principles in mind. 

1. Planning & alignment first 

There is competitive advantage in high-performing teams that align around succinct, clearly defined project plans with benchmarks and success metrics.  When stakeholders understand the business deliverables, roles of team members and the expectations of management, outcomes include speed to market and better results. 

2. Cross-market standardization

After achieving alignment, cross-market optimization techniques can be leveraged to standardize best practices across markets. This often start with an audit of each market, consisting of self-evaluation by in-market teams and normalization by a central lead.   Audits enable you to create weighted scorecards by market, which surface opportunities.  To illustrate, Performics recently used this approach while launching a new client across a number of Latin American markets.  Through the audit, we identified many account restructure opportunities, which led to dramatic improvements 90 days post launch.  Overall, cross-market click-through rates (CTRs) improved 127% year-over-year while cost per clicks (CPCs) fell 5%.  Additionally, conversion rates rose, and—through the restructure—we raised impression share (share of voice) to boost brand awareness in all new countries.

3. Localization 

Audits can evaluate markets based on many best practices.  Because not all best practices travel, one technique that deserves a spotlight is localization.  Whether you choose to manage advertising/content campaigns centrally or locally, don’t just translate!  Ensure that you have locally-based experts who develop campaign copy from scratch, leveraging their understandings of the markets.  Establish central oversight by providing these boots-on-the-ground with highly detailed briefing templates. 

4. Ongoing Communication

Lastly, regular communication across borders is key to optimization.  Ensure that you have a reporting structure in place to collects data and provide insights to optimize per locale.  Conduct business reviews or regular feedback meetings at the global, regional and local levels to share knowledge across markets. 

Creating global network consistency can certainly prove difficult.  But, going forward, brands that are unrestrained by boundaries will be best positioned to engage and convert global shoppers, who are becoming equally unrestrained.

Defining how global e-commerce sales can be improved is a complicated issue, akin to summarizing the solution for world peace in three easy steps. Planning and alignment, cross-market standardization, localization and ongoing communication are all tools and techniques that can be helpful.