The internet has started to fulfil its promise as a global marketplace, with the majority of online shoppers now looking beyond their national borders to find the best deals. Whilst this may be good for shoppers, it is leaving some online retailers struggling with the sharp increase in competition in an international market worth nearly $3tn.

Media sentiment of “globalisation” may have soured since the 2008 financial crisis, as demonstrated by the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of a protectionist Donald Trump in the US, but globalisation has not slowed in the real world.

According to Nielsen, over half (57%) of online shoppers around the globe have made purchases from sites outside of their national boundaries, with European residents the most likely to have made purchases across borders (63.4%). The only region where cross-border sales have not yet reaches 50% is North America, but with the growth of ecommerce platforms like Alibaba and Wish, they will soon catch up.

Asia’s 4.4bn population and rapid middle class growth in recent years has resulted in the region dominating the global ecommerce market with sales of $831.7bn, followed by North America ($552.6bn) and Europe ($346.5bn). On a national level, China ($740bn) and the US ($561bn) top the charts, with the UK in a distant third with $93bn.

Global ecommerce can no longer be an afterthought for companies of all sizes, and the opportunity to sell products across borders has resulted a marked growth in global companies offering warehousing and fulfilment services around the world. To compete with multinational juggernauts like Amazon, smaller retailers need to be able to outsource their international logistics, so they can store their products in a regional hub like London, Hong Kong, or Los Angeles, and distribute their orders to customers more cheaply, quickly, and with a reduced environmental impact. Amazon is one of the largest players in this space, but many companies do not want to pay their main competitor to warehouse their products, and so look to independent firms like Printful or other third party logistics (3PL) providers.

Political storms like Brexit and the US-China trade war may add friction and slow the growth of globalisation, but they will have little impact on the long term trend towards a flattening of global trade. Shoppers show little nationalism when looking for a bargain, and this means there is money to be made for the companies with a global outlook, which will be at the expense of those who cannot see beyond their own national borders.


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