Joe's Thoughts: How has the Internet Affected International Commerce?

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Operating internationally used to be the exclusive domain of large corporations, but recently it has become incredibly easy to sell products and services overseas. Prominent industry leaders have called it the era of small business, as the ability of these companies to reach vast segments of people worldwide has boomed. Though there are many contributing causes to this new phenomenon, its main cause is incontestably the growth, spread, and evolution of online technologies.

Advancements in communication technology have traditionally resulted in broadening the reach of businesses. Take the mobile phone, for example. The ability to communicate on the go, as well as receive breaking news instantly, has made mobile phones not only common in the upper echelons of business, but necessary. Mobile phones have become so prevalent that even workers in borderline third-world countries carry them. Not only has this increased the responsiveness of businesses: it has also opened up a vast new market as well as new marketing opportunities.

It was the Internet, however, that changed the way people looked at international business. For the first time, anybody in the world with a connection could view the same website, could read the same words, and could view the same files. The Internet itself has no borders, with the only obstacle to international communication being language. Previously, to establish a business internationally, you would need contacts in that country, and most likely an on-the-ground presence. Now, an English-speaking customer in any country could find and purchase your product. In fact, making serious inroads in foreign markets requires nothing more than an appropriately translated and culturally sensitive website or utilizing a selling platform such as eBay. Entrepreneurs are constantly creating new technologies that make international eCommerce easier, an example of this being MerchantRun, a software that allows eBay sellers to manage sales in multiple countries through a single interface. The cost of maintaining multiple websites or an eBay account is practically negligible for any sizable business, and thus there is no limit on how many international markets you can penetrate at a time, as long as you can arrange international shipping if you’re selling a physical product. With the reduced cost, risk, and difficulty of expanding internationally, it is not a surprise international businesses are more common than ever before.

The Internet has also helped businesses that require a physical presence in other countries. Email and online chat has played a large role in breaking down borders, as the importance of being able to communicate across the world instantly and share files cannot be overstated. Instant communication means that the priorities and goals of overseas branches will remain in alignment with corporate headquarters, and that both sides have the relevant and up-to-date information needed to make informed decisions. Cloud-computing also allows workers to share and collaborate on documents at will. Overall, the barriers of entry to the international market have decreased dramatically in the last decade, and with the Internet still evolving, international business will only become more affordable.

Have you ever bought something from another country online?