Tech Race: Is Europe Getting Ahead?

Since I joined Boo.com, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the UK and have met a lot of people who do E-commerce in Europe. This has brought me to the interesting conclusion that American firms are going to have a hard time getting into the European market, or any market outside of the US for that matter.

Much like new developments in wireless platforms (mobile phones and other devices) and interactive television are now moving at a faster pace abroad than they are in the US, E-commerce is bound to become a non-US lead field if American companies don’t watch out. The reason is quite simple: legacy systems and lack of identification of variances that exist outside of the US.

Let’s take a simple example: selling in multiple countries. Because no country in Europe is sufficient to create a strong market for a particular retailer, Europeans Etailers are keeping an eye out on issues like multiple currencies and multiple language management. In the US, it’s dollars and English. In Europe, it’s pounds, deutchmarks, kroners, etc… and English, French, German, etc… That somewhat simple difference means approaching the development of systems with a different view. From the get-go, Europeans are kicking off their systems with an eye towards supra-national sales. That means being able to deal with custom taxes, rates of conversions, and multiple languages from the start.

Those are but a few of the issues they are accustomed to deal with but not the only ones. In the UK, for example, the interactive TV platforms have been rolled out and web and email access from your cell phone is more of the rule than the exception. As a result, European Etailers are developing their web based systems with an eye to other platforms. Most American systems are stuck into legacyware that ties their platform specifically to the web and will eventually have to be trashed in order to take advantage of the new platforms.

That said, American companies have a definite advantage in knowing the web VERY well. That advantage turns to disadvantage though, when they are asked to do things differently. We are now an industry that is getting more ingrained into its own frame of mind (well, this is the way other web shops do it so why should we change it). However, because non-US markets got into the game late, they had the advantage of being able to deal with more mature tools and try to go beyond anything that’s been done before. For example, I talked about Accompany.com back a few months ago, and saw it as a major development in the way people buy (Aggregation of customers for reverse auction). That message apparently also sunk in with some people in the European market and there is now a healthy competition among vendors in this market. However, in the US, it seems that by and large, this area of Ecommerce is widely ignored.

What will we do if that landscape is dominated by non-US players?

It’s now high time for American Etailers to wake up and realize that the global market is as important as the American one. After all, we’ve all been talking about one of the advantages of the Internet being that it is a global market. Let’s remember that fact and start acting as global companies instead of US-only ones. Otherwise, European companies will most likely eat our lunches.

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