In his seven years with outdoor adventure retailer Cabela’s, Derek Fortna has spearheaded various digital marketing programs, including the brand’s entrée into social media, it’s paid search campaigns and its global ecommerce strategy. Cabela’s, which has sold internationally since the late 1990s, fine-tuned its global ecommerce approach a few years ago with a new vendor partnership and a global marketing push. Fortna told eMarketer’s Lauren McKay about Cabela’s experience selling internationally, and where the brand plans to pay special attention in the future.
eMarketer: In 2009, Cabela’s began working with international ecommerce platform FiftyOne to expand its global selling capabilities. Can you describe the company’s strategy for expansion?
Derek Fortna: We’ve been shipping internationally since the late ’90s. Prior to turning to FiftyOne three years ago, we had already shipped to over 200 countries. One of our executives saw the business we were doing internationally without really trying, and he just asked the question, “What if we try?” So we did some research around international business and came up with a recommendation for expanding.
“One of the obstacles for international customers was when a package arrived in their country from a particular shipping company, the customer had no idea what they would have to pay in terms of taxes and duties.”
It was a three-step process: The first step was to shore-up customer service internationally. The second piece was to overcome the major obstacles that international customers had in ordering from us here in the US. One of the obstacles for international customers was when a package arrived in their country from a particular shipping company, the customer had no idea what they would have to pay in terms of taxes and duties. That’s dangerous for an international consumer, especially in places such as Mexico that have really high duties on items made in China. Cabelas.com doesn’t always specify when a product is made in China, so sometimes the customer won’t know how much a duty is until the product arrives. FiftyOne now calculates those taxes and duties ahead of time, so consumers know the full amount when they place their order.
Our third step was to start doing some international marketing, which we hadn’t really done before.
eMarketer: What digital tactics did you implement to target international consumers?
Fortna: The major effort was with our paid search program, and we’re complementing that with banner ads on websites where we expect our international customers to spend time. That really boils down to international fishing and hunting websites. We’re also doing some social marketing on Facebook to bring about brand trust and awareness in certain target markets.
“We’re not driving a lot of our international business through our branding; instead, we’re driving most of that business through nonbrand terms.”
Our international paid search expansion is going well, but one of the challenges we’ve found is that we’re not driving a lot of our international business through our branding; instead, we’re driving most of that business through nonbrand terms. International consumers don’t necessarily recognize our name like they do here in the States, so we realized we needed to supplement our paid search with some branding tactics to position our brand name and what we sell.
eMarketer: As you’re identifying your international targets, are you finding that certain product categories are more popular or that they are responding better to certain messages than others?
Fortna: From a product perspective, our hard goods perform well internationally. Our soft goods, like clothing, aren’t as popular because international companies and countries have their local retailers for clothing. However, there’s a pretty fragmented market internationally for hunting and fishing hard goods. There’s no one out there as strong as we are in terms of that assortment of products. There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops, but no big companies with vast product selections.
eMarketer: Based on your global commerce experience, can you offer a few best practices?
“We have looked to local partners in international markets to help make us aware of societal aspects.”
Fortna: We’ve learned to be careful and conservative in terms of growing our business internationally. We have looked to local partners in international markets to help make us aware of societal aspects. We’re working with Performics in London for our paid search programs. We did this specifically because they have a better understanding of that part of the world than we do here in the States.
That’s paid off, without a doubt. They understand when camping season starts and ends, and boating season starts and ends, and the type of products that people look for. For example, we Americans call a fishing reel used for saltwater fishing a “saltwater reel,” but in the United Kingdom, they call that a “sea reel.” It’s a slight difference, but if we were buying search ads in the UK listing a “saltwater reel,” we’d get far less traffic than listing it as a “sea reel.” Having an international office has definitely been advantageous.
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