The e-commerce platform conquering the world
Monday, 21 November 2016
It’s a small company based in a small country, but WorldFront is taking on the world and, in the process, positioning e-commerce at the top of New Zealand’s export market.
On Tuesday September 27 WorldFront’s Auckland head office received a visit from Prime Minister John Key. It’s not every day the country’s highest-ranking politician drops in on a business – but when he does, it’s usually because that particular business has achieved something extraordinary.
And that’s exactly what WorldFront has done – both on a national and global scale.
With its range of products sold around the world now exceeding 20 million items, WorldFront is New Zealand’s largest exporter by number of products for sale – bridging the gap between e-commerce marketplaces, sellers and logistics providers, and integrating these sales channels.
The upshot of it all is the positioning of e-commerce at the top of New Zealand’s export market.
WorldFront originally started life as the platform behind online store Fishpond. Its creators then realised they could scale the platform and tailor it to other e-commerce platforms.
As WorldFront CEO Ben Powles explains, it came about after having a long, hard think about what their key strengths were.
“We realised that while there are lots of great online retailers out there, we had something that no one else had – a technology platform which allowed us to list tens of millions of products onto multiple marketplaces.
“Because we already have our own e-fulfilment centres in three different countries and by having an existing delivery network into more than 100 countries, we can deliver products very efficiently to customers all over the world,” says Powles.
The WorldFront mission is to be the world’s largest single source of products for e-commerce and to make those products available to more than a billion marketplace customers worldwide.
If you think that goal is a little lofty – consider some of the following facts and figures around the company as it
For a start it has more than 22 million products for sale – second only to Amazon, and more than large US retailers such as Walmart and Sears.
Then there are these remarkable facts:
- A product is sold on a WorldFront site every four seconds.
- More than 5,000 prices are updated every second.
- 2.5 million competitor prices are checked every day.
- WorldFront is the number one seller on eBay Australia.
- WorldFront has more listings on eBay US than any other seller.
- WorldFront has 150 staff with teams based in 22 countries.
- It has growth rates of more than 100 percent per year in many of its new markets.
- It already has products available to more than 500 million marketplace customers.
Powles admits that building a massive cloud-based platform that can handle the huge number of transactions and product data updates has been a challenge. But he says WorldFront’s system architecture and own proprietary software have been designed for global scalability.
“Growing from an Auckland-based company to setting up and operating on all continents in different time zones was challenging, but exciting,” he says. “We’ve changed our business processes so that adding new e-fulfilment centres in new countries is now relatively quick and simple, compared to when we did it the first time.”
Formula for success
The success of WorldFront’s platform can be boiled down to one simple fact – it offers sellers a way to get their products in front of, and delivered to, hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide; without the seller doing anything differently than they would for a local domestic sale.
WorldFront lists all the information about the seller’s product on various marketplaces around the world. “We do all the tricky stuff, like ensuring the shipping costs, handling charges, taxes, duties and currency changes are all correct and updated in near real time,” explains Powles.
“Then when a customer buys the product, WorldFront passes the order to the seller who ships it to a local address in their own country. From there WorldFront does the hard part of the export – the addressing, labelling, tracking, customs and shipping manifest. We make sure that the customer gets their order in perfect condition and in the expected timeframe.
“We do a whole lot of other things too – like customer service, legal compliance and regulation.”
It’s all about giving sellers more sales and buyers more products, says Powles. “The WorldFront platform enables that connection to happen, and for the orders and deliveries to be transacted as seamlessly and efficiently
Powles sees a big future for e-commerce. He says it’s on a massive growth curve, but the rate of growth varies around the world. “Right now, Southeast Asia is going gangbusters, but there’re other regions that will also be stars in the next few years.”
Powles believes a higher portion of e-commerce is going to be done on marketplaces in the coming years. “Many studies show this, with some indicating marketplaces will account for more than 50 percent of all e-commerce by 2025.
“This means online sellers must have a multiple channel strategy – selling on your own website is fine, but you also need to be where the buyers are – and that will increasingly be on international marketplaces.”
Right now WorldFront is planning on further growth – adding more technology to their platform, seeking more marketplace partners, and ultimately securing more customers. They’re anticipating major expansion in Asia, and then into South America and Africa.
Which brings up that remarkable goal of more than one billion customers.
Ben’s top TWO tips on entering new markets • Potential partners will see you are much more serious if you go there in person. Phone or Skype is fine for initial contact, but to actually get something done or to move up in their priority list, tell them you’re coming to see them. Then when you go, meet as many people as you can. • Use NZ Trade and Enterprise – they have great resources and great people in lots of the places Kiwi companies need to be. Don't talk to them the week before you fly out – the earlier you tell them about your plans the more they can help.
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