Going global: a lifeline for SMEs amid Covid-19

By Mike Parra, CEO, DHL Express Americas


Mike Parra

With over three decades of transportation and logistics experience, Mike Parra leads the second-largest region within the DHL Express network, the Americas, as the CEO. His strategic direction of 56 highly diverse countries and territories, encompassing approximately 27,000 employees, has contributed to the organization’s enormous success in growth, quality and employee satisfaction. As a member of the DHL Express Global Management Board, he also has direct oversight of the company’s best-in-class training and development program (Certified International Specialist), as well as its portfolio of global sponsorships. Mike exhibits his passion for social responsibility by building housing for poverty-stricken families, biking for multiple sclerosis (MS), and being active within his church.


Around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically altered the way businesses reach their customers, care for their employees and plan for the future. During the lockdowns of February and March, small businesses in particular found themselves in unprecedented circumstances, and many were forced to close their doors.

But the pandemic has done more than generate disruption and uncertainty. It has unleashed a new spirit of creativity and perseverance. It has also amplified the power and importance of global e-commerce, as new buying habits and behaviors fuel growth in what was already a rapidly expanding online marketplace. For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the message of the last few months is clear: In order to survive and thrive in the current economic downturn, bold strategies are necessary, and those strategies should include a robust e-commerce plan with a strong cross-border component.

To launch or expand international online sales, SMEs will need to pursue a careful mix of market research, website and marketing enhancements and logistics planning. Considering that some countries are poised to see 20% overall growth in e-commerce sales by the end of the year, even while the overall economy contracts, the potential results more than justify the effort.

Today, there are more resources available than ever before to help small businesses develop their export strategies. In the U.S., The International Trade Administration’s Export Solutions at trade.gov and the Small Business Administration’s Office of International Trade provide valuable market information, assistance with plan development and financing information. Globally, there are resources such as GlobalTrade.net that provide market analyses by country and industry, as well as other global business tips. To get started with your company’s cross-border e-commerce plan, it’s critical to choose the right markets for your products based on need and demand in each particular country, as well as on regulatory and cultural issues. Ultimately, targeting individual countries or regions instead of pursuing a blanket approach will improve outcomes.

Additionally, your international website needs to reflect not only the local language of your customers, but also cultural considerations and locally accepted payment methods. A thorough localization of your website requires going beyond simple plug-in translation programs; content must be fully customized. Shoppers will generally not purchase from international websites unless they are certain that payment methods are safe, shipping procedures are clear and company information is accurate.

20 PERCENT

The estimated rate of e-commerce growth in some countries in 2020

A great product matched to the right international audience, along with a localized website and good payment functionality, will only get your business so far. If your goods don’t reach your international customers quickly and cost-effectively, you will lose trust and miss out on future sales. Creating a sound shipping plan means partnering with a logistics organization that has a strong global footprint, advanced technology tools to help you navigate international customs requirements and the ability to provide the express shipping options that online customers demand.

By opening the digital doors of their businesses to international consumers, SMEs can chart a course to recoup the in-store revenues lost due to COVID-19, while simultaneously supplementing domestic e-commerce sales.

Critically, this near-term goal will strengthen businesses for the long-term shift toward e-commerce that is already underway. COVID-19 will forever change retail shopping and consumer habits, and organizations that adapt now will be ahead of the curve.

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Published: December 2020


Images: Mostafa ElGameil; DHL; private