Test the E-waters
How The Sharper Image is Expanding its Global Presence Via the Web
By Lisa A. Yorgey
People have the same wants and needs the world over. With this in mind, you can safely assume that if a product does well in the United States, it also may perform well overseas.
This theory is being put to the test by high-tech consumer products marketer The Sharper Image, which is testing global waters via the Internet—a marketing channel suited to global marketing and able to reach the lion's share of Internet users who live beyond U.S. borders.
This multichannel marketer has maintained a global presence for more than 10 years by way of licensees in Japan, Australia and Switzerland. Today, The Sharper Image's only current licensee is in Switzerland, but this is a solid business that has flourished and now includes three retail locations.
Building on its success in the Swiss market, The Sharper Image launched international e-commerce sites last year. The catalyst for a global e-commerce launch is attributed largely to a significant interest in the past five years in The Sharper Image's private label and proprietary products, which account for 70 percent of its sales. It has a relatively high margin on these products, which makes it attractive for the merchant to adapt and sell them overseas.
What's more, the Internet is a vehicle that allows the company to expand its overseas presence without adding the expenses associated with a print catalog and on-the-ground support.
Approximately 200 Sharper Image products—less than a quarter of its total product breadth—are available for purchase from its global sites. But the selection includes the merchant's top 100 sellers, such as the Ionic Breeze Air Purifier, which pulls in a significant portion of sales.
Products and margins aside, Tony Farrell, The Sharper Image's senior vice president of creative services, says he believes, "It has always been founder Richard Thalheimer's long-time dream to be an international business."