What sells best internationally?

Marketers at small and mid-size companies across the globe are trying to figure out how to use their websites to sell their products internationally. Some are just looking for leads; others are trying to actually sell products through e-commerce. And most are finding varying degrees of success.

Moen, Endresen, and Gavlen (2003) examined manufacturers worldwide to determine if there were key factors that would lead to better international sales. They discovered that products and services could be grouped into two main categories: search goods and experience goods.

Search goods are products that can be evaluated by means of external information. For example, a laptop can be evaluated by feature sets, consumer press reviews, customer reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations. A hotel can be evaluated through listed amenities (room and entire facility), third-party evaluations such as Trip Advisor, and word-of-mouth recommendations. Even a capital good, such as a farm tractor, can be evaluated by feature sets, brand reputation, and tradeshow information. It is fairly easy to create a decision matrix with this information and, then, initiate a purchase if the product meets the decision criteria. This mindset holds true whether the selling company is in the consumer’s home country or 5000 miles away.

Conversely, experience goods must be personally evaluated. Many food products can be described as delicious, but interpretation of that word lies with the individual, especially in light of numerous cultural differences related to taste. Similarly, makeup sites may includes color sample photos and enthusiastic customer reviews, but it is difficult to evaluate color matches online. Once an experience good has been personally evaluated, a consumer may be extremely willing to purchase this item through a website. However, until that evaluation takes place, only the brave consumer (reassured by a generous return policy) will attempt to purchase an experience good online.

From a marketer’s standpoint, if your product is a search good, there could be significant opportunities to sell this product across the globe. However, if your product is an experience good, you could be better off to position your website for brand building or other non-commerce purpose.


Moen, O., Endresen, I., Gavlen, M. (2003). “Executive insights: use of the internet in international marketing – a case study of small computer software firms.” Journal of International Marketing. 11 (4), pp. 129-149.


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