Global Online Sales Help Float American Apparel as U.S. Flounders

American Apparel yesterday reported that total online consumer sales fell by 3.8 percent during its second quarter compared to the same period of 2008. But the clothing brand’s major expansions in global e-commerce from recent years appear to be significantly lessening the blows from a tough U.S. economy.

For instance, according to the company’s prepared statement, international online consumer sales jumped 13 percent when compared to Q2 last year, while U.S. revenues for the same category fell by 14.7 percent. And year-to-date international consumer online sales were up 12.3 percent, while domestic was down to the tune of 12.4 percent.

“As the U.S. market has slowed down, the efforts put in internationally over the past year-and-a-half to two years have really off-set the domestic decline,” said Raz Schionning, Web director at the Los Angeles-based company. “I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. market has slowed down more than any of the other regions. Many of those other regions have grown and grown significantly [for American Apparel].”

Starting in 2005, the company began an aggressive launch of shops around the globe, opening numerous locations in the U.K., Germany and Japan, as well as outlets in Australia, France, Israel, The Netherlands, China, and other countries.

Two years later, it debuted country- and language-specific versions of its e-commerce site and e-mail campaigns for each new market entered. Schionning pointed to Australia as a particularly strong example of how the brand’s global rollout has paid dividends.

“In 2007, we noticed a growing rate of orders on our U.S. online store coming from Australia,” he said. “When we saw that, we wondered, ‘What if we encourage this? What if we show the prices in Australian dollars and provide a domestic return address?’ We quickly doubled our Web sales to Australia and have well surpassed that mark since. The continued success soon led to the opening of stores in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide last year.”

During roughly the same time frame, Manhattan Portage has experienced similar benefits to taking its e-commerce game to a more international level, according to Lauren Hoffman, assistant sales and marketing manager at the New York-based designer of messenger-style bags. Four years ago, the brand’s parent, Portage Worldwide, began establishing e-commerce partners that handled local advertising, sales and order fulfillment in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia and Germany.

Just last month, the company unveiled a site for shoppers in the United Kingdom. In each market, e-commerce partners have been supplied with branded advertising images, design templates and Internet code from Manhattan Portage, which they use to tailor their Web sites and e-mail campaigns according to local language, customs and tastes in merchandise.

While Hoffman said the privately held company’s 2009 sales so far were “not significantly up, but not down either” when compared to recent years of growth, she credited an internationalized e-marketing strategy for picking up the slack during these trying economic times at home.

“Overseas sales are definitely helping,” she said. “Global marketing has broadened our appeal.”

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