If there is one invention that changed everything we do, it is the internet. Over the past few decades, since it has been an integral part of our lives, the internet has contributed to developing all fields, and it helped spread knowledge like no other human resource has ever had. It is the business world, though, that was most affected by this digitization. Companies could suddenly have a global reach for minimal expenses, and then there are retailers who moved to the digital world to sell products and services.
Now, eCommerce sales are worth trillions of dollars every year – 3.46 in 2019. However, just because you have an eCommerce business doesn’t mean you can be that huge. You first need to take your company internationally, which entails a lot of planning and consideration.
This guide will take you through the necessary steps to take your eCommerce business internationally.
This is the first and most important step in your quest to take your eCommerce business internationally. It is not exactly as simple as choosing a country and deciding to expand there; it doesn’t work like that. First, you need to conduct thorough and meticulous research to identify which markets would work well for you. If you are going to open a regular brick and mortar store in a different state or city, you will have to carefully select your neighborhood because the location does count; the same applies to eCommerce businesses.
You have to carefully check the online markets in the countries you’re considering expanding to because they might already be saturated with dozens of competitors who have already made a name for themselves there, which means you might not be successful. Does your product have enough providers where you’re going? Do the people there, have an unfulfilled need that you can cover through your eCommerce business? If there are competitors, but they’re not very strong, will you need to lower your prices or modify your product offerings to wrestle a place in the market?
These are questions that you need to ask and carefully answer before taking your eCommerce internationally because the answers to those will help you find markets where your business can flourish and grow.
Payment options are one of the most critical angles to eCommerce businesses expanding, and a lot of companies don’t even take them into consideration. Despite the popularity of online shopping, shoppers are still often very wary when it comes to paying money online, and they easily abandon their purchase when they reach that final checkout process if they don’t find their preferred payment method or if they slightly feel the process might not be secure enough. So, as part of your initial market research, make sure to find out what the most popular payment options are for people in the new market you’re expanding to and provide them. Needless to say, you also have to invest in getting the most secure systems out there because this is a deal-breaker, if customers’ personal data is jeopardized in any way.
Seeing as this is an eCommerce business, your web design needs to be flawless as it is, but flawless isn’t enough if you want to conquer new overseas markets. For starters, you have to make sure that your website is compatible with mobile phones because most online shoppers use them. So, it has to be responsive, fast, and optimized for mobile use. This will also help you rank higher in search engine ranking.
Those basic points aside, going international means adding some features, too. You need to understand that you will be targeting a different audience, so you need to have a website that caters to both local and foreign demographics. You can do that, for example, by adding a Geo-locator, which detects visitors’ locations through their IP address, and in turn, changes currency, language, and other features of the website accordingly. These small details make a huge impact on visitors who view websites that optimize the experience based on customers’ locations as professional and trustworthy. So, always invest in optimizing your web design to impress your new target audiences.
Understand the culture
You need to understand the culture of the market you want to expand to because shoppers will easily relate to your business if you do. What do people like and what trends are a hit there? These are things that you need to know beforehand so you could ensure a customized and personalized experience for your prospective customers. For instance, in the USA, Cyber Monday comes right after Thanksgiving, and it is an important shopping experience for a lot of people where most stores and retailers offer discounts. In China, on the other hand, they have Singles’ Day which comes on November 11th of every year, and it is an even bigger shopping event around the world – more so than Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Understanding the culture of the market and people’s preferences and shopping habits will help you plan successfully on entering the market. You will be better prepared for such shopping events by boosting your marketing efforts and increasing the inventory. You will also adjust your prices according to the country’s shopping trends and patterns. These details make all the difference when you do make the move to an international market.
The logistics might be the most complicated aspect to this whole, taking your eCommerce business internationally thing. You will have to do the math to figure out which is better for your business, setting up local inventories and warehouses or just shipping new orders whenever they come. As explained by the Forager cross border logistics people, freight might be a very viable option when it comes to cross-border shipping. You can deal with professional shippers to handle your freight transport between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, which are huge markets. If you are going beyond those regions, you will need to use air freight for the most part, which is a whole other ballgame.
This is why it is important to carefully do the math when it comes to logistics. If you’re offering international sales, then you have to offer international shipping so your customers could receive their products. You will also need to set up shipping fees, whether that is a flat rate for certain locations or a variable one depending on distance, so people could have a good idea just how much it would cost them to make such an international purchase.
You will definitely have to make it worthwhile for your new customers, and offering free shipping is the best way to do that. Online shoppers in polls have repeatedly expressed that free shipping is one of the biggest incentives for them to shop online. Free returns are another huge incentive and it is a very important feature in any eCommerce business, especially if you’re talking about fashion products that people might be inclined to return for one reason or the other. Obviously, the easier you make those free international returns, the better it will be for your expansion goals.
Invest in digital marketing
All your efforts will be futile unless you invest in and focus on marketing. Chances are, there are already players in the eCommerce world in whatever country you want to expand to – because which country doesn’t have online stores in this day and age? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to expand there, but it means that you really need to put effort into your marketing campaigns so you could show people that you have something to bring to the table and you can offer them something that competitors can’t.
This starts with search engine optimization, and we did already mention some important SEO strategies already like website optimization. There are other techniques that you will have to leverage to rank higher in search engine results, which is the ultimate goal. You want people to see your website high up in the rankings when they type a product name, and to do that. You need to optimize your content, too. This means providing users with interesting and fresh content on a regular basis, which must have keywords that make it easier for people to find you on Google.
Another SEO strategy you should follow is email marketing, so offer people to sign up on your website for news and updates on discounts and offers. There is also backlinking, which means partnering with other websites to add a link to yours when writing reviews or blogging about a certain product – this not only helps you rank higher in search results but also shows customers that you’re credible and trustworthy.
Leverage social media
In the vein of the previous point, you will also need to leverage the different social media platforms so you could reach as many people as possible in international markets. People spend hours on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms, and you have to reach them there. Try to create proper social media campaigns to inform people that there is a new player in town. The best way to target people there is usually through videos, which people consume quite easily and prefer to other content forms. Product videos do a great job of expanding your reach, and you could also create some to show people how to use your eCommerce platform, which can easily go viral if you do all the right things.
One of the most important ways to expand internationally, for any business, not just an eCommerce one, is to partner up with active players in the market you want to grow in. The great thing about this option is the fact that you can team up with people in just about any field that could help yours. If want to save money on dealing with banks, maybe you can team up with money transfer companies that could give you better rates, for instance. You can partner up with local influencers that already have a following in the country you’re expanding in, which will help you get massive exposure in no time – yes, influence marketing is actually quite efficient and proven to be successful, regardless of what you might think of them.
Strike as many deals as you can and partner up with any active players in the market that can help you grow. Dealing with people already in the game helps you streamline your efforts and be more methodical in your approach because they already know what works, so they will save you a lot of time, effort, and money.
Can the government help?
This is the final question that you need to ask yourself because quite often, governments offer businesses support to help their overseas expansion efforts, which naturally reflects positively on the country’s own economy. In the United States, there are several grant programs created to help any company try to expand into foreign markets. Australia specifically offers export grants for companies that want to ship products overseas. These grants can help you finance your expansion efforts and start the process, which will cost a lot of money.
Speaking of governments, make sure to check any governmental requirements in the different markets you want to expand to because the paperwork and legal process might be a bit cumbersome and it can halt your plans. So, it’s best to be prepared and research the country laws and regulations early on so you could begin getting the necessary paperwork ready as soon as possible.
Taking your eCommerce business internationally isn’t exactly easy, but if done right, it can generate millions of dollars and grow your company beyond your wildest dreams. This is not a step you want to rush into, though. You have to be sure that your business is ready and you have the necessary experience, quality, and manpower to make such a move. Consider it from all possible angles and try to be 100% certain that this is the right time to make a play for international markets. You should also definitely consult your own team and see how they feel about this and whether or not they think they’re up for the task.