Growing your eCommerce business beyond shores is the dream for many of us, but it doesn’t come without challenges.
Whilst it’s easy to say the world is our oyster, trading internationally carries constraints in many areas, from legal and regulatory barriers to language and cultural barriers. So it’s fair to say that the decision to trade globally shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Why should your eCommerce business trade globally?
Pursuing international trade confers many benefits, both tangible and intangible. Whilst the population of the UK stands at around 65 million, by trading within the European Union's 28 Member States we are opened up to a potential audience of around 821 million people. That’s almost a billion consumers who may be looking for your products or services.
Therefore, global development will almost certainly increase sales (and therefore profit) to a level that wouldn’t be attainable if you stayed within the home market.
With that being said, here are our top tips on how to expand overseas:
1. Do your research!
Although it goes without saying, there are big differences between trading nationally and trading globally, so when you're growing your eCommerce business its even more important than usual to spend time researching.
Understandably your business isn’t going to serve the needs of every customer, whatever their location, but doing some background research will help to inform you about what customers want and who the competition is.
2. Ensure your website is mobile responsive and fast loading
Nowadays, a large proportion of internet traffic comes from mobile phones, so if your website isn’t mobile-friendly many people may be unable to access your site, or unwilling to navigate the clunky experience.
As a result, you may be turning away a lot of potential customers, and consequently missing out on vital sales. Furthermore in terms of search engine optimisation, having a mobile-friendly site can lead to a higher ranking on Google. This is because the bounce rate, i.e. the number of users who are only on your website for a single-page session, is likely to be a lot lower.
3. ‘Glocalise’ your website
In order to be successful on an international scale, it’s important to give consideration to both local and global issues to ensure a well-rounded customer experience. This can be achieved by making minor changes to your website, such as adding a geo-locator that scans the location of user IP addresses and shows the customer a corresponding version of the website.
These personalised touches make all the difference as they invoke a sense of confidence in the consumer, growing your eCommerce business as a result. In fact, 72% of customers are more likely to make a purchase if they are greeted by the website in their native language. Coca-Cola offers a great example of this, as the company has customised domains based on user location, e.g. coco-colaafrica.com for South African users and coco-cola.de for German users.
4. Offer international payments
In addition to the last tip concerning glocalisation, offering several payment options also acts as a gateway to global commerce. Preferred methods of payment often differ depending on culture. For instance, people in China tend to prefer AliPay.
The more payment options your website enables, the easier it is for the customer to check out. Many customers are likely to be discouraged from websites if the process involves them utilising a payment method they haven’t used before, as it reduces their sense of confidence.
Furthermore, this sense of confidence and security is also assisted by listing products in local currencies and allowing customers to pay in their local currency. Whilst this may seem a little inconvenient, it can also have economic benefits for your business, as different payment methods charge a different fee. Although this small percentage saving seems immaterial, they are massively significant in the long term.
5. Offer international shipping and returns
A necessary consequence of offering international sales is to back this up with international shipping and returns. Without this, there is no way for consumers to receive their products.
This can be achieved by displaying real-time carrier fees, having a flat fee dependent on location or by providing free shipping. Research continually shows that shoppers love free shipping, even if this means the cost of products is slightly higher. In fact, 90% of customers said that free shipping is their top incentive when shopping online, so realistically it can represent the difference between growing your eCommerce business or waving goodbye to new leads.
Similarly, international returns are equally as important, especially within the fashion industry. The right to return is a pivotal part of consumer law, and if businesses fail to state how to process returns they may ultimately be liable. Again, there are several ways to achieve this. Most customers are attracted to the idea of hassle-free returns, so offering this both nationally and internationally is likely to increase sales. Alternatively, you may wish to offer returns via a courier collection, through a marketplace or through programmes which resell the unwanted items locally.
6. Use an integrator
If you have hopes of growing your eCommerce business internationally, it may be worth considering investing in an integrator. System integrators help to sync data by creating a single dashboard containing all stages of the selling process. This therefore creates a more seamless experience as the stock is managed automatically, so if an item sells on eBay, it will be taken off other websites that it may be listed on. This takes out the middleman as it means you don’t need to manually log in to each website and update stock accordingly.
Although these services are rarely free, they are cost-effective in that they save time. Without an integrator, you may have to hire and pay another employee to man these processes manually, so an integrator is a worthy investment.
7. Adapt your digital marketing strategy
Your digital marketing strategy is a vital component to growing your eCommerce business and gaining new international audiences. This is the area in which language differences are likely to have the biggest impact. Whilst Google Translate serves its purpose, it isn’t always 100% accurate. Instead, it’s better to work with native speakers to ensure effective optimisation.
Likewise, its also worth noting that use of search engines varies across different countries. If you’re looking to reach local niche markets, it may be worthwhile advertising via a local search engine rather using one of the top three (Google, Yahoo and Bing).
Finally, its also important to be aware of global advertising regulations as different countries may have stricter product requirements. For instance, in many countries, pharmaceutical advertising is banned or needs to be authorised by a health authority. Do your research in order to avoid being caught out!
8. Make good use of website analytics
Our final tip for growing your eCommerce business internationally is to utilise website analytics to track the amount of traffic to your website. Google Analytics can tell you everything you need to know about who your audience is, how people get to your website, what people do when they’re on your website and what people buy. This is a good way of continually improving your website as it tells you what’s working and what needs improving on.
Advice from the exporting expert on growing your eCommerce business:
Joe Darwen from the Department of International Trade North West summarises four steps in the process of internationalising your online selling strategy:
- Internationalise your website to include local payments, currency, translations and fulfilment. By localising these three areas, you can better target visitors from overseas and instil confidence to buy. These updates can be implemented incrementally, perhaps adding new payment & shipping options, then adding translated landing pages, expanding to mini micro-sites, towards fully localised sites.
2. Multi-channel and Marketplaces
- Expanding multi-channel and marketplaces is key to ensure your products are reaching customers overseas and shoppers of multiple global marketplaces. This may include Amazon, eBay, Etsy, but can also include specific niche platforms and online retailer stockists for your products/services and country-specific platforms (e.g. cDiscount France, NewEgg USA, Tmall China, Allegro Poland etc). An integrator or middleware solution is key to ensure you are able to manage sales across multiple channels.
3. Legal and Logistics
- Ensure your online strategy adheres to legal requirements, including Terms and Conditions, CCR (European consumer distance selling regulations) and Duty Tax & VAT obligations (including EU tax thresholds). Engaging overseas logistics partners may also be considered, to better serve overseas customers, perhaps using third party logistics operations, e.g. a European fulfilment centre, a North American hub/warehouse or logistics Asia partner.
4. Communications and Marketing
- Consider communications for selling overseas, including both acquisition marketing and customer care and support for pre and post-sale (retention and repurchase). This could be from multi-lingual freelancers, local suppliers, recruiting staff members, appointing international communications/marketing agency partners, or the use of creating/translating key FAQ pages and video content for your brand. Any existing material and collateral can also be re-purposed to cater for overseas audience e.g. About Us, FAQs and PDF resources, or video subtitles and narrator voice overs.
If you're ready to talk about growing your eCommerce business internationally, why not explore the option of an outsourced head of eCommerce? Benefit from all the experience with less overheads and incredible flexibility. Book in a call to learn more.