No matter what niche your eCommerce business operates in, whether it’s clothing, electronics, or another sector entirely, it’s not a stretch to imagine that your primary business concern is making more sales.
The good news is that there is literally a whole world of opportunity available for the business owner that is looking to invest and expand overseas.
Perhaps you’ve considered it extensively, or maybe you’ve not really given it much thought at all, but so long as your product is useful to consumers in another country, there’s no reason that your business can’t succeed internationally.
If you’re still unsure whether going global will benefit your business, then consider that, according to Invesp, cross-border eCommerce is expected to reach $1 trillion in 2020. This just goes to show there is certainly scope to increase your businesses’ reach.
What Will You Need to Consider?
Taking your business overseas does have plenty of advantages, but the whole process can be daunting, particularly for smaller companies. With that being said, as we’ve already mentioned, if all due diligence is undertaken, there’s no reason you can’t make a success of your business overseas.
Research is absolutely crucial at this stage, it’s a significant investment, so there’s no point in jumping in at the deep-end without investigating the pros and cons.
As with most things in life, success won’t come to you overnight; it will require a patient, methodical approach, which covers:
- Key demographics
- Payment methods
- Local rules and regulation
- Delivery and returns
- Routes to market
This blog is going to look at each of these points in detail so that you can tailor your business strategy.
Before you decide to open your doors to the world, you need to know whether there’s actually a demand for what you’re offering in your chosen territories. The first part of your research revolves around pinpointing key demographics in each country and then finding out if they are interested in your products and what their purchasing habits are.
You can do this by:
Studying the Market – Take a look at your own customer data, are there any customers from foreign countries already buying your products? If there is, these should be the areas you need to focus on first.
Investigating Demand – As we’ve already mentioned, you need to deduce whether there actually is a sizeable demand for what you’re bringing to the table. Research the areas that interest you and any similar companies in that country, and find out how well they’re performing.
Recognizing Regional Buying Trends – For you to succeed, one of two things needs to happen: firstly there must be either a strong demand or a wide gap in the market that is crying out to be filled.
Pinpointing the Competition – No matter how niche your product offering is, there will always be competition out there in some form or another. Customers buying from other countries will always be slightly warier than domestic customers. This is why it’s so important to stay true to your values, regardless of what the competition is doing. Of course, it’s essential to keep an eye on those around you, but if something is amiss with the way you operate, you’ll be found out very quickly.
When you sell a product, you, of course, get paid. With this in mind, it’s crucial to consider how your customers will be paying, since preferred payment methods may differ from what you’re used to.
To do this, you must:
Research Regional Payment Preferences – This will vary from country to country, the UK, for example, prefers to use debit cards which are heavily backed by 3D Secure (which improves overall conversion) and the US relies on many different international credit card schemes (Visa, Discover, etc.). Some other countries may also use local direct debit schemes, like Canada, which utilizes Interac Online. Of course, every country will want to pay in their own currency, so you should try to allow this option on your website. If this isn’t possible, include a prominent price convertor.
Select the Right Payment Handler – It’s super important to select a payment handler with a strong security background. PayPal, for example, accepts international payments and is an incredibly popular choice with all sorts of different businesses.
Local Rules & Regulation
Once you know precisely where you’re planning to sell, you’ll need to look into the specifics of domestic law and regulations within that country.
Specifically, you’ll need to look at:
Duty & Taxation – Take a look at how duty and tax may affect your unit prices. It’s also crucial to look at any rules that may apply to your products or your niche as a whole, so it’s essential to make customers aware of this if the unit price includes these kinds of duties and taxations.
Customs – Any international shipments must pass through the agency that monitors shipments as they enter different countries. Each shipment will require a customs form; which some shipping services can offer help with, so it’s good to have a shop around.
Free-Trade Agreements – Free-trade agreements are suitable for international traders as they help to reduce tariffs on specific products, so it’s certainly worth checking out what your business might be eligible for.
Delivery and Returns
Any eCommerce company requires reliable shipping and returns network, but that is even more crucial when you’re sending products across borders and overseas. You’ll need to consider the following:
Transparent Delivery Times – When shipping products abroad, in most cases, it will take longer to reach the customer and will cost them more than domestic delivery. This is why it’s so essential to create clear and transparent delivery expectations and let customers know from the outset, how much their delivery will cost.
Return Policy – When you create a return policy, you will need to factor in:
- Consumer law in that territory
- Whether you’ll be providing cash refunds or store credit
- What time limits you’ll be placing on returns and refunds
Routes to Market
When selling products online, there are a few different ways to connect with foreign customers and increase your chances of making a success of your overseas venture, which include:
Starting Out Small – There’s no point in running before you can walk when it comes to a project like this. Starting out in a small way allows you to test the waters and iron out any kinks. Sites like eBay and Amazon are a great place to hone your craft without the initial upfront investment.
Customize Your Website – Optimising your eCommerce website for international buyers, can be done in a couple of different ways. Firstly, you can keep things simple by highlighting that you do accept orders from overseas and tell people how much it costs to ship your items. Once you’ve been in the market for a little while, you can begin to think about more advanced solutions, such as listing details in local currency and changing languages based on IP address.
Don’t Forget About Language Barriers
Language barriers are a big hurdle you will need to overcome, particularly if you’re not fluent in the language of the area you’re expanding to. In this case, your initial experiments should, ideally, include English speaking EU countries and the US first. This means you’ll still be able to refine your service, without language becoming a hindrance.
Of course, there’s always the option of completely translating your website into various languages, but this can be an expensive initial step. What you will require, though, is a customer service professional fluent in the language. Without this, the communication standards inevitably slip, which is far from ideal.
That being said, it’s also important to consider nuances in the same language—for example, the difference between the English spoken in the UK and the US. For instance, if your store sold baby accessories and clothing, and you sell dummies (as they are known in the UK) within your product range, consider that in the US they go by pacifiers.
It may seem quite insignificant, but these seemingly small differences can make a big difference to your conversion rates.
In any country, the customer experience you offer must be one that is easy and pleasant. However, if you hope to gain any traction in foreign markets, your levels of service must go to another level.
Customers that buy from businesses overseas are naturally wary, which means it’s essential to display your authenticity, professionalism, and trustworthiness.
Your staff must be highly trained, mainly if you’re operating in areas that speak different languages since they’ll need to able to deal with any queries or problems you customers might face.
However, as we’ve already mentioned, so long as you’re willing to do the research, we’ve talked about in this article, there’s no reason that your business can’t be an international success.
Richard LeCount is a branding and marketing expert and the managing director of eCommerce business usbmakers.com