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International Ecommerce: Preparing Your Brand to Go Abroad

Have you ever discovered an exciting new ecommerce brand, picked out the perfect thing to buy, and then realized at checkout the company doesn’t deliver products to where you live?

For many people around the world, this is a frustrating reality. It’s clearly a terrible customer experience and yet, many brands don’t do much to fix it because even in 2018, international ecommerce can be intimidating.

While marketing to customers across the globe is fairly easy with hyper-specific digital targeting based on geolocation, everything else about international ecommerce strategy is complicated. You have to consider pricing/currency exchanges, payment options, localized content, cost-effective shipping, and so much more.

This is exactly why many so brands opt out of selling internationally entirely — but it’s a massive missed opportunity.

Selling to everyone in the world isn’t feasible for most ecommerce brands, of course, but specific emerging markets could be a great fit for your business. If you’re interested in expanding your reach, but nervous about taking it on, we’re here to help!

Here are the most common stumbling blocks, the important steps to consider, and the preparation your brand needs to make to shift into international ecommerce and find an exciting new audience of loyal customers.

Identify your strongest international markets

Before you do anything else, you have to decide if international ecommerce even makes sense for your brand. A good way to decide which regions or countries to focus on is to analyze your website data to see where the majority of your global traffic is coming from. You can also check out what kind of products are popular on Amazon and who your local competitors are (and what they are doing). We can’t recommend a specific benchmark to aim for, since it depends on your business and your traffic to conversion rates, but think about it carefully before moving forward.

This step is incredibly important because it will help you decide which markets offer you a large enough opportunity for new business, and which will probably be a waste of time and money to invest in.

Be fully transparent with shipping fees

Now that you’ve identified target international markets, it’s time to assess how tough it will be to ship there. Depending on the country, there are different fees and tariffs associated with sending and receiving goods internationally. You should fully research how much it costs to ship to each target country and how long it takes, on average, for your products to arrive.

Once you know, make sure that your website and checkout process is 100% transparent in the way you communicate this information, so the customer knows as early on as possible that there will be extra costs or a longer timeline for receiving goods from your company. This is all about simply communicating clearly with the customer and setting expectations from the start so you don’t end up with an unhappy international customer calling your customer service hotline.

Shoe retailer TKEES is a great example of a brand that not only provides full shipping information for its domestic customers, it also clearly advises international customers that they are responsible for duties, taxes, and tariffs.

Luckily, these high international shipping costs and long timelines may not be permanent. If your business starts to take off in a particular international market, you can eventually open a local warehouse to avoid the issue of tariffs and shipping prices to reduce your own logistics costs. You can also work with regional shipping partners who can help you find the best shipping options and understand the challenges of the local market.

Start selling through a marketplace

Shipping costs too high? If you’re just starting out internationally, it’s often much easier, quicker and cost-effective to place your products on an exiting online marketplace that your local customers trust and are familiar with, rather than spend money trying to entice them to your website through targeted advertising.

Amazon, of course, is a popular marketplace across the world, especially in countries which are more welcoming to cross-border commerce such as Canada, Australia, and the UK. Depending on your product, eBay and Etsy are other options. If you’ve got a strong enough following on social media then you can also sell through Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Also, make sure you fully optimize your product listing on Google Shopping to enable your international customers to easily find you through search.

Australian bedding brand Canningvale clearly states on their website that the brand ships to New Zealand, Singapore, and the US, but it also lists its product on Amazon in all of these countries.

Once you’ve built up an audience on these platforms, then you can start implementing strategies to bring them to your website and drive traffic directly.

Localize all content

Before you start advertising, make sure your website is ready to reach your new audience as well. Three-quarters of international shoppers want to buy products in their native language, while 70% prefer a site’s navigation — and at least some content —  to be in their native language. If you want your international ecommerce venture to be a success then you need to invest in not just translating your content into the local language, but also adjusting it according to local trends, customs, holidays, and so on. You can even invest in a local domain to further build trust with an international audience.

Contemporary global furniture marketplace Pamono not only localizes its website content; it also detects your location and asks if you would like to go to your local domain instead of the generic global site.

Localization also applies to your photos and ads. In terms of your advertising strategy, merely translating the text won’t cut it. You need to think about tone, humor, and context of what you’re writing and any accompanying images. This will help you increase reach and engagement, as well as improve trust levels. Nobody trusts a brand with spelling mistakes in an ad.

Pamono localizes all ads, as well as its newsletter pop up text and all fields within that ad.

Also, keep in mind when to display certain content and ads according to local conditions in that country. There’s no point displaying skiing ads if it’s currently 100 °F in that location, for example.

Offer relevant payment options

Payment is another common stumbling block for international ecommerce. While almost half of shoppers worldwide prefer to pay via credit card, that picture changes according to the country. In Italy, most shoppers (42%) prefer to use PayPal on ecommerce websites, but in Poland, the majority of shoppers prefer to pay for a product they bought online by direct debit through their bank, while in China, Alipay and WeChat Pay are the options of choice.

If your brand is relatively unknown in the market, not offering the right payment methods is even more of a problem as consumers don’t know if they can trust your brand. Payment methods can also differ by channel. For example, if you’re selling internationally through Amazon, you can offer Amazon Pay to enable a more convenient, quick, and trusted checkout process. Many popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify also offer great plugins that can help you adapt payments quickly.

Whatever payment methods you decide on, customers need to be able to pay in their currency, which is why you should investigate global (and well-known) payment providers such as PayPal or Stripe.

Jewelry retailer Mejuri charges in USD and CAD, but it also suggests a method that international customers can use to work out the prices in their local currency.

Once you have a handle on your target international market, your shipping, your currency, and your content in order, you can move onto the next steps to ensure a fantastic international shopping experience. Start marketing to your new audience and you’ll quickly see whether international ecommerce works for your business. Hopefully, you’ll find an exciting and profitable new market for your brand.

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