Your eCommerce store gives you the ability to sell into every corner of the world where potential customers have access to the internet. Unfortunately, many sellers continue to shrug off this opportunity due to the many challenges involved.
Those that do take the plunge into globalisation have realised that a bigger slice of revenue is just waiting to be embraced. All that’s needed for success is a willingness to adapt your eCommerce strategy.
So what are the biggest challenges to international expansion?
Even if you are using an out of the box eCommerce solution such as Magento, your website will still require a significant re-work before it can be used for international selling. These changes can be broken down into the following areas:
Selecting the right domain strategy can drastically affect your eCommerce internationalisation efforts. Whether you go with a generic top level domain (gTLD) like .com and use different country folders (.com/en-gb) to house country specific content is one option. Alternatively you can use subdomains (en.example.com) or country specific domains (example.co.uk).
Which domain strategy you take really depends on your store, products and specific KPIs and this decision stands to have a dramatic impact on the success of the campaign.
Multiple languages also need to be considered. For English speaking countries, this is relatively straightforward as you can clone your existing website and use hreflang and canonical tags to alert search engines to your intentions.
However, for foreign language markets, you will be required to translate all of your website content. This includes body content, menu items and even image filenames and alt text for maximum SEO impact.
Increased workload per website
As you might imagine, if you are duplicating your website to target multiple countries, then you are also duplicating your workload. Each localised version of your website will have separate customers, orders, product pages, catalogues, returns and more.
You’ll also need to consider customer service. Will you be able to respond to customer queries in local languages? Will you be able to offer localised customer service plugins such as live chat in each country?
Your lead generation efforts will need to be considered too. For example, if you are sending out a monthly newsletter, it will need to be translated, and you’ll also have an additional set of open/read analytics to examine per country.
Your target audience
It may be tempting to launch a localised website in every country in the hopes of gaining more sales. However, there are some important considerations to take into account.
The local appetite for your products
Before launching a localised website, it’s essential to perform some market research. Your products may be flying off the (virtual) shelves in your home country, but they may not be so prevalent elsewhere. Perform your own due diligence by examining the local market and competition to ensure there is a demand for your products.
An important consideration when selling into global markets is to ensure you are complying with local law. For example, there may be tariffs, taxes, customs processes that you will need to be aware of.
You will also need to consider your returns policy for international customers vs domestic. Will you absorb the increased cost of international returns? And how will you handle arbitration with potentially difficult international customers?
A relatively risk-free way to test your internationalisation efforts is to try out the regional marketplaces first. This can start with a simple search for products that match your own catalogue to get an understanding of supply and demand. You will also be able to glean some useful insights about selling into that locale by going through the onboarding process as a seller.
Examples of failed internationalisation efforts
Here are some ominous cases of eCommerce giants that have made mistakes with their globalisation efforts.
Asos losing 87% of profits
In early 2018, Asos suffered a gradual decline of organic traffic, leading to a massive drop in sales. This issue was widely reported in the press, with many outlets claiming that the problem was caused by the launch of 200 international microsites.
The truth is, the microsites themselves were not the issue. The traffic decline was due to a misconfiguration of international settings between those microsites, leading to a drop in search engine positions in various locations.
eBay failing to understand the Japanese market
You’d think that an eCommerce giant such as eBay would be setting the gold standard for international expansion. But when they first launched in Japan back in 2000, they failed to anticipate the local resistance to credit cards as a payment option. At the time, cash on delivery was the norm for Japanese consumers, so the idea of having to use plastic was not well received.
International expansion success stories
So we’ve taken a look at some expansion horror stories, but what about the companies that nailed it?
Nike and it’s NIKEiD platform
Nike has always performed well overseas thanks to its investment into international partnerships and sponsorships. What really made a massive difference though is their NIKEiD co-creation platform that allows consumers to design their own trainers.
The genius behind this platform is the fact that consumers could customise the Nike product based on their cultural preferences and local trends. This allowed Nike to leverage the international markets in a way that few other brands could.
Neon Poodle’s march across three continents
Neon Poodle is well known in Australia for designing child-friendly neon signs that customers can easily customise. Despite their early success, the company quickly reached a saturation point – given that the neon consumer products market is a relatively small niche. So, to enable further growth, they expanded into Europe and North America.
The result was an enormous increase in revenue, primarily driven by some brilliant solutions to the challenges of internationalisation. This included using Stripe as a payment gateway to avoid international payment processing fees. They also did their homework with local distributors and tax management companies to ensure they worked with people that knew the lay of the land – proving that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
International expansion can come with complications, and each country has its own unique challenges for you to overcome. Get it right though, and you’ll not only delight your customers, you also maximise your own profits.