Thanks to the Internet, countries are becoming increasingly borderless. Doing business globally is getting easier every day, and eCommerce is the ideal industry for international trading as both buying and selling are done entirely online.
Sounds intriguing, right? It may even sound like something you want to try out with your own eCommerce business. But where do you begin in order to launch a cross-border venture successfully?
Before you get ahead of yourself and immediately expand, you need to first make sure you create the best strategy and approach to fit your goals.
Here, we present a step-by-step guide on how to create a winning international eCommerce strategy.
Decide on your target region
Before you can do anything, you first need to identify your target region. Be careful not to widen your net too much — you want to start small and target just a few countries as a test before opening up to more. Do some research to see trends in specific areas and to determine which ones are the right fit for your product.
Let’s say you are selling matcha tea as an example. It’s likely already oversaturated in the U.S., Australian, French, and Canadian markets as it has a big presence in these areas. Perhaps it’s best to consider expanding to other countries in Western Europe, such as the UK or Spain, where the market is not as mature but still has growth potential.
You can utilize your current audience for this — take a look at your eCommerce analytics and social media metrics to get a closer look at where your customers live. Chances are, you already have customers visiting your site from other countries. This can give you a good indication of where you may be successful.
This is a good time to research your key competitors too. Where are they selling, who are they selling to, and how are they doing it? By identifying your competitors, you will have a better idea of which regions you should target or not target.
This is also an opportunity to see what sort of consumers are buying similar products in that region so you can better tailor your international eCommerce strategy to move forward.
Localize, localize, localize
Without localizing your eCommerce website, you are highly unlikely to succeed. Make sure your website makes sense for your audience by creating local offers and sales, writing copy that is personalized, and matching your pricing to that region.
Let’s go back to the matcha example. If your matcha brand were to expand into the UK market, you cannot simply roll over your US site just because they’re both English-speaking countries. You’d need to make sure your site is using UK-specific language, has pricing that reflects the market, and considers UK holidays or occasions like Boxing Day for special offers.
It’s also important to decide which platform to use. In the UK, the most popular platforms for eCommerce include EKM, Shopify, and BigCommerce. Compare and contrast the price, functionality, customer support, and web design to see which is the best for your business.
You will also need to optimize your eCommerce site for mobile, ensuring photos and text fit within a smaller screen. You should make filling out information and payment as easy as possible by implementing auto-fill functions.
Beyond that, consider building a mobile app, especially if you are expanding into a country with significant app usage. Countries like China, the United States, and France have the highest app usage, so it may be worth investing in app development if expanding into these regions.
If looking to use a marketplace rather than building your own eCommerce website, research which ones are most popular in your target country. In the UK, this would be Amazon, eBay, and Asos.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you would sell your matcha product on a fashion retail site like Asos, so you would need to further tailor your research depending on what you’re selling.
Work out your logistics
Now you have your website ready, you need to make sure your logistic ducks are in a row. Some things to consider are payment methods, local taxes, warehouse, shipping, and communication.
Be sure to set up a payment method that fits the consumer behavior of the specific region. E.g. credit card, digital payment (like Alipay or Apple Pay), or PayPal.
For example, in Spain, PayPal is quite popular, while in the UK, paying by MasterCard or Visa is the most common payment method. Thus, you want to make sure you have the appropriate checkout option for each country.
You also need to research the country’s tariffs and tax laws, as this could end up being a substantial extra cost for you and your customers. It’s a good idea to clearly communicate the additional costs to the customer upfront, ideally before checkout so they know how much extra they will need to pay.
In order to minimize these extra costs, consider using a local fulfillment center or warehouse. This is a win-win for you and your customer. It reduces your costs, improves relations, and reduces shipping time and outlay for the customer.
Given that communication is the cornerstone of any business, working out communication logistics is key to building a successful international eCommerce business. Will you need to purchase new communication software tools? Which ones are best for your team? Internet calling may be cheaper than traditional phones, but is VoIP reliable?
With so many communication products and services out there, it can be tough to make a decision. Nonetheless, these are questions you need to ask yourself, especially since remote working is becoming more common every day.
Determine your customer service approach
There’s no doubt you will need customer service support for your international eCommerce business. Will you provide an international customer service phone line or direct customers to an email address? Will you take care of customer service in-house or use an external vendor? What will your international returns policy look like?
The more you can automate, the easier it will be for you, given potential time differences and communication difficulties. If you decide to go for the automated customer service route, you may consider implementing tools like WFO.
What is WFO, you may be wondering? It stands for workforce optimization and promotes operational efficiency by integrating contact center technologies. It includes things like text message support, video conferencing freeware, workforce management, and business performance.
You could also consider outsourcing customer support to a company that speaks the local language. This will improve customer satisfaction and response times and save you money as well.
Tailor your marketing strategy
Effectively marketing your product is imperative, as it will ultimately drive sales. To begin, research what platforms and marketing tactics are most effective in your country.
Let’s consider search engines. In the UK, although Google is still the dominant search engine, it is not the only one. Google takes 86% of the market share, while Bing has a share of 11%. So, you may consider improving your SEO for both Google and Bing searches if expanding into the UK.
It’s also a good idea to look into where people go to find more information about your particular industry, as trust in the media may look different in each country. In the UK, for example, TV is the most popular way for consumers to get their news, while social media is less trusted.
In addition, pay attention to what social media platforms are best for your audience. Where are people talking about your industry? Should you invest in advertising? What about influencer marketing?
In the UK, around 45% of the population uses social media. This means social media penetrates about 66% of the country’s population. Within that, YouTube is the most popular platform, with around 78% of internet users using it. Behind that is Facebook, at 73% usage.
Thus, you may consider advertising or launching an influencer marketing campaign on these two platforms.
Last but certainly not least, who you hire to help with your international eCommerce venture is critical to your overall success. Talent acquisition is one of the hardest aspects of growing business, so let’s take your time on this one.
Since your team members will likely need to wear many hats, it’s best to look for someone who is energetic, eager to work, and flexible. Given the current climate, it’s also probable you will be implementing a hybrid working or remote working system, so independence, time management skills, and tech-savviness will be necessary.
Depending on where you decide to launch your international eCommerce strategy, you may want to hire someone familiar with the local market. With our matcha example, someone who has a passion for matcha, lives in the UK, and has digital marketing or eCommerce experience may be a good fit.
Time to launch!
Now you have the tools and strategies needed to launch a winning international eCommerce business, all that’s left is the execution. If you’ve done your planning and strategizing right, the rest should be straightforward. And remember, you can always restructure your international eCommerce strategy along the way if your plans change.
Elea is the SEO Content Optimization manager for RingCentral, the leader in global enterprise communication and collaboration solutions on the cloud. She has more than a decade’s worth of experience in on-page optimization, editorial production, and digital publishing. She spends her free time learning new things.