For most ecommerce businesses, international expansion represents the summit of reach and success.
With 2.14 billion people shopping online worldwide, it’s imperative that aspiring brands make themselves available to this ever-expanding global customer base. While being a big fish in a small pond can have its benefits, there are ample opportunities for ecommerce enterprises of all shapes and sizes to find new avenues of success abroad.
However, international expansion is perhaps one of the hardest tests for an ecommerce store, especially with a wealth of international companies and competitors back home vying for customer attention. That’s without considering the logistical, financial, linguistic, and cultural barriers to expanding a store worldwide.
To help you overcome these challenges, we’ve put together a list of actionable steps your ecommerce enterprise can take to prepare for international expansion without sacrificing the stability and essence of your existing brand.
Why should you expand your ecommerce business internationally?
One of the greatest advantages of an ecommerce-first business is that the secrets of success in one market are transferable to most other markets. Sure, you may need to consider alternative domain names, local currencies, tax reporting, translations, etc., but it is much easier than setting up brick and mortar operations in new international markets.
Some of the key benefits of expanding an ecommerce store internationally that are experienced by brands include:
- Access to the wider global economy
- A wealth of new international customers
- Greater diversity within your customer base
- Access to international talent for new hires
- Greater advertising reach and the potential for new media coverage
- Enhanced company reputation
International expansion can cement your ecommerce store as a major player in its sector, not just in terms of financial resources and customer volume but also as an employer and thought leader worth listening to in your area of business.
Prepping your business for international expansion
Fortunately for existing retailers, ecommerce stores are almost purpose-built for international expansion into new markets, especially when compared to traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
However, it’s important to understand each company is unique. A specialist attitude toward international selling is key to ensuring your business doesn’t implode or falter under the weight of its ambition. Learning how to scale a business can be a long and arduous process, and ensuring you’re aware of the potential pitfalls is critical.
To determine the strength of your ecommerce business and prep for international expansion, here are some key evaluation points:
- Your operations team: while expanding into new markets doesn’t necessarily warrant an entirely new team or set of new processes, it’s important to realize that your existing resources may not be equipped to handle new challenges or a mass customer influx. Ideally, you should have international specialists in key customer service, sales and revenue roles who understand the intricacies of the customer base there and a contingency plan for when order numbers pick up
- Supply v demand: are your products even wanted overseas? Digital tracking tools can give you an indication of how widely they’re being discussed, shared, and promoted, as well as the ideal targets. If this doesn’t match up with what you’re expecting or prepared for, it might be time to hold off on your expansion
- Scope of expansion: before you make any major decision, ensure you’ve outlined the scope of your expansion. This framework makes it easier to take tangible steps towards success without sacrificing other elements of your business. Consider the weaknesses of your business alongside the aims you have and how one may complicate the other
5 actionable steps for growing and expanding internationally
Growing internationally is a delicate process but by no means a rigid one. Here are just a few actionable steps that can help your ecommerce store grow within international markets.
Test the (international) waters
There’s no point plowing ahead with international expansion if you lack sufficient knowledge of the markets and how to break into them.
There’s no getting around investing the time and money into analyzing the scope of your expansion and the necessary structural changes you’ll need to make. Once you know the markets you’re looking to break into, you should conduct a search engine and keyword search to assess the appetite for your business in your target countries.
Some basic research you can conduct includes:
- Using Google Trends to assess product popularity
- The highest-ranking competitors for key products, brands, and keywords
- The investment required to reach those top ranking spots
- Key shopping platforms for international audiences (Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, leading ecommerce brands)
- Your existing store’s ecommerce conversion rate and what you’d need to hit to match expansion investment
A great way to test the potential of your brand and start building your brand name overseas is to sell through other platforms. Reputable third-party sellers, such as Amazon, are a brilliant route into new markets, immediately giving your brand an air of respectability and name recognition in association with a top company. With an established customer base in place, it’s easier to launch your own dedicated store.
Streamline the user experience for new challenges
Once you’re comfortable with your potential in your chosen international markets, it’s time to start refining your key services. One of the most important is the user experience in your store.
Any good ecommerce business owner knows the importance of a professional, easy-to-use store with an equally easy-to-remember domain. Global customers are no different from local ones. They expect choice, simplicity, and speedy delivery in their online shopping experience. If you can’t offer those things to the same extent you can regional customers, you’ll struggle to develop the same level of brand loyalty overseas.
Regardless of their location, customers still need both a human touch and technical excellence that has come to define online shopping. Some of the most important being:
- The right TLD or ccTLD for your market
- Quick-loading web pages
- Interchangeable language options
- Mobile compatibility
- An easy-to-use interface
- Large images and icons
- Easily accessible contact information
- One-step order systems
- Straightforward customer feedback options
This may also be a good time to look at exciting new tech options to refine your services further. If you’re launching a B2B division, it may be worth looking into the use of artificial intelligence in sales to complement sales teams with limited international experience or alternative, low-risk, shipping options for small businesses selling internationally for the first time.
Developing great user experience shouldn’t mean sacrificing the unique flourishes that set apart your ecommerce brand. But refining them can indicate a concentrated effort to show new customers they matter.
Refine your customer services
Much like user experience, customer service is a necessary point of improvement you need to make before launching new marketing campaigns.
It’s imperative that your store accounts for any potential issues new international customers may have with the website, ordering, and receiving their order.
It’s unlikely you’ll get everything right the first time, and international customers may experience issues with language barriers, payment option restrictions, and long shipping times. With this in mind, you need exceptional customer service in place that has an awareness of how to deal with these issues and how they relate to a particular country.
To ensure this is a smooth process, consider hiring people from within these key new markets and developing a customer onboarding checklist that ensures everyone is offered an experience that might build brand loyalty.
Diversify your content output
Content is a fantastic way to improve your organic rankings, encourage new customers to shop with you, and develop brand loyalty.
When operating in new international markets, it’s important to think of your content strategy as a separate process where you’re building your brand reputation from scratch. This means reviewing where you’re posting your content (internal blog, social media), who you’re aiming it at, and what its purpose is.
A lot can go wrong in marketing, especially when content for one market is repurposed for another venue or audience without particular care or consideration. This can lead to language issues (disrupting your key messaging), confusion around the order/delivery process, a feeling of laziness around your brand (which can quickly develop into suspicion), and other marketing plan mishaps.
International markets appreciate unique, thought-provoking, and challenging content as much as any other, so don’t be afraid to give it to them. A diverse content output can help differentiate you from local competitors and other stores that have expanded internationally. Just ensure you implement quality checks and build content that appeals to their unique needs and interests. Researching what competitors are doing can be a great starting point.
Ensure you’re tracking your progress
To ensure the long-term success of your international expansion, it’s important to relentlessly track your progress, successes, and challenges.
While sales numbers are an obvious metric to keep track of, it’s important to keep an eye on a number of other vital brand indicators beyond increasing sales. Metrics such as website traffic, social media following, and returning customers can give you a much fuller picture of how your expansion is going, where your traffic is coming from, and how you can continue to grow.
Likewise, social listening tools and social proof monitoring can give you an indication of how your brand is thought about not just by regular consumers but also by media outlets.
It’s imperative you develop an international-specific marketing reporting structure that takes into account key metrics for these markets as well as refining your workforce management to keep local teams across and invested in the challenges and needs of overseas customers.
It can take months for you to see results from your international ecommerce expansion. Between marketing your brand, building customer loyalty, and managing the day-to-day operations of your store, it can be a painful and costly process.
It may even be the case that the market you choose isn’t right for you. This isn’t a sign your business can’t expand internationally but that your due-diligence processes need to be reviewed. Seek improvement, and make smart decisions that will secure the long-term future of your business.
Jenna Bunnell – Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Dialpad
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides cloud communications, and valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways. Check out her LinkedIn profile.