eCommerce abroad: 5 tips to take your online store into new markets

The beauty of running a small to medium sized eCommerce business is that customers and orders can come from literally anywhere in the world, yet, with a hundred and one demands on their time, store owners often find themselves so overwhelmed simply servicing their core domestic customer base, that international expansion doesn’t even get a look in. But, with online shopping predicted to reach new levels of popularity in 2012, store owners willing to make the initial effort to open their virtual doors to overseas customers could find themselves well positioned to take advantage of profitable new business. So sit back, pop the kettle on, and read our 5 tips to get started with eCommerce internationalization.


1. Learn from your competitors and edge in slowly

Like taking your first diving lesson, the key to a successful international expansion is to edge slowly forward, and know how you are going to jump in.

It is a rare eCommerce business that does not have a well established direct competitor in their same market already operating internationally. Taking a quick browse of this competitor’s website should give you clues as to where they targeted their efforts, and importantly, where they didn’t. After analysing your more established competitor, you will be able to see if they have already rolled out the red carpet to new markets, and if so, whether they offer basic localisation, specific language pages, or have indeed translated their entire website to engage with this new client base.

2. Localize and analyze

a. Currency

Once you have done your research and chosen a target country ripe for expansion, it is time to take the technical steps necessary to localise, and this starts with adding a new currency. For most eCommerce operations, adding a new currency should be very easy from the store admin, so go ahead and do this, ideally setting it to auto update against your base currency to maintain accurate rates. By the way, we’re going to assume for costs sake that you will still only take payment with your payment processor in your home currency, and simply show the new currency for display purposes only.

b. Language

Once the new currency is live, the next step is to see if, based on competitor research and your own internal data, some degree of language localisation will be necessary. Whether this is as simple as just translating key product page buttons and text along with shopping bag and checkout stages, or something all together more comprehensive is up to you, but the main barriers will be cost and technical implementation.

If you run a modern eCommerce shopping cart, there should be options to install language packs alongside your default store language. Usually free, they are community produced and quite simple to implement – visit the home page of your store platform to learn more. Whilst this solution is perhaps the most convenient, it might be a good idea to enhance the default language text that comes with the install pack with a little warmth and character, perhaps echoing your website style and copy. If translation help is what you need, visit http://www.mygengo.com as a great starting point for speedy and accurate translations – they rock.

Whilst translating website copy will be your main focus, it is important not to forget about your store’s email marketing communications. If you are an existing Mailbeez user, or are looking to automate email marketing efforts and don’t want your new international market to miss out, then take a look at our Mailbeez Multi-Language extension module, which easily allows you to send communications in your preferred language.

3. Personalize the experience

One of the big things in eCommerce for 2012 is personalization. Treating your customers as individuals is essential in the world of online business, and now more than ever the tools are here to let you do this.

As with your domestic market, post-sale activities such as requesting a product review, rewarding high spending customers for their loyalty, or following up on abandoned shopping carts is essential eCommerce behavior, all of which can be facilitated by the Mailbeez email marketing module framework in partnership with the aforementioned Multi-Language module. In one fell swoop, a Japanese customer could receive a personalized, automated reward coupon to put towards his next order; communicated fully in Japanese. A Spanish client could receive an email inquiring as to why they abandoned their bag, and enticed back with a personalized offer, all in their native language. The possibilities are truly endless.

4. Culture & colour

The Chinese see the colour red as symbolizing good luck and celebration, whilst Egyptians view yellow as a colour of mourning. The lesson here is that entering a new market without fully understanding the significance of colour to a national psyche would be a mistake. Take the time to do the appropriate culturally sensitive research, and as your business grows, marketing materials, printed matter and adverts will all benefit. You can read a more in depth analysis of colour here.

5. Logistics

The website is done, the email templates are translated, and the colours communicate your brand – you are ready for the world market. But wait, haven’t we forgotten something? Ah yes, the logistics of delivery.

Getting the product from your warehouse to the customer is the final important step, and one who’s success will make or break your overseas expansion. As this blog post is only concerned with the initial steps of internationalization, let’s assume that you are not expecting hundreds of orders a day (not yet anyway), but a steady stream. The answer to your logistical conundrum is to choose a shipping partner that is well represented in your target country. For example, UK eCommerce businesses rely overwhelmingly on Royal Mail to ship their packages, with the British postal service benefiting from excellent overseas relations and most importantly, partner postal service delivery in the destination country. As a postal service is not a courier, you will find both customs import issues and costs to be significantly eased over a more ‘serious’ courier partner. However, if your store sells bulkier items, you may have little choice than to speak to a courier, but rest assured that their rates will drop significantly as you increase your shipments.

International returns

As with domestic business, you will receive returns and exchanges from your new overseas customer base. How you handle these, and the costs associated with them will all impact on profit margins, and are best thought out well in advance of deployment to avoid providing a less than ideal customer service level.

We hope you found our little guide to eCommerce internationalization useful, and thank you for reading!

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