What you need to know before you expand your e-commerce internationally

Every person from my social circle shops online. Even my grandparents shop at Amazon and eBay. Retailers, small and big, invest a lot in growing their e-commerce online presence.

This comes as no surprise considering the UK has seen a consistent year-on-year growth of an average 17%-18% in online spend. That accounts for over £100 billion spent online in 2014.

Getting people to buy your products is hard, and even harder when it comes to expanding internationally. Things like trading overseas, laws and taxation are just the beginning of the planning stage. Marketing is an area which many companies overlook, failing to implement their strategies according to the target country.

So how exactly should you about going global with ecommerce?

Read on to find out more about localising your digital marketing, pricing strategies and customer service abroad, to achieve successful international e-commerce expansion.

Pricing, currency, payments and all the little things

The more countries you target the more flexible your pricing strategy should be. Something that costs £100 in the UK will cost over $160 when converted to US dollars. A price that’s no longer competitive for many products. If you don’t match your competitors pricing when selling similar products or services, online customers won’t even consider your website.

Speaking of pricing, you have to be aware of the currencies you’re dealing with. After someone’s finished filling up their “shopping cart” they have to pay, and if the currency presented on the site isn’t their own it will most likely result in confusion. Some might even abandon the site.

Payments can be problematic too.  If your potential customers are asked to pay using unfamiliar methods it can create yet another barrier which will significantly affect your company’s revenue. People dislike unfamiliarity, especially when it comes to handling sensitive data.

Your e-commerce platform must support the most popular ways of taking payments online (e.g. PayPal), while also implementing the local payment systems available in the target country. For example, In Germany most people use wire transfers, in Japan 44% of the shoppers use credit cards and in most eastern European countries, paying cash on delivery is still the most popular way of paying for goods and services purchased online.

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work, you need to research and understand each market.

Localise your marketing

Localising your marketing is probably the most important part of your international e-commerce strategy. New markets need to be investigated in advance and language difference is not the only thing to consider. People’s culture and local celebrations (ie. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day) have to be looked into thoroughly. Some countries, like Bulgaria, don’t celebrate Father’s Day, and pushing products aimed at that would most likely result in a loss of time, effort and money.

Building relationships with your international audience is crucial. You have to tailor their experience with your website or company. You can do so by a well-targeted email campaign based on previous interactions, or by introducing a tailored incentive built around their interests.

People will talk about your brand. So, joining in on social media and driving brand advocacy is a necessity. There are a few important things that you need to consider though. One of them is, should you have one account (ie. Twitter account, Facebook page) for all countries or should you have separate social media accounts for each country? It all depends on your business goals and how engaged you expect your audience to be. Don’t forget that you will need to manage all your online channels and finding the people to do it will take time and would be at a cost.

If SEO is going to be part of your strategy, it’s good to have your domain localised for every country.  For example in Germany with *.de, France with *.fr and so on. This gives people a better idea of where the company is really based, plus it helps with your SEO.

If you decide to keep your *.com or *.co.uk domain and just have the same website translated into different languages then you may lose a lot on international traffic as Google will be showing your website to people from your country’s audience.  Having a local domain also makes it easier to build links and to create partnerships with other local websites (ie. Local directories), something which e-commerce websites need. Read more about website translation.

Ideally, each country will have a separate localised website where not only the pricing and the payment methods are changed but also the content (ie. case studies, blogs), pictures, and text formats.

Dealing with customers from abroad

Customer service is often overlooked when it comes to dealing with enquires from abroad. Take Amazon for example. They have different separate websites for every country and their customers are taken care of by their local reps. The last thing you want is causing friction between people who don’t speak a common language, which would ultimately lead to bad brand reputation.

If, for some reason, you can’t organise local customer reps, then there are some possible solutions:

  • Machine translation
  • Email translation
  • Interpreters
  • Telephone interpreting – a cheaper and easier option


The future

E-commerce worldwide is set to grow two fold by 2017, reaching $2.4 trillion. Western Europe will account for over $445.0 billion in the next 3 years. More and more companies sell online and platforms like Shopify and Etsy make it even easier to set up e-commerce shops.  Investing in e-commerce is worth it and you will get better results but doing it right. If you take the discussed point from this article or sure to be on the right path.

There are a lot of things to overcome, but don’t fall behind the competition and leave the “game” like HMV did 2 years ago when they just failed to embrace technology and e-commerce.

Countries: Europe
Topics: Getting Started
Export Action Plan