When you run an ecommerce site that exclusively sells digital products, global expansion seems like the most obvious way to grow your business. As long as they have Internet access, your customers can buy and receive your products almost instantly no matter where they are.
Now I’m going to tell you a couple common misconceptions about launching a global ecommerce business:
- International borders don’t really exist for ecommerce businesses. Physical barriers don’t apply to goods sold over the Internet. However, it’s important to remember that all sales tax regulations still apply to digital good purchases—more on this later!
- Since you’re not setting up a brick-and-mortar store in a foreign country, there’s practically no overhead.
While “shipping” isn’t a major concern for online stores and brick-and-mortar stores usually have higher overheads, there are still some added costs and considerations when entering international markets.
So, before you run your landing pages through Google Translate, there are some things you need to hash out. In this piece we will cover:
- How to evaluate your resources
- How to gauge supply and demand
- What to look for in your competitors
- How to optimize your online store for global sales
What is global ecommerce?
Global ecommerce, or international ecommerce, is the process of selling products or services online to buyers in foreign countries.
Since global ecommerce involves crossing international borders, it comes with its own set of challenges. Businesses need to be prepared for both monetary and cultural differences when doing business with other countries.
Even countries that seem to have similar cultures still need to be treated independently of each other. Each country needs to have its own ecommerce strategy and should be optimized individually.
Now for the good stuff.
4 Steps to Starting a Global Ecommerce Business
1. Evaluate Your Resources
While ecommerce and billing software make expanding into international markets pretty smooth, you still need to make sure you have enough resources to handle the expansion.
You probably already have a stellar team for all your domestic ecommerce efforts. But global ecommerce requires a certain set of skills. You need to consider cultural differences, language barriers, and currency exchange. In fact, you may want to consider creating two separate teams—domestic and international.
If hiring a new team to assist in global expansion isn’t an option for your business, your current team will have to be prepared to learn a lot of new things.
With an online business, you don’t need to consider the added costs of shipping or real estate, but you do need to think about different tax rates. Just like different states have different taxes, every country has taxes attached to each foreign transaction, which means every purchase comes with added costs. So, you need to ask the question, “Do I have the funds to enter international markets?”
2. Gauge Supply and Demand
Before you dive head first into international waters, check out your website’s traffic. Are you getting visitors from other countries? Your current website visitors can help you determine what markets to enter first.
Using SEO measurement tools, you can also research how often your products are being searched in other markets. You may find more locations with high searches for your products besides those found in your inbound traffic research.
It can also be helpful to research how often your target country buys online. You want to make sure your target country does a lot of online shopping and they buy products within your industry.
3. Check Out Your Competition
As a foreign company, it can be difficult to compete with local, trusted companies that provide similar products and services. Look for locations that have little or no competitors. But remember, we’re talking about international ecommerce, which means you don’t need to be as concerned about brick-and-mortar shops. You offer a level of convenience that physical stores can’t.
If you do decide to enter a market with a lot of local competition, find what sets your brand or product apart. Is your product more robust? Is it easier to use? Is it more cost-effective? Determine your points of differentiation before you enter a saturated foreign market.
4. Optimize Your Online Store for Global Sales
Having separate international and domestic teams can be very helpful as you figure out the actual logistics of running a global ecommerce business. Here are some things to consider:
- Web design. Everything from color scheme to page layout to image selection can influence conversion rates. And you’ll probably find that foreign preferences are very different from what you’re used to in the US. As you target new geo-locations, make sure your web designers are familiar with the cultural differences or are prepared to do tons of AB testing to ensure you’re getting the highest conversion rate possible.
- Payment options. Your checkout process needs to be able to support local currencies and provide a localized experience. That means automatically displaying localized pricing options and buyers’ preferred payment methods for each customer. But don’t worry; it’s easier than it sounds if you have an ecommerce partner, like FastSpring, to create and optimize your online store’s checkout process.
- Language translations. There are some really great language translation programs out there, but you probably want something a little more reliable when translating website and landing page copy. It’s always a good idea to have a native speaker look over your copy to make sure everything translates the way you want it to.
- International compliance. As a US ecommerce business, you are already very aware of the hundreds of domestic tax regulations. So, it should be no surprise that global markets have their own unique sets of rules and regulations. It can be very overwhelming to keep up with changing regulations for each market, which is why you should probably get an ecommerce partner to take care of international compliance for you.
While expanding an online store into international markets is much easier than starting a brick-and-mortar store in a foreign country, it’s not without its complications. But just know, if you have an ecommerce partner, like FastSpring, the international growth process is infinitely easier. Ready to get started? Request a demo of FastSpring today!