Everything You Need To Know About Expanding Your Ecommerce Store Globally
You’ve built your ecommerce store from the ground up, which is no easy task: identifying a niche, forming a product range, and finding an audience. After all that hard work, your success has reached critical mass. Maybe you’ve tapped your local market, or you’re selling as many as you’re likely to in your home country — regardless, you’re ready to take your operation global.
But carrying out a successful global expansion is a challenge as large as the ground you’re looking to cover. It’s nowhere near as simple as just scaling up your existing process, although that enters into it. Here’s what you need to know before you start your expansion:
You’ll need to learn about regional laws
Back in the early days of ecommerce, the world of online retail was somewhat akin to the old American frontier: seemingly lawless by virtue of being sufficiently far removed from authorities that no one really knew what was allowed and what wasn’t (or to what extent it mattered). But we’re not in those early days now, and the law is really starting to catch up.
In 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled that a US state may pursue a seller based in another state for sales tax if they achieve a certain level of business in that state. Beforehand, selling across America was simple: if you didn’t have a physical location (or a distribution network) in a state, then you didn’t need to pay sales tax when selling to its citizens. Today, any business that wants to sell across states needs to ensure that all its paperwork is handled properly.
On an international level, it’s more complicated still, and it’s simply not worth risking your company’s reputation (and finances) by ignoring or trying to skirt regulations. Before you seriously consider selling to a new area, learn about its distance selling requirements, and be sure to comply with them in full.
It’ll greatly raise the complexity of shipping
Shipping can be awkward enough when it’s relatively nearby. Even the most reliable couriers can make mistakes, packages can be damaged in transit, and orders can be waylaid for myriad reasons. And when you expand your shipping options to include other countries, you make things vastly more complicated.
Not only do you have the slower speeds to contend with when it comes to customer support (there’s a difference between someone acknowledging that a delivery might take weeks and actually thinking about what that means — and then there’s the thorny issue of returns…), but you also have to deal with the aforementioned legal matters. Ship something incorrectly, and the buyer might be left to deal with frustrating import charges, ultimately making you look bad.
Page speed is likely to vary wildly
The internet might feel like a single entity at times, but it’s far from it, and having loading times that are optimized for your current target audience won’t help you much when you greatly expand that audience by going global. Relying upon a high-quality host without international networking will lead you to ruin — global shoppers will quickly become frustrated with the pace of your site, and conclude that your newly available store isn’t worth their time.
To combat this, you need to use a formidable CDN, or content delivery network. By using nodes spread throughout the world, a CDN stores caches of your pages, and when someone from another country enters your URL, that request is seamlessly fulfilled by the nearest node. Usually, a good ecommerce host will natively be able to hook into at least one recommended CDN, but look around and read reviews to see which you prefer (Cloudflare is a popular option).
You may need to offer new payment methods
When you spend all your money in one country, you can get a skewed idea of which payment services are popular on a global level. Take PayPal, for instance: it has achieved such prominence in the Western world that it’s easy to assume it’s as prominent elsewhere, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Indeed, there are parts of the world in which people remain skeptical about using digital wallets.
Consequently, do some research before you try selling somewhere to learn about the most popular payment platforms. Is there a type of card that gets a lot of use? A system for buying online but making the payment in a store? If you offer in-demand products at attractive prices but fail to allow your prospective buyers to pay for them using methods that work for them, they’ll simply go elsewhere.
Content translation is a significant challenge
Language plays a role far more major than simply determining whether a visitor can figure out what your products are. Adapting your content to suit a region requires painstaking and delicate work, factoring in everything from the number of characters you can allow for a heading to the tonal implications of a certain adjective (plus the rise of voice search isn’t making things easier).
It isn’t just the customer-facing content that matters, of course. If you intend to hire a local to handle business in a particular region (which may be useful, as we’ll see in the next point), then it would be beneficial for them to be able to use admin features in their own language, which is something that isn’t as easy as you might think. Even an industry-leading option such as Shopify’s global platform won’t natively cover that many languages: currently just English, French, German, and Japanese, with others being in beta testing.
And then there are the SEO implications of multilingual sites. Do you have just one version that changes language as appropriate, or maintain multiple versions that will be more convenient in some ways but also put you at risk of ranking cannibalization? There’s a lot to be figured out.
If it seems overwhelming to you, contact a translation and localization company like Venga Global thas has the expertise to help take the complexity out of this process.
Localization demands local knowledge
Every region has its idiosyncrasies. The native language isn’t a fixed entity, but something that shifts and wavers depending on the area. Slang terms are particularly worthy of contemplation. What if you launch your site in a new area, only to learn rather too late that a phrase on your homepage is actually quite profane in local parlance? Cultural blunders can be catastrophic.
And then there’s the matter of design. Some cultures read left to right, others right to left, and any given color can have many different meanings depending on where you use it. Making a design faux pas right out of the gate will not only lose you business but also make it abundantly clear to the people of that area that you’re not all that interested in their specific needs.
As we’ve seen, there’s a lot that goes into overseeing a successful global expansion. It isn’t something to be taken lightly or rushed through to meet an ambitious deadline. Get it right by giving it the time it needs and consulting with a localization expert — that way, you’ll have the best chance at long-term success.
Contributed by Ecommerce Tips: Patrick Foster / Ecommerce Consultant – Ecommerce Tips is an industry-leading ecommerce blog dedicated to sharing business and entrepreneurial insights from the sector. Start growing your business today and check out the latest on Twitter @myecommercetips.