The internet has no borders. Technology allows people to shop around the clock, no matter where they are. Consumers are less concerned about where the company they buy from is based as long as the purchase experience is good. As a result, global ecommerce is booming.
This is great news for ecommerce businesses looking for opportunities in less saturated markets, but in a world where online buyers are expecting more, competition is fierce.
It might be tempting to dive in head first once due diligence has been completed to identify demand and understand regulations and taxes in a new country. But making the decision to begin serving customers in a new country should not be taken lightly, and there are many factors that will determine whether a business can be as successful abroad as it is on its own turf.
Don’t make it costly to get paid
One of the hidden costs of trading abroad that is often overlooked is the cost of processing cross border payments. Foreign exchange (FX) and other transaction fees can quickly eat into the bottom line, which makes partnering with the right payment service provider – who can allow customers to pay in their local currency with as little friction as possible – hugely important. Nobody likes having to calculate fees once they have added products to their cart before they can proceed to checkout.
Deciding which payment methods to offer can be difficult and exploring the most popular ways to pay in each country is crucial. In China, eWallets Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate the market, yet are relatively unknown, and therefore not widely accepted, by businesses based outside of Asia. Not offering a customers’ preferred way to pay can cause a huge increase in abandonment at the final hurdle.
When it comes to paying suppliers and partners in other countries, banks are expensive and slow. New financial technology companies that can reduce the cost and increase the speed of payments are stepping up to challenge traditional banks that have held the monopoly on this area of banking for decades. This eliminates the need to set up banking relationships in multiple locations.
Why are shipping jokes so funny? It’s all in the delivery
One of the biggest challenges faced by businesses going global is logistics. Outside of big cities, poor infrastructure may impact delivery times, meaning a customer in a rural location gets a lower level of service despite paying the same price for shipping. With shipping expectations more or less the same for international orders as domestic, keeping costs low and delivery times as short as possible is imperative to remain competitive.
Depending on the type of product sold, there may be additional taxes and duty applied which a customer ends up footing the bill for, so it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of tariffs and customs in the market you are selling products into.
Supply chain disruption is another big issue for ecommerce businesses. If manufacturing is moved abroad, the risk of not being able to deliver increases exponentially when the problem occurs in another country, often due to increased lead times. A backup plan should always be in place to minimize disruption if one link in the chain becomes weak or breaks.
Hvor er min ordre? Can you speak your customer's language?
It might be naive, or even ignorant, to assume that every country understands English, but a lack of localization is where many ecommerce businesses fail. Website translation is a good first step, but to fully master country optimization, online companies need to have an understanding of the culture of the people they are selling to.
This starts with pushing the right products – with tailored sales and marketing materials – through the right communication channels. There is no point in running Google Ads in a country where Google does not have significant market share, for example. What works in America may simply not translate well elsewhere.
Having a team based in the same place as the customer to provide support if something goes wrong helps build trust in a brand, but hiring staff in new locations can be costly. Fortunately, developing a presence in new markets can be done virtually, with no need to set up offices and employ staff at that location. Thanks to virtual phone numbers, customer calls can be re-routed to a service team that speaks their language almost anywhere in the world. Live chat and emails can be outsourced to native speakers or multi-lingual staff who are in the same time zone as the customer, preventing problems from escalating due to the language barrier or delayed responses.
While the risks of taking an ecommerce business global are huge, there is great potential to reap the rewards when it’s done right. For more advice on how to expand your business internationally, check out these other great articles.
James Lintzer develops marketing communications strategies and programs for a variety of j2 Global cloud brands, with a focus on eFax. As a business and technology enthusiast, he provides valuable insight and experience across j2’s North American SMB services.
James is also an avid paintballer and collects vintage anime figurines in his spare time.