Internationalizing your E-Commerce business can sound like a substantial project, especially when you want to localize your activities in all the new markets that you are about to enter. However, due to the substantial improvements which have taken place from a operational and technological point of view in the past decade, creating a global infrastructure for your E-Commerce business does not have to be as complex as it may sound – and you (and your team) don’t necessarily have to even leave your current physical location to realize the project.
Things to Consider When Internationalizing Your E-Commerce Business
1. Bespoke Website for Each New Market
Similarly to other major successful E-Commerce business (e.g., Amazon, Zalando, Asos, THG) I definitely suggest that you should develop a localised website for each market in which your firm operates. By fulfilling various requirements for each website (which will be outlined in the next sections) the idea is to create localized consumer facing experiences which will make the customers comfortable as their shopping experience resembles the experiences of actually shopping on a local website from a national company. The localised setup will naturally increase confidence and trust, and thereby the appurtenant conversion rate on the website – even though that and your company might not be physically present in the country form which the consumer is from.
2. Local Languages
By launching a new country-specific website in the local language, it will be easier for the national consumers to navigate around on the site. Think about yourself: Assuming you are from an English speaking country, you would most likely not visit and shop on a website in an Italian or Spanish language. It’s the same mentality in most Non-English countries. Even though the English language in many ways is seen as an ‘international standard’, consumers from Non-English speaking countries still very much prefer to shop on websites in their local language. If you already have an English flagship website, then you don’t necessarily have to hire – say – a Spanish person to be able to launch a Spanish store. Your master information from the English page can easily be translated through freelancers whom you can create a close partnership with. In many countries where local marketing channels doesn’t necessarily have to be used to grow an online business, one English speaking E-Commerce Manager will be able to manage several localized stores through a network of external or internal translators.
3. Local Currencies
Adding the local currency does naturally increase the conversion rate as consumers always prefer to shop in their natural currency. It’s a habit. Even though the credit card fees might be the same, it’s almost certain that 10 out of 10 would always pick his / her national currency in a transaction, if it’s available. For this reason, it is always suggested to launch the local currency on every local sub-site which you may launch. If you only have one master store, then it is suggested to have multiple currencies on that store – ideally covering all the markets which the website has a present in.
4. Local Payment Methods
Similarly to the local currencies, local payment methods will also reduce the checkout abandonment, thereby increasing the conversion rate on your website. Alternative Payment Methods (APM’s) – also known as digital wallets – have become of substantial importance in the past years, and in some countries it is in fact close to impossible to build an E-Commerce business which only accepts credit cards and other more basic payment solutions like Paypal. In China, the majority of the transactions do as an example take place through Alipay, WeChat Pay and a few other APM’s – more than 50% of all transactions do in fact take place through APM’s. So regardless of where in the world you’re launching, make sure to implement the right APM’s from the very beginning, as this will enhance your conversion flow. A separate article will be written on APM’s at a later stage.
5. Local TLDs – Country Level Domains
So this one is actually tricky. Whether to launch a localized E-Commerce setup through Top-Level Domains (TLD’s) or subfolders have always been a large discussion point in the E-Commerce community. However, I’ve always been a strong advocate of a localized setup through TLD’s – and here is why. When using a country level domain structure (i.e., when a German website as an example uses the .de domain, a French uses the .fr domain, and a Korean uses the .co.kr domain) the presumption of consumers is usually that they are shopping from a national company. A foundation for the store is here created, where consumers can feel completely comfortable, as the domain structure doesn’t deviate from the local competitors. This is the absolute most important tricker to facilitate conversions; that is, trust. Having just one .com website, which then has several other languages in a dropdown is also a good solution, but will never be the same a launching a local store with a TLD. With people becoming more digital and e-commerce savvy over time, the importance of TLD’s will slowly vanish, but for now I would still very much do it. The main downside is of course, that you’ll have multiple stores that are separated from one another when launching them with local TLD’s, and this means that your SEO strategy in particular have to be executed on a more granular level.
6. Local Logistics Partners
As a function of the rapid adoption of E-Commerce in the past decade, consumers expectations towards your service level have also sky rocketed. In the past years, the delivery times have been reduced exponentially on a year on year basis, now reaching a level where many brands have same-day delivery in certain markets. Having a one week delivery time is simply just not acceptable any longer, which is why it is very important to establish an adequate operational infrastructure from day zero. The good news is that most international courier companies now have established a global infrastructure which allows them to ship goods cross-border from one day to another, meaning that local storage for fast deliveries isn’t a necessity anymore. Large brands such as Zalando, The Hut Group, and others, fulfill a global demand from just a few warehouses globally. In fact, I’ve once worked for a brand which generated +£100 million in a country, without having any local storage our people situated in the country. The point here is that you can create an international e-commerce setup with just a few warehouses globally – even one is enough in the beginning – the only requirement is just that you find a 3PL partner which has good agreements with courier partners that can deliver to all your core markets within a short time period.
7. Local Customer Service
Having a customer service function which is localized for your core markets is very important to consider early on in your internationalization journey, in the markets where the average English language skills of your target customers aren’t very high. Of course, if your brand primarily targets English speaking markets, as well as markets where the target consumers on average have adequate English language skills (e.g., Scandinavia, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and the like) then an English speaking customer service agent can be sufficient. However, if you enter various different markets, where the target consumers don’t have adequate English language skills, then customer service agents for each of these markets will become important. If you are a part of a company which have limited capital, then it is recommended to use other functions internally for this work stream on an initial basis, where the “pressure” from the consumers isn’t very high. In case you have a Country Manager or Market Manager structure in your company, then these functions can manage the customer service work stream in the initially, whereafter local agents can be hired internally or externally when the amount of tickets / inquiries exceeds a certain level.
8. Local Campaign Strategy
A local pricing and campaign strategy can be crucial for your success when localizing, especially if you are internationalizing across multiple territories which are very different from a cultural perspective. Establishing prices for your product(s) / service(s) is more an art than a science, and the campaigns which you may be running from time to time will differ substantially if the markets that you operate in vary a lot.