The world isn’t the same as it used to be. Over one billion people around the globe now have access to the Internet, and that kind of connectivity has brought businesses and consumers together in a way that would have been hard to imagine 20 years ago. It has also provided artisans and entrepreneurs everywhere with an outlet that empowers them to broaden their reach to people everywhere.
The craft of expanding domestic operations onto an international platform isn’t as straightforward as getting the word out in a foreign country through social media outreach and thoughtful marketing/advertising campaigns. In order to truly capitalize on international business it’s necessary to both understand foreign markets and cater to foreign consumers.
It’s important for today’s ecommerce businesses to engage in wise practices that will allow them to achieve the most benefit from having access to hundreds of millions of potential customers. Here are five important considerations to help improve the likelihood of a successful expansion.
• Consider Your Pricing Strategy
A while back I stumbled across the Big Mac index, developed by The Economist magazine. The index works as a financial indicator that allows companies to analyze and then fairly price items in one country against currency rates in another. For example, in October 2010 the median price of a Big Mac in the US was $3.71, while the opposing ends of the price scale noted Switzerland paying the equivalent of $6.78 (USD), and the Chinese paying $2.18 (USD). In other words, considering international exchange rates and adjusting pricing should be considered paramount in efforts to capture sales, and product pricing must be aligned with the economic climate of a specific country. If you’re overpriced, no one will buy, if you’re underpriced, revenue will surely slip away.
• Localize Your Sites
Habla espanol? Parlez-vous Francais? English might be the international language of business, but that doesn’t mean that end users will understand English, or even want to visit a site that is not in their native language. Until a company is ready to translate its content into foreign languages, a good starting strategy is to expand into markets that are already English speaking, or have a large English speaking population. And it’s a good idea to generate some original content for expansion sites rather than duplicate what you already have. Canada, Australia, the UK, and East Asian countries like Singapore are a few good English speaking considerations, depending on the nature of the business, of course.
• Alternate Payment Options and Multiple Currencies
Do you accept JCB or Maestro? If you don’t offer payment options popular in other countries it’s likely you’ll be missing out on a significant number of potential buyers. Opening a merchant bank account in countries you wish to expand to will provide people with a means to complete a transaction using their own currency, and can also increase protections against fraud. But until you have your international bank accounts in order, at least provide a tool on your site that offers currency conversion. For a list of popular payment methods in countries around the world, have a look at the interactive map created by Global Collect.
• Keep Shipping Affordable and Honest
Like it or not, the trend for enterprise ecommerce sites is headed towards low or zero cost shipping for consumers. Although offering free shipping to all corners of the earth is probably not a realistic strategy, keeping those costs as low as possible is best achieved through utilizing a single shipping platform provider that is capable of steering you through the complexities of duties, taxes, and currency exchange rates. Find out what matters to your new market; speed of delivery or the lowest possible shipping price. Then identify a good median and be sure to clearly and concisely communicate your shipping process, from payments to returns.
• International SEO
Remember Google versus China? Although you can go most places in the world and access the most prominent name in search, don’t be fooled into thinking that targeting Google for your new market in Taiwan will guarantee results. Find out who the big players are in your new market and tailor your SEO strategy. If you’re company is deft in doing things like translating keywords, or managing content in multiple languages then you may be ahead of the curve, but you might still consider acquiring a country level domain name and using country specific hosting. Identifying to consumers that you have a vested interest in your new market will go a long way with those who then find your site and see it’s actually directed at them.
At the end of the day, all of these suggestions boil down to one underlying principle: maintaining a positive customer experience. What makes you successful at home will likely help you succeed abroad, and an enhanced site experience, a clear gateway to payment, and an honest shipping policy will always help to improve conversion and drive sales, whether that person is in Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Idaho.
Jared Matkin is a staff writer for HotWax Media with a background in PR, Branding and Marketing. He’s also a light-hearted and an opinionated character who will join other HotWax Media employees and advisers in periodically posting his thoughts on topics ranging from enterprise eCommerce to business and technology.