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7 Keys to Global E-Commerce Success

By Vivian Wagner
Jun 26, 2018 7:00 AM PT
with careful planning ecommerce companies can reap rewards by expanding globally

If you operate an e-commerce company, the world is at your fingertips, and global markets offer the enticing promise of increased visibility and sales.

"International expansion is a great way to mitigate risk and reliance on a single market for all your sales," noted Chris Vincent, global CEO of Practicology.

"Picking up sales from international markets is a great way to offset softer sales domestically if you sell products that are unique and in demand," he told the E-Commerce Times, "or you can compete with local players on delivery or price."

How to get started may seem murky, though. With that in mind, following are some tips about how to expand your sales globally.

1. Know Why You're Going Global

Before venturing away from your home market, it's important to know why you're doing it. This means, in part, that you must have a sense that your products will sell elsewhere.

"Global expansion is a great way to grow your business," said Peter Lukomskyj, senior vice present for products at Elastic Path.

"That said, don't assume that just because you're successful in your home market you'll be successful abroad," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Do you have something unique or different enough that there is going to be a lot of demand? Test new markets to determine whether they are ready for your products, if your price-point resonates, and if you can meet buyers' expectations for overall customer experiences."

Though it can be time-consuming, doing your homework before expanding globally will pay off in the end.

"If you get it right, you could be that innovative company which sparks a new trend," noted Lukomskyj. "If you get it wrong, global expansion plans can erode margins quickly."

2. Work Out the Logistics

It's important to know how you'll fulfill and deliver products to customers once you have them in a new market. Don't wait until you've made your first sales to figure out what you're going to do next.

"A business faces many challenges when deciding to market, sell, fulfill and support customers outside of the countries where they're accustomed to doing business," Lukomskyj pointed out.

"The first decision a company must make is whether to sell from their current country and then ship to the customer, or set up operations in target countries with a fully localized experience taking local payments, in local currencies, under local tax requirements," he said.

3. Know Your Market

Make sure that you spend some time getting to know a country's culture before expanding into a market outside your home country. Those insights can make the difference between selling to customers and alienating them.

"Understanding the local environment and its norms is a major issue," said Lukomskyj. "Shoppers from other countries can quickly be turned off if their local customs aren't respected. Black Friday would be a foreign concept in France, just as much as Singles Day would be a foreign concept to North Americans."

You'll want to localize your marketing, sales, fulfillment and distribution efforts as much as possible, so that potential customers feel comfortable buying from you.

"We advise our clients that they need to localize their online offer for every international market they enter if they want to compete against local retailers and etailers," said Practicology's Vincent.

4. Work Out Payments

It's important to know how you'll be taking payments, and to make sure your payment processing makes sense in the country you're targeting.

"It's also critical to know how people make payments. While North Americans use credit cards extensively, other countries use direct debit, online transfer and even invoicing more often," noted Lukomskyj.

5. Get Clear on Taxes and Fees

One of the most common mistakes businesses make when going global is failing to investigate taxes and fees in the markets they're entering.

"The highest-consequence mistakes are those with the largest financial impact," said Lukomskyj. "Do not misunderstand local tax regulations or overlook how to repatriate sales revenue to your company's primary legal entity. Some countries require a local partner to own a percentage of the legal entity selling goods in that country."

6. Partner Up

You don't need to go it alone when going global. Don't be afraid to look for marketing, sales, fulfillment and distribution partners that know local markets and can help improve your business there.

"Even if you are within a large company well staffed for entrance into new markets, find some partners to help you understand each major component -- marketing, selling/e-commerce, fulfilling, support," advised Lukomskyj.

"There are proven approaches to test new markets to see how well your brand will perform," he added.

7. Emphasize Good Customer Service

Success in selling globally -- like selling anywhere -- comes down to offering good customer service. The better customer service your business provides, the more you'll be able to get over the inevitable hurdles that accompany the process of expanding your reach, suggested Philip Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt.

"It's all about customer service," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Ultimately, you don't want people to realize it's an international business selling to them."

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.

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