Selling online to overseas markets: are you ready?

The decision to take your ecommerce business international is a big one, opening up a number of considerations to prepare your business for the big wide world.

Expanding your retail operations beyond Australia is easier than at any time in history, thanks to the power of the internet. While online shopping can open your business up to the world, it’s still a major undertaking that requires strategy and investment. Ask yourself: are you ready?

1. Is your website ready?

Depending on the countries you’re selling to, you may need to make adjustments to your ecommerce platform for different markets. Your site should already be optimised for mobile to cater for the different ways customers shop online. If language is a consideration, you may need to ensure your website is set up for translation.

Some languages require additional space for text so if your existing site template can’t accommodate this, a redesign may be required. And while translation tools and apps are really useful, they aren’t perfect—have your copy translations reviewed by someone who’s well versed in that language to capture the right meaning and tone.

The subtle nuance of languages means the slightest error can say something you really shouldn’t. If you wish to offer country-specific sites, think about how they will be executed? Perhaps you’ll have a pop up window or drop-down menu for visitors to select their region, in which case seek out a multilingual content management system to simplify things.

Alternatively, you could choose to operate separate websites with country-specific URLs, but you’ll need to consider if you have the resources required to obtain new domain names and to maintain multiple platforms ongoing. Whatever option you choose make sure it’s optimised for SEO in each language.

Your site will also need an international payment processor if you’re to take foreign currency. Ensure customers can view prices in local money, but be aware of displaying prices in the correct currency code (eg. CA=Canadian $, ¥=Japanese yen) and format. For instance, many countries, like Germany, display the Euro symbol after the amount (1.234,56 €), whereas others, such as Italy (€1.234,56) do the opposite. The use of full stops, apostrophes and commas is important to get right otherwise some customers might think your product costs 100 times more (or less) than it actually does. And be sure to account for any taxes and fees you’re obliged to add on to purchases in overseas jurisdictions.

2. Is your product ready?

Successfully expanding into new territories requires having something to sell, so it’s vital to have sufficient stock to keep up. If demand is higher than expected, what’s your strategy for dealing with this? A simple ‘sold out’ notice on products or a mechanism for shoppers to be notified when something is back in stock?

Depending on the type of product you sell, there may be certain compliance issues to keep in mind. Make sure you adhere to any regulatory requirements for labelling, particularly when selling food, health or beauty products. These requirements can include the type of information on the product itself (and how it’s displayed) as well as the way it is described on the site. Does your product require health or safety certification? It may even need to undergo testing to be sold in certain markets.

It’s also worthwhile taking a look at your product offering to be certain everything you sell is culturally appropriate for the countries you sell to. Certain images or designs may get lost in translation or, worse, cause offence overseas. To provide a localised feel, review the images you use to promote products to ensure the locations and ethnic mix of models are reflective of your customer base.

3. Are your logistics ready?

Finding international customers is one thing, but getting product to them is another. Weigh up the pros and cons of shipping via your existing distribution networks or establishing localised networks. The former will take longer to reach the customer and may be more expensive, the latter requires greater effort to set up and third party help navigating things like customs, but will reduce cost and delivery timelines.

You might elect to use a regional fulfilment centre to have product on-hand in major markets, so you’ll need to produce and send sufficient stock to the centre. Conversely, set up appropriate procedures for processing returns. Importantly, make sure you clearly and accurately communicate international shipping costs and timings, and detail your returns policy and any associated costs.

The level of investment and the resources required to go global can be significant. Suppose you identify 12 viable international markets to sell into—it’s far more manageable to phase your expansion over a period of time than attempt to enter a dozen markets simultaneously. Just like a bricks and mortar retailer opening too many stores too quickly, growing beyond capability has crippled many businesses. Testing the waters of key markets with small-scale trials is a good idea to get a feel for a country’s sales potential.

4. Is your team ready?

Before going live with your international ecommerce capabilities, make sure your business is equipped to make the leap. Talk to your people to make sure everyone is aware of the push overseas and they ways in which it may affect their role.

Marketing teams will need to consider different customers and regions in their strategy, content producers should ensure they cater to new countries and be aware that what looks or sounds enticing in one market may be off-putting or offensive in another. Importantly, your customer service team needs to be up to the task of managing international enquiries.

Even though ecommerce transactions are designed to take place without human intervention, many customers still require some degree of one-on-one support to get them to the checkout. Do you have an in-house team able to manage email, live chat, social media or phone enquiries from other countries—potentially in other languages—or is there a need to set up third party support readily equipped to do so?

Time differences are a consideration also. Speedy and clear communication is essential to convert potential buyers, so think about who is monitoring your customer service touch points when the lights go out here but it’s peak shopping time elsewhere.

To maximise your chances of success abroad, having the right product to sell, optimising your platform, setting up logistics and preparing your team creates a solid foundation. With the right planning you’re well placed to press ‘go’ and be open for business to the world.

Ready to take on the world?

Read our Insights paper on the Australian small businesses that have gone global and begin charting your route there.

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