It’s a tantalising thought: what if countless new customers are ready and waiting to buy your products overseas? Ready and waiting to help expand your business? What would you have to do to take your online store to those international customers, to export your goods to them and ensure them the best possible shopping experience?
This week is Exporting Is Great Week, a UK government initiative to inspire and support 100,000 additional exporters – and highlight international opportunities for British companies to export their products. With this in mind we wanted to bring together our top tips on how to prepare your ecommerce store for international trade, if exporting overseas is something you’re looking to expand into.
The overall approach for your international ecommerce site is that it should feel local to the people who use it, wherever they are in the world.
- Assess demand for your products overseas and narrow down profitable opportunities in particular countries and specific markets. There can be high demand for prestigious British brands abroad, and British manufacturing is often synonymous with quality (just look at overseas demand for Rolls Royce) – but first of all it’s important to understand your audience, and why they desire particular items, to inform the development of your ecommerce store. Put simply, a personalised experience of your site, ideally localised for your audiences abroad, will give you the best results.
- Know your rivals in your chosen territories. If your competition can supply the same product at a better price or with more efficient shipping, decide if it makes business sense to export in that territory – or whether there’s a better opportunity for your ecommerce store in another territory where demand is just beginning to increase.
- It may be that there isn’t necessarily demand for your full product range overseas, but for just a few particular items that you sell. It may be useful to start out small and low-risk by retailing your products abroad on a trusted international marketplace like eBay or Amazon in your chosen territories. This could allow you to test demand for particular products in particular countries, assess your competition and give you valuable insights into your overseas audience and their expectations.
- You’ll also want to research international shipping/delivery options which will provide you with the best balance of reliability and cost-effectiveness – and even better if you can complement your reputation and the quality of your products with an equally reputable shipping/delivery provider.
- As a British exporter your website already has the advantage of speaking the international language of trade, creating the potential to serve a great many customers all over the world. Just make sure that you’re communicating the benefits of your products clearly in your content to address the needs and problems of your customers.
- Your end goal is obviously to step up worldwide sales for your online business, and to make it as easy as possible for shoppers overseas to browse your site and return often. This comes down to establishing a great user experience on your website – the end result of an experienced, mobile-responsive ecommerce developer working with a worldwide platform like Magento or Magento 2, and high-performance web hosting offering you a solution like CDN (a way to speed up your site’s load times for users in other countries).
- Because CDN hosting makes your website faster and more responsive, this also means that it could rank more highly in search engine results. A faster, smoother website which ranks higher in search and provides a better user experience could help to increase your conversions too – which could create a solid start for your international ecommerce business.
- One of your major considerations before launching an international ecommerce business should of course be language. Translating your site and communications into international languages like Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese could open up your business to buyers in multiple countries – so it’s well worth targeting specific territories and investing in high-quality translation services for those territories. (As well as fluent interpreters if your staff will be talking to international buyers over the phone, like our export client Mardon for example.)
- Continuing the consideration of language, there are two approaches your site could take: internationalisation (simply changing the language on your site, for example by adding multi-language functionality) versus localisation (tailoring your website to a specific audience in a specific country). This can be a big subject to consider in itself, and if you’re investing in a foreign-language version of your website then you’ll want to make sure you’re getting reliable advice from an experienced digital consultant – especially if they’re already part of an agency which can design, develop and host your site without the need for a middle man.
- Translating your site isn’t just about changing the language of your content to meet foreign buyers’ needs. Bear in mind other communications too, such as setting up foreign social media accounts, and taking the same approach with your customer service. If you lack the resource to offer a multilingual call centre for your overseas customers, it’s good practice to provide this caveat on your website to help manage your customers’ expectations. Ideally your customers would expect to be able to click your ‘Contact’ button and receive timely, localised support in their language, or even help via live chat. Not every exporter can provide these services, but don’t let that put you off – demand for your products could outweigh what you offer in terms of support resource, and you can always focus more on providing high-quality support with the resource you have.
- Shipping, customs, payment and tax are always complex considerations for international ecommerce. Bear the following in mind:
- -Does your shipping provider allow you to track your goods accurately?
- -Payment charges can vary on transactions using European and non-European credit cards
- -Do you need to complete a customs declaration for what you ship?
- -Are you prepared to accept payments in foreign currencies? Or would you display your prices in foreign currencies on-site but actually take all payments in pounds?
- -Who’s legally liable in terms of online sales to non-UK vendors? Whose rules apply?
- -What import and export duties do you need to pay? If your stock is imported from a foreign manufacturer then you may be able to bond that stock, meaning that you don’t pay UK import duties on stock that you intend to export overseas
- -Foreign buyers in the EU who are registered for VAT in their native country may quote their VAT registration number to exempt them from VAT
- -US buyers may need to pay sales tax, which you may wish to make your customers aware of if this applies (despite the fact that you can sell to the US tax-free as a UK business).
- Consumers tend to purchase low-consideration items first, moving on to higher-cost, higher-consideration items as their trust grows in your brand and service. You can help to foster this trust more quickly by featuring trust markers on your website, such as your reviews site star ratings, client logos, the logos of your product brands, and by including your Google Certified Shops badge on each page of your site.
- It’s always good to show your customers how much they will pay in total using their credit card for an international transaction; or you can offer PayPal or WorldPay payments so that your customer knows exactly what they’re paying.
- You may also wish to set up separate URLs for targeted countries, which can help to develop trust and confidence from your customers overseas – and using a CDN to speed up your load times will help here too. This approach will also benefit your results in search engines in your targeted countries, increasing coverage for your brand in those countries.
If you lack the resource to offer a multilingual call centre for your overseas customers, it’s good practice to provide this caveat on your website to help manage your customers’ expectations. Ideally your customers would expect to be able to click your ‘Contact’ button and receive timely, localised support in their language, or even help via live chat.
- The overall approach for your international ecommerce site is that it should feel local to the people who use it, wherever they are in the world. The real test of your site is this: can your users overseas click ‘Buy’ and simply wait for their goods to arrive, as with a big international store like Amazon? Can you (or your designer/developer) streamline your store to achieve that same look and feel over time?
- You may also want to look at creating an international ecommerce platform where orders are automated as much as possible, creating savings and efficiencies for your business. Retail management software like Brightpearl could be an ideal solution to take care of orders, finance and inventory all in one system.
- Everything you know about content, marketing, advertising, PPC and SEO also applies in international markets. Just remember that there may be a cultural barrier as well as a language barrier, so do your homework and adjust your approach accordingly to reach your desired audience.
- You’ll also want to keep a close eye on your security online when you’re handling orders overseas. Make sure your payment page is secured with an appropriate SSL certificate, and ensure that your website content platform is kept up to date with the latest stable version to protect against vulnerabilities. You could also look at two-factor authentication and locking down IP access for increased site admin security. If you’re in doubt about a particular customer and the validity of their payment details, you could choose to accept only electronic payment rather than credit or debit card before you export your products to them.
- There’s no limit to how much you can know about your target market or markets overseas, and the more you know, the better you’ll be able to meet their needs. The more site analytics data and customer feedback you can collect, the better informed your export business will be. Know your overseas audience, manage their expectations and make transactions simple, ‘local-feeling’ and hassle-free – but above all provide great-quality products and customer service.
In essence you should always look for ways to improve website user experience for your overseas customers, with considerations such as mobile-responsive design, stripped-back checkouts, multiple trusted payment gateway options and CDN hosting for faster page load times internationally. Offer a reliable service, provide the best shipping options you possibly can, and make any shipping costs, taxes and timescales crystal clear on your website (or work with an ecommerce solutions provider to meet your needs).
If you’re not sure where to start in creating an international ecommerce business, just get in touch. We’d be happy to discuss your ecommerce ambitions and what our combined web design, development and hosting approach could achieve for your business overseas.