When you have an e-commerce brand with which you’ve achieved domestic success, it’s time to think about taking it to the global level. You’ve probably already toyed with the idea, and why not? Expanding globally could lead to lots of additional sales and increased profits. In addition, having a global customer base protects you against fluctuations in the domestic market. But despite these benefits, many e-commerce brands hesitate to take the leap because of the difficulties—both real and perceived—involved with selling internationally.
Going global is a goal most e-commerce companies share, but for many, making that goal a reality seems out of reach. Nevertheless, it’s a goal worth pursuing. According to the International Trade Administration, 70% of the world’s purchasing power is outside the United States. U.S. companies that sell globally grow faster, and they’re 8.5% less likely to go out of business.
But how to overcome the challenges? Between shipping costs, international regulations, customs clearance, and various duties and taxes, selling internationally might seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
Fortunately, new technology has lowered the barriers for e-commerce brands of any size to enter the global market. Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take in order to expand your brand globally, and some of the tools and strategies you can use to make each step more manageable.
Do Your Research
Like James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, you have but one goal in mind: Complete Global Domination. But even as the head of SPECTRE., Blofeld couldn’t take over the world overnight. If you want to succeed where he failed, you’ll need to plan carefully and research each step.
First, you’ll want to find out if there is an existing demand for your products in other countries. Take a look at your website analytics to see where visitors to your site originate from. If you’re getting hits from countries to which you’re not currently shipping, that’s a good indicator of demand. These people have found your site without any foreign marketing, so they must be actively looking for products like yours.
Next, use tools like Google Trends to see what people in various countries are searching for. If searches for products like yours in a particular region are trending upward, or are already high, research the competition. High search volume and low competition is a good indication that your expansion into the country would be successful.
If things are looking good so far, take a look at the size of the market balanced against potential gains. Consider the competitive landscape and how easy or difficult it would be to break into the market. Your research will help you decide whether you should add that country to your expansion list right away or put it aside for future consideration.
Whatever you do, don’t overextend yourself. It’s risky to try expanding into too many countries at once. That said, there are a few countries you’re going to want to look at right off the bat. According to a report by Forrester, digital businesses “tend to follow a similar path and prioritize the same list of countries.” For a U.S.-based brand, these are The United Kingdom, China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
These “top-tier markets” either have a large, developed e-commerce presence or they are smaller markets with strong physical infrastructures.
Break into Your New Market
If your research pans out, it’s time to start testing your new market. But those challenges we talked about before—they’re still there, ready to rear their ugly heads and hinder your progress. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert on international shipping regulations and tax laws, nor do you need to find your own warehouse space overseas. There are third-party logistics companies (3PLs) ready and waiting to help you.
Maybe you’ve already partnered with a 3PL for your domestic shipping. If they are capable of scaling with you and helping you go global, great! But if your 3PL is lacking in international capabilities, or you don’t have a 3PL at all, it’s time to find an order fulfillment partner that can help you take your products to the world.
Global fulfillment companies have strategically placed fulfillment centers that let you easily cross borders throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. There are different rules and regulations in each country, but with a third-party logistics partner handling your order fulfillment, you won’t have to worry about language barriers and cultural differences.
3PLs can also handle the complex taxation and translations involved in shipping goods internationally. Your third-party order fulfillment partner will stay on top of country-specific procedures and tax rules, easing the burden on you.
Engage in Regional Marketing
How you market your brand is going to depend greatly on your specific products and the country in which you’re selling. One option (unfortunately, an expensive one) is to work with a local or international marketing agency to develop strategies that will appeal to your new audience. When you’re first taking your brand to an international level, these services might be out of your price range. That’s fine. There are other things you can do to get the word out about your brand. You can opt to engage a marketing firm later if and when it makes sense financially.
In the meantime, look at what worked for you domestically. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; simply rework your domestic marketing for an international audience. For example, you can add subtitles to existing explainer videos or clips showing your products’ value to make these marketing materials work in a new country. Some things might get lost in the translation, but remember, since there’s already a demand for your type of product in the new region, you’re already halfway there.
Confront and Overcome the Obstacles
No matter how carefully you’ve prepared, it won’t be smooth sailing from day one. You’ll probably be dealing with various unexpected issues and setbacks. Luckily, we live in a world of information. Most of the data you’ll need to solve any problems that arise is easily obtainable. Paying attention to how customers are interacting with your site is key to understanding and overcoming obstacles at this level.
Let’s say your research showed a major demand for your products in a particular country, but the sales just aren’t coming in. Does that mean your research was wrong? Not necessarily. It could be a number of things. For example:
- If customers are bouncing on your checkout page, make sure you are offering checkout in local currencies and that the prices include duties, VAT, and other taxes.
- Customers in different countries have different expectations regarding returns. Make sure your returns policy supports international purchases, is customized for the region in question, and is detailed and transparent.
Also, don’t forget the importance of analytics. You used them during your initial research phase, and you can use them now. A deep dive into your site’s analytics can often uncover problems that can be fixed quickly and easily.
Finally, consider implementing an exit survey. Ask site visitors who don’t make a purchase, “Why?” Make it easy by allowing them to select from a list of common objections, such as delivery costs, shipping time, unknown duties and taxes, and unclear/undesirable returns policy.
This level of qualitative data can help you make big decisions, like warehousing inventory closer to international consumers, creating a localized online store and checkout, offering free international returns shipping, and more.
Taking your brand global may seem like a monumental task. But if you take advantage of all the resources available to you it doesn’t have to be. All you need to decide is where you are going to expand, and who you are going to work with to help you get there.
Simple Global wants to help you get there. Whether you’re a start-up taking your first steps into international e-commerce, or an established brand ready to take the world by storm, our global order fulfillment services can make it happen. Request a free quote and get started!