While the concept of growing your small online business into a huge internationally-recognized brand can definitely sound like a pipedream, the truth is that it is now a reality for many entrepreneurs. Thanks to technology, the pattern of consumer behavior has completely changed over the past decade. Consumers now prefer to handle the majority of their shopping needs online, and customers are far more comfortable buying from brands that exist solely on the internet.
Other trends in global consumerism have allowed e-commerce brands to start expanding their reach. For example, buying from overseas brands is now easier and more common as customers look for more convenient ways to find the best deals on the products they want.
Since the way we shop is changing dramatically, it is naive for online brands to act as if their audience reach is in any way limited. Online consumerism is only continuing to increase, and if predictions are correct, the global online retail market will be worth over 4.8 billion in the next few years.
This upward trend provides e-commerce brands with the amazing opportunity to expand into international markets that are ready to buy their products. However, this move does not come without risks. There is plenty of room for error if you are trying to reach markets that are new and unfamiliar, and the competition is going to be even greater than before.
Launching a global brand is a risky move, especially if it is made in haste. Therefore, if you are considering taking your brand to the international level, there are some things you need to understand first. Let’s talk about four critical steps you need to take in this international journey.
Research Your Audience Through and Through
Just because you want to expand into international markets does not mean that you will have pockets of customers in every region. You will need to do just as much research (if not more) to discover where the majority of your customers are located globally as you did when first researching your local customer segments.
One way to get started is by combing through your own customer datasets to search for any patterns that could signal potential in a global market. Take a look at your past shipping orders; have you had any international orders in the past or inquiries about global shipping? Obviously, this is a sign that there is potential in those markets.
Another place to look as you start out on your research is your current website traffic patterns. From Google Analytics, you can easily see if a significant percentage of your traffic is coming from other countries.
Take the data you find from these two sources as your first clue into which potential markets you should look into. From there, you will need to do thorough research into the consumer trends of those areas to make sure that there is a strong enough demand for your product.
Once you discover potential markets, you will need to begin to learn about the customers within that region. Consumer behavior and preferences can vary depending on the location. According to a study on online consumer behavior from KPMG, the driving motivations for customers to make a purchase online can be quite different with international audiences. Some are highly motivated by price, while others care far more about the brand’s reputation and quality.
It will be incredibly important that you understand these factors before making any big moves into global markets. Make sure that you truly understand which markets to target and make sure that your brand and product are going to perform profitably. As you learn more about the intricacies of your international audiences, you will begin to understand the motivations behind their purchasing habits – which will support a more successful expansion.
Optimize the Shopping Experience for Global Customers
Another tricky step to expanding globally as an online brand is making the necessary changes to your e-commerce website for an optimized international CX. One of the most obvious changes that you will need to make is language translation; 60% of online shoppers rarely or never buy from sites that are only written in English. Plus, when a site is written in their native language, consumers are more likely to spend a longer time browsing products and interacting with that website.
Keep in mind, simply translating your current content in Google Translate is not a wise move. Mistranslations or unclear phrasing could send up red flags to customers who are unfamiliar with your company and hurt your brand’s reputation. Instead, it is much smarter to hire local translators to change the copy correctly and ensure that the meaning is not lost.
You will also need to incorporate responsive design into your international ecommerce platform so that international customers are provided with an intuitive UX – no matter what their location is. This can be done automatically by creating ccTLDs, or you can create subdomains that allow customers to select their language, location, and currency preferences. There are several ways you can optimize your site for localization, though some methods can impact your site’s SEO, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons accordingly before making a final design decision.
Of course, the UX of your international design will be more complex than simply offering the same language as your customer. One of the main factors to keep in mind is the global loading speed of your site. The further away that the user is physically located from your website’s server, the slower it will load. You can connect with a CDN network that caches your website’s data on global servers to improve these speeds for your international customers.
Make Sure That Your Marketing Efforts Are International
The marketing strategies that you have used for your original audiences may not perform as effectively in global markets. International audiences consume advertising differently; what works in one country may not be as successful in another.
One obvious advertising channel that will need to be adjusted for an international marketing strategy is social media. Referring back to the report from KPMG, the use of sites like Facebook, Twitter, and other messaging apps varies widely from region to region. So, while Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter may be quite effective to reach your customers in the US; it would be wiser to utilize other sites like WeChat and WhatsApp in regions like Asia, Europe, and South America – where chatting apps are more commonly used.
Your SEO strategy will need some global modifications as well, especially if you are going to rank highly in countries that use search engines other than Google. More likely than not, your team is familiar with optimization strategies for engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But what about Baidu (the largest search engine in China), Yandex (Russia’s most popular search engine), or Naver (commonly used in Korea)? These sites all come with their own list of rules, so your website’s keyword strategy will need adjustments to fit into their criteria as well.
Double Check on Quality Assurance
Finally, before you put all of your efforts into global expansion, you will want to ensure that your new customers are actually able to receive the same quality level of experience that your more “local” customers do. This goes beyond just the logistics of getting your product to those buyers (although that is important to figure out before you start selling and shipping internationally).
One of the most difficult things about expanding globally is you will lose a little bit of control over the product and overall UX. This is especially true if you are partnering with Dropshippers for faster order fulfillment and cheaper shipping rates. While this is certainly not true of all businesses, some dropshipping companies will use shady methods to keep their costs low, which could affect the quality of your brand’s products.
If a customer receives an item that looks different than what they expected or that has been damaged due to improper handling or packaging, they will blame your business, even though it is the dropshipper’s fault. Be sure to double check that the product, packaging, and shipping methods are all up to par. If possible, conduct routine quality checks with the dropshipper to ensure that they meet your standards.
You will also want to be sure that your sales and customer service departments are able to handle international inquiries and still provide a positive experience. In order to provide fast service in your new audience’s language, it may be best to partner with customer service representatives overseas. Obviously, the downside to this strategy is that your business will have less control over the day-to-day because this department will be controlled remotely. Therefore, you will need to make sure that the service you hire has the proper training to provide the same level of care and positive customer experiences as your local reps.
Remember, this does not just apply to phone services for customer assistance. Again, every market is different and some regions are happier to interact with customer service through other methods, such as email assistance, live chat, or even social media. Pay attention to your customer’s preferences and be sure to offer the types of services that will serve them best.
Every single aspect of your business must be prepared for what global expansion entails so that the quality of your brand is not diminished. As you consider growing to reach international customers, be sure that you understand all of the changes that must be made to ensure your company’s success. You want this expansion to increase your brand’s recognition and improve its reputation, not weaken it.
The fact that nearly every online company has the option to become a global brand is truly phenomenal – as it opens up the doors to greater success and profitability. However, just because this option exists does not mean that every e-commerce site is prepared to make the move. There is a lot on the line for brands that are going to take the international plunge and they must be ready to tackle the loads of preparation work before selling overseas.
Just as with any market, you must first be sure that the demand for your product(s) exists and how those customers can be reached. By conducting thorough research, you can start to understand its new global customers and create marketing strategies and plans accordingly. From there, the proper adjustments will need to be made to provide the kind of UX that leads to conversions through optimized website design, localized messages, and quality experiences from start to finish.
There is a lot of work that goes into creating and maintaining a globally-optimized site, and little mistakes could hurt your growth. However, the more prepared you are for what lies ahead, the better. If you are ready to take your e-commerce brand to the next level and reach a whole new world of customers, be sure that you have the systems in place to ensure that you get it right the first time.