Once you’ve become an established player on your home market, you might be wondering how to take your e-commerce business to the next level: to expand into foreign markets.
We won’t lie: scaling your e-commerce business is a challenge. If you know what to do, though, and where and how to do it, it is absolutely achievable.
The majority of businesses aim at the USA as the most profitable market, but the reality is that other markets are following hot on their heels. China has already outdone the USA, with more than $1.935 trillion in sales, and Mexico and Canada are rapidly moving up in the rankings.
In this article you’ll find out about markets to be considered for international expansion, hacks for how to use new technologies to your advantage, and smart tips for the localization process while going global with your e-commerce business.
#1. What markets to consider
Choosing the right market is one of the first steps to take when going global. As we’ve mentioned before, China is considered to be the fastest-growing e-market today. However the Chinese market is not the perfect choice for most products, as there is stiff competition from major local companies.
Don’t worry, though: there are many more markets to consider — both within the Asia-Pacific region (which currently tops the e-commerce growth charts) and beyond.
When it comes to specific countries, pay attention to Mexico, India, the Philippines, and Canada: they also appear in this e-commerce top sales growth list.
If you’re selling something in the USA, definitely consider the Mexican market — 70% of your revenue could just end up coming from this market instead of your local one.
Choosing a neighbouring country means you won’t have to worry about high shipping costs, so if you’re based in Europe it makes sense to trade with other European countries.
#2. Look in less typical markets
Take a look at Japan, where Rakuten Ichiba is the most popular marketplace. The numbers prove the benefits of expanding to the Japanese market: in 2019, Japanese e-commerce generated $90 billion in sales.
A curious fact: Japanese mobile shoppers are very active on e-commerce websites, and mobile conversion rates in Japan are among the highest globally. What’s more, order return rates are very low — they vary between 3–5%, compared to 30% in the US.
In Japan, food, home, and apparel are the most popular product categories in the marketplace. Japanese shoppers are fond of international brands, and companies such as Weber, Myprotein, and Daniel Wellington are top-rated there.
If you’re interested in being a merchant on Rakuten Ichiba, note that you must have an incorporated company registered in either the United States or Japan, or else you need a service partner to act as the merchant of record and apply on their behalf. Alternatively, you can start your Japanese expansion through Amazon Japan — this marketplace doesn’t require a Japanese/US-registered company.
The Middle Eastern market is another underestimated area of e-commerce. According to predictions, it will be worth $49 billion by 2021. It’s also great for enterprising foreign merchants, as the competition is not so great there as in China, for example.
Did you know that overseas companies account for 50% of all e-commerce revenue in the Middle East? The reason for this figure is that local brands are generally less developed, and are therefore unable to adequately meet customer needs. Thus, e-commerce fashion websites such as Asos, Net-a-Porter, and Chinese SheIn have managed to occupy a large market share.
#3. Localization is a MUST
Now comes the big question: “How will new clients understand my product if they speak another language?” CSA Research has shown that 60% of customers rarely or never purchase from English-only websites. If you don’t want to lose clients from other countries, it’s only sensible to localize your content.
Keep in mind that you should not merely localize your main text, but also ensure that image texts are localized. Sometimes images need to be adapted to cultural specifics. Also, remember that currency, date, and time formats should be those of the foreign locale.
When localizing your e-commerce website, you should also localize SEO elements. Search for keywords that will work for the locales you’ve chosen. Use Google Keyword Planner to research the best keywords for the region, depending on the niche you’re in.
All e-commerce websites see regular content updates: some products are added, other products are removed, new product descriptions are uploaded… All this means that you’ll need to keep your foreign websites updated continuously.
For this purpose you can use Nitro, a handy online translation platform, to have native speakers translate your texts (even just a few lines) quickly and professionally. Covering 50+ languages, this human translation service is a one-stop platform for all your translation needs.
#4. Don’t rush to launch your own e-commerce website
Having your own website is the first idea that comes to mind when you’re planning to launch internationally. However, you can start by using popular e-commerce platforms to test the waters — without a large initial investment.
These are the platforms that you can try to kickstart your product:
- Amazon’s global marketplaces;
- Mercado Libre (the largest e-commerce site in Latin America);
- Lazada (top e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia);
- Souq (e-commerce platform in Egypt & Saudi Arabia).
One of Alconost’s clients, Cinta Punto, has used this opportunity wisely. They generate income both from their own websites and from marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, selling around the world.
E-commerce marketplaces like Amazon and Rakuten make global sales easier by offering international merchants a convenient option — storage and shipping by the marketplace (on Amazon, its’ FBA — Fulfillment By Amazon).
#5. Customer service catered to each market
Did you know that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience? Excellent customer service is vital for any e-commerce business that wants to be successful.
How can you offer great customer service in languages you don’t speak? The easiest way is to answer customer inquiries via e-mail by using template answers in other languages. Just make sure that you use native speakers to get this content translated.
Another option is to create a chatbot with common questions and answers. For this purpose you can use services such as Intercom or Manychat.
Additionally, you can create a separate FAQ webpage so your clients can search for the answers they need on their own.
Allowing clients to pay in their local currency and using their local payment gateways is also essential for a great user experience. Do your research to find out what local shoppers prefer. For example, COD (Cash on Delivery) is one of the most popular payment options in Southeast Asian countries, while in Great Britain only 5% of purchases are made with this method.
If you’re running a local e-commerce business, don’t be afraid to start selling abroad. Today there are lots of tools that will make your expanding e-commerce journey easier, faster, and more productive.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas are fast approaching. Localize your marketing materials for all your new markets, and remember that different markets need different promotions and messages.
We at Alconost hope that these tips and hacks will make the process of acquiring new markets easier and more user-friendly for you. Now’s the time to forge ahead if you plan to capture another market and go big in 2021!