If your company is set up for e-commerce and you want to benefit from overseas business, it pays to do your homework. You need to understand your marketplaces, what works best when trading overseas, and what steps to take to maximise sales.
Global e-commerce is big business for those who get it right, and more and more people are now buying through the likes of eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and Shopify. In the UK alone, which has the most advanced e-commerce market in Europe, the value of e-commerce is expected to be worth 222.5 billion euros by the end of 2020 – an increase of almost 11 percent on the previous year.
Using the right tools, and of course the most appropriate payment systems, can help your business tap into the global marketplace. Here are 10 step you can take to boost your success online:
• Research and analyse international markets
• Sell on your current website and ship from your own country
• Think local when you go international
• Support different payment methods
• Display your products and services in local currencies
• Offer local customer service
• Increase product inventory
• Try drop shipping
• Referral rewards
• Get on Instagram
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
It’s a mistake to assume you have a ready-made overseas market for your business. You must investigate local needs and competitors, cultural and regulatory differences, and other factors that will determine your approach and whether you can succeed internationally. Depending on your business, not all overseas markets will be right for you.
A good starting place is to use tools such as Google Analytics, Google Trends and Google Console. These are invaluable aids to explore markets, assess supply and demand by country and region, and position your business so it’s set up to appeal to an international customer base.
Start small, to test the water, and only expand into numerous countries once you’re satisfied there is a real market for your products or services. Your overseas customers can buy directly from one site and you can ship to overseas locations using providers such as DHL, which has a trade automation service that can be integrated with your website checkout. Only consider scaling your operations if you have the resources to manage distribution and can provide the right international focus.
This is another way of saying ‘know your market’. When you trade overseas, it won’t be the same as your home market so you must adjust your marketing and sales strategy to local needs – especially if your business is taking off and you want to maximise your international presence. You’ll need to accommodate different languages and even create bespoke websites. You must also consider local shopping habits and payment preferences, tailoring everything to your customers’ expectations and tastes.
Customers will want to pay in different ways, and preferences vary from country to country. For example, bank transfers are favoured for online transactions in Germany, while Japan Credit Bureau (JCB) is the most used credit card in japan, has more than 80 million users and is accepted in more than 190 countries. E-wallets are also growing in popularity, particularly across Nordic countries.
Today there are so many different payment methods, from conventional bank transfers and direct debits through to a multitude of card payments and emerging methods such as cyrptocurrencies. It’s important to know what the local market wants, and if you choose the right payment service provider, you can integrate the most appropriate payment methods with your e-commerce platform and be confident that you’re supporting your overseas customers. Because card payments are so popular, particularly in Europe and the Americas, you should definitely make it a standard feature of payments processing.
Customers like to see prices in their own currencies. One way of doing this is by integrating with currency exchange sites such as Oanda which will use the current exchange rate to show prices in local currencies. You should also have the ability to accept different currencies, so consider opening a multi-currency business account.
The more you can do to meet local needs, the better for your business. If language is a barrier, consider hiring native speakers to help with customer service. However, this is likely to be an expensive option, so do your research to make sure there is an acceptable cost/benefit. There are specialised companies, such as Become Global, that can help with local customers. As a minimum, help foreign customers with a FAQs page in their own language, and provide an email address for enquiries.
This has two aspects. You need to stock enough of your most popular merchandise so you can match supply with demand. Customers will quickly switch to competitors if you can’t supply what they want when they want. If you’ve researched your overseas markets, and know what might sell according local tastes, you can begin to widen and diversify your offering. Product-line extension can work well if you judge it right. It all comes back to the first point – research and analyse international markets.
This is a supply chain method where retailers don’t keep goods in stock. Instead they transfer customer orders and shipment details to the manufacturer, another retailer, or a wholesaler, who will ship the goods to the customer. An international drop-ship supplier such as Shopify can help you begin selling overseas immediately, kick-starting your cross-border business.
Rewards schemes are always a good way of both retaining and winning new customers, and can help you expand overseas. A referral programme is a simple and low-cost example. You’re effectively ‘recruiting’ your existing customers to drive new customers to your business in exchange for discounts, promotions or other benefits as a thank you for providing leads.
Using social media is another good way to promote your business to a wide audience, and people usually think Facebook is the priority. Although there’s no doubting the power of Facebook (more than 2.6 billion users a month), Instagram is an excellent tool for e-commerce. It’s the fastest-growing social media site and because it’s image-based (photos and videos), it’s great for showcasing products.
Succeeding overseas is a step-by-step process that requires careful planning. Never jump into foreign markets without doing your homework first and then growing in a controlled way. To help you, choose the right payment service provider and other e-commerce specialists. See our guide to online payments for more information on how to support your business.