Ecommerce platforms are always searching for new audiences and customer bases. One of the most obvious ways to expand your brand is by targeting overseas customers. However, this involves far more than simply running your existing website text through Google Translate, and then creating a subpage in your website directory.
From culture clashes and ccTLDs to language barriers and legal issues, these are some of the key factors to consider when targeting foreign audiences:
Focus on one country at a time. A global rollout of ecommerce services is akin to sending marketing emails without knowing your customers’ names: it can feel impersonal and distant. It’s better to focus rolling out in one country, building anticipation on social media and through targeted advertising. After the initial excitement has died down, you can then start preparing to launch in a neighboring country, learning from any mistakes along the way.
Establish ccTLD platforms or landing pages. Even if your company has a .com address – perhaps the only truly global TLD for ecommerce platforms – it’s a good idea to register country code TLDs like .br or .mx. Search engines prioritize domestic results with indigenous ccTLDs. A more affordable alternative is to create separate subdomains, such as .com/de. This is the approach taken by many global brands, including Apple and Nike.
Investigate cultural sensitivities. It’s easy to upset local customs or offend cultural sensitivities, like mass-mailing people in Islamic countries with food-related offers during Ramadan. Before launching ecommerce platforms, make absolutely sure you have a basic grasp of local customs among national audiences. Travel guides and tourist board websites are useful information resources, while the brave could even try contacting Government embassies.
Undertake localized advertising. Don’t assume your overseas reputation will precede your ecommerce platform. Look at native directories, forums and advertising platforms that can be targeted. Google AdWords and Bing Ads are great for specific countries and regions, with individual ad campaigns operating within bespoke budgets. Don’t overlook print advertising, either. The UK, for example, has a hugely successful daily newspaper industry.
Cater for non-English speaking audiences. English is spoken around the world, particularly in former British colonies, yet India alone has 21 other official languages. And while English and Hindi will generally suffice here, the diversity of European languages can be a barrier for American firms. Translation software is hit-and-miss, so pay a translator for elegantly written content. Language-specific social media or advertising should be delegated to local experts.
Investigate native payment platforms. A domestic ecommerce experience extends to payment methods. European audiences are used to having plentiful payment options, from online bank transfers and hybrid credit/debit cards to invoices and PayPal. While few companies currently accept bitcoin, this global currency incurs no transaction fees or exchange rates. Offer the payment methods each nation expects, not the ones you prefer.
Investigate the laws of the land. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to legal compliance. Some countries have strict rules on labeling, or even the legality of certain products. For instance, ashtrays may be considered lethal weapons in Paris, and for a fabrics firm, in some locations compliance may simply involve clear fire/laundry labeling. However, retailers in sensitive industries (like food or medicine) should seek legal advice in countries they’re planning to launch in.
Be honest about shipping costs, import duties and taxes. Think about the different state and national taxes levied across America, and multiply this by a factor of ten. That’s an indication of the complexity faced by international ecommerce portals. Simplify this by researching and clearly listing international charges and likely delivery times. This is handy for you and your customers, and it reduces basket abandonment. Make your refunds policy equally clear, too.
Offer customer services 24/7. America has six time zones, and things are similarly complex over the Atlantic. The UK and Portugal are five hours ahead of EST, with three other zones across Continental Europe. Stateside office hours call centers and social media teams won’t suit international audiences that might be receiving goods (or registering complaints) around the clock. Look into running contact centers 24/7, or subcontract customer care overseas