International eCommerce: Strategies & Insights (2024)

eCommerce Development
International eCommerce: Strategies & Insights (2024)
Article by Szabolcs Szecsei
Last Updated: July 08, 2024

Business owners and retailers have always known that eCommerce holds incredible potential. However, few have thought that by 2024, global eCommerce sales would have surpassed $6.3 trillion.

McLuhan’s global village hasn’t only come true, it’s also exceeded expectations, reshaping the way we think about retail, and allowing entrepreneurs to build globally recognized brands. That said, although most of us live and breathe the online world, driving success in international eCommerce can be a challenge.

That’s why we reached out to our trusted partners specializing in global online retail to help you learn more about it and get started.

What Is International eCommerce?

International or global eCommerce refers to businesses selling goods through online channels to buyers everywhere in the world. As internet availability and the use of digital tools increases worldwide, global eCommerce is becoming easier to penetrate both for traditional brick-and-mortar stores and online-only platforms alike.

For traditional stores, international eCommerce can be a great way to determine whether a foreign market would be a successful business endeavor before opening an actual physical store in the country.

According to statistics, the cross-border online retail market will have a compound annual growth rate of 26.19% between 2022 and 2030, and is likely to reach $7,8 trillion by the end of the examined period.

Still, retailers must be aware that expanding into another country will require work, even if the culture there is similar. Austria isn’t Germany and Canada isn’t the US. As such, each region and country will require unique considerations and methodical planning.

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The Benefits of Global eCommerce

Like any other business venture, eCommerce has its own challenges, from finding markets through gaining attention and trust to boosting sales on said market to ensure long-term growth. Opting for the right eCommerce platform is also paramount, as you will need all your data in one place to make management and decision-making easier and more effective.

Nevertheless, international online retail can have several benefits both for your customers and your business if set up right.

Your business can benefit from:

  • A larger customer base. Going international will also mean new markets and new opportunities to gain more customers.
  • Better brand visibility. Establishing your business in other countries allows your target audiences to familiarize themselves with your services and products, boosting brand awareness and trust, eventually translating into sales.
  • Exploring new markets. As mentioned above, testing a new market digitally can give you a better idea whether you should open a physical store there. On the other hand, new markets may give way to the development of new products, bridging gaps between your offerings.
Inc.
[Source: Inc.]

Your customers can benefit from:

  • Increased product variety. Customers from different regions can benefit from global online retail, as they will have a longer list of products to choose from. Some services and products may be very desirable in specific regions especially if buyers don’t have access to them internally.
  • Better global communication. A great international eCommerce strategy may also enable better communication between the consumers and the business, helping the latter build more trust and international brand recognition, while customers receive a better buying experience.

Areas To Investigate Before Going Global

International expansion is a considerable financial investment and creating a global eCommerce presence will take quite the effort and time. Retailers, logistics professionals, and marketers alike should all ensure that the timing is right.

If you are planning to go international, ask yourself these four questions.

1. Are Operations Up to the Task?

While you don’t need an entirely new set of resources to go global, you will certainly need to thoroughly examine your current finances and staff availability. For human resources, creating and implementing global operational workflows and marketing strategies require unique skills. Your current employees should either have prior experience with global eCommerce or should at least be willing to learn the trade. If you see that skills are lacking, consider hiring new staff and shifting some of your existing staff into domestic-only operations.

Regarding finances, creating a separate global marketing budget from your domestic resources can be a great idea, but this will be highly dependent on current market conditions and your overall growth strategy.

2. Does My Product Supply Chain Match Up With Global Product Demand?

Search engine optimization and eCommerce tools can help you track how frequently your customers search for and buy your products, along with measuring the current percentage of foreign traffic to your platform. Will expanding to the international market mean that you will need to make changes to your supply chain? Do you need to stock up more on specific products?

Check out your average order values in different regions, as they may be a solid indicator of whether you need to make adjustments. Also, take a thorough look at the international eCommerce figures that highlight the type of products customers in your target region buy mostly online.

3. Can I Leverage Competitive Vacuums?

Data indicates that developing countries have high mobile internet penetration, which can be a great opportunity to expand to those areas. Why? Online retail is challenging traditional physical stores in every way. Traditional retailers have also made mistakes in the past, focusing entirely on expanding into established markets with brick-and-mortar stores, leaving out markets with huge untapped potential.

International eCommerce allows smaller and more flexible companies to penetrate emerging markets and establish themselves as leaders, especially if the domestic key players focus on brick and mortar.

4. How Will I Expand the Business?

What’s the scope of your expansion? Will you consider opening brick-and-mortar locations in these new markets? Or will your brand focus only on the digital sphere and tweak its web design and software needs accordingly?

The better you manage to define your company’s needs and goals, the better your chances are of succeeding. Before starting your expansion, it’s pivotal to decide how you want to grow your business.

The Essentials for an International eCommerce Strategy

Some may argue that having a website makes every brand international by default, but driving growth and success from cross-border eCommerce takes more than that.

Expanding to a global market takes more than just converting company books from US to Canadian dollars. Just like within the US, foreign countries also have culturally standout regions with specific preferences for marketing and products.

Consider customizing your marketing strategies, sales processes, and customer services to address the needs of these individual markets. You will also need the data to determine which country offers the best expansion opportunities for you.

Localization and Translation

Translation means what it implies: converting a written language into the target language of your audience. Localization, in the sense of eCommerce, means a lot more. It includes altering your assets to meet the preferences of your target market, including logos, colors, website, images, and other non-linguistic elements that may affect sales.

You will need to adjust your payment and shipping methods to meet the local market (USPS will not be available everywhere). It’s also advisable to examine if every product is culturally appropriate for the new market, and that prices, dates, and time zones are adjusted and formatted locally.

Postal codes may also follow different formats in different countries. In China, you have numbers, while the UK uses alphanumeric coding.

Your content will need to be localized too, reflecting the spirit of your target market’s language and cultural traditions. This can come especially handy if you are planning to run sales and promotions, especially as shopping holidays tend to be country specific. Not every country has Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For instance, Diwali has a similar shopping effect in India, while Brazil shops for Valentine’s Day gifts on June 12.

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Pricing

Currency conversions can cause a headache, as fluctuations in exchange values can often lead to great sales strategies or the inability to turn a profit. As such, it’s best to sell products at fixed prices to ensure that customers don’t pay more after you ship the item. On the other hand, leaving everything in USD can lead to decreased conversion rates or missed opportunities.

Alamy
[Source: Alamy]

Including taxes should be a similar consideration. In the US, people are aware that sticker prices don’t include taxes and are used to paying more at checkouts. In other countries, such as Germany, taxes are already included. Adding the tax later may backfire in tax-included countries, as this is not the shopping experience they’re used to.

Payments

In 2023, mobile wallets were the most popular global payment method, but credit cards continue to be widespread too.

Before expanding into a new region, you should closely examine the target market's paying habits. For instance, the average American owns 3.84 credit cards, with this being the most used payment method in the country. By contrast, in Kenya, 89% of the population still paid by cash in 2023, even though the tendency showed a slight decline.

Determining the best payment method for each of your markets can be difficult. While you should focus on providing as many payment options for your buyers as possible, A/B testing can help you choose the best route to take for each market.

On that note, you can also test the number of options you choose to display at the same time, as too many or few choices may also lead to lowered checkout conversion rates.

Customer Service

Handling exchanges, refunds, and returns can become more complicated for international eCommerce brands, not just because of the accompanying logistics, but the different consumer expectations too. In the US, consumers expect generous return policies, while in France, most purchases are final.

As such, you should focus on tailoring your return policies to keep it simple. For example, you can adjust them by region, addressing sales tax implications.

As for customer support, you can always outsource your services to a local company, but you should also keep local preferences in mind. Do people in your target market prefer using the phone? Email or chat? And do they prefer talking to real humans or chatbots?

Logistics

A few companies offer international shipping and often, shipping costs will be out of the retailer’s control. For instance, shipping to rural areas in Canada like Nunavut and Yukon may take more time and cost more, while in France and Italy, narrow streets can slow down couriers.

GoRamp
[Source: GoRamp]

It’s important to ensure that your customers can choose their preferred delivery method but be prepared to face some hurdles around this down the line.

In fact, shipping and logistics were among the greatest challenges of global eCommerce in 2020, with 44,5% of respondents saying that customs is the most significant issue they face. 27% also pointed out the challenges related to delivery tracking, while 34.5% said that managing delivery expectations was also a weak point for retailers.

To remedy these issues, experts recommend using new technologies such as multi-carrier software, which allow a more efficient management of these logistical challenges.

It might also be a good idea to assess whether you will need a local brick-and-mortar store or a local representative in your target region to help you overcome logistical issues more easily.

Additional International eCommerce Considerations

Legal Aspects

To ensure a successful expansion, you should also research legal regulations and product legality. You probably remember China’s case with Winnie the Pooh. There are also less political, and more hands-on instances too.

Countries will often regulate chemically based products like skincare and beauty solutions differently. Some may ban specific ingredients or require different packaging labels highlighting certain product characteristics or ingredients.

Data Security Considerations

You should also ensure that your site is compliant with all security regulations and laws. For instance, in the European Union, you have the GDPR, meaning you will have to ask permission from your users before using cookies. In Canada, users must also consent before you gather their data.

Payment security is another concern, so make sure that SSL certificates are up to date. It’s also advisable to ask only for the minimum amount of information required for transactions and to use a secure and safe payment gateway.

Site and Language Localization

In specific cases, it may be a good idea to consider changing the site address. In most instances, .com may suffice, but adding country-specific domains may help improve rankings.

Having a fully translated site with translated item descriptions, navigation, return and privacy policies won’t only help you with your SEO, but will also enable you to communicate better with your customers and avoid miscommunication.

Budgeting

As mentioned earlier, if you’re planning to expand globally, you should probably create a separate budget for your global operations. To create said budget, you will have to research market performance in the target country, estimate marketing and customer acquisition costs, consider logistics, and align all of these with your larger sales goals. Research and budgeting can be an overwhelming task, but luckily, you can always consult an expert to help you with it.

Continuous Adjustments

Just like your local sales and marketing strategy, your international processes should be continuously adjusted to meet the changes in an ever-shifting digital landscape. A/B testing and other testing methods can help you stay ahead of your competition in every target region and enable you to optimize your site for the best experience in every market.

It’s vital to not solely focus on the things that work for your brand but address larger market trends and preferences too.

Technology

Keeping an international eCommerce operation afloat can mean countless hours of legwork. Assess every component of your international strategy and look at the operations and processes that can be automated. Software can take over duty, tax, and VAT calculations, and help streamline logistics, pricing, and product descriptions.

You should also consider how these platforms will integrate with the tools you already use. The right development team can help you connect to all the necessary platforms and may even recommend a custom solution to cater to your brand’s individual needs.

Finishing Thoughts on International eCommerce

Expanding your operations at the cross-border stage requires a lot of effort, planning, research, and hard work. However, the international eCommerce landscape has heaps of potential, making entering underserved markets a worthwhile investment even for smaller retailers.

If you work with the right professionals who can help you address market needs, technological and logistical requirements, and legal compliance, you should be on the right track to run a successful international business.

Global eCommerce FAQs

Should I translate my website to the target market language?

Yes, having a fully translated website can help you better communicate your offers and values to your new audience, and avoid misunderstandings. Having available customer support in the country’s language can also improve the buyers’ relationship with your brand. Lastly, localized domains can improve local rankings too.

Can smaller merchants go global?

Yes, smaller merchants can be especially successful if they leverage market vacuums, where the biggest players have left massive market gaps. Also, if you offer in-demand products at a competitive price in specific markets, you don’t necessarily need to be a large retailer to turn a profit.

Should each target country have its own marketing strategy?

While you don’t need to create new strategies for every market from scratch, you should try to localize your promotions. You must be aware of different shopping events, religious traditions, and cultural norms to build trust with your target audience.

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