If your startup or growing business is keen to generate more brand interest and revenue online, you’ve undoubtedly considered expanding into international markets. It’s a smart move. Used properly, your company’s website is one of the most affordable ways to boost your bottom line overseas.
Indeed, the Internet has turned business on its head, empowering people in disparate countries to research and buy from sites based anywhere in the world. Those sales can make an immediate and sustained impact for growing companies.
It’s easier than ever to launch localized websites to cater to these international customers in their languages of choice. But that doesn’t mean a young company should make the proverbial “leap” before it looks. You must be prepared! E-commerce has changed drastically in the past few years, and you need to be aware of the trends in order to successfully expand.
Here a few survival tips to consider when expanding your online business to new markets, communicating with new customers, and fulfilling international orders.
1. Checkout and Shipping
Before launching your e-commerce site in new international markets, assess your order fulfillment methods. You may need to adjust it to accommodate global customers.
For instance: Take into account such factors as Average Order Value (AOV) and average order size/weight in relation to shipping costs. Speedy shipping to far-flung regions of the world can be expensive, but cheaper methods can take ages to arrive.
Also be sure to provide localized shipping address forms, customized to reflect a country’s address format. Even fields for names may require customization.
But don’t be intimidated; understanding and planning for overseas shipping is easier than you think.
2. Localized Contact Information and Support
Does your company provide customer service in the form of e-mails, phone calls or “contact us” forms? You should provide those customer feedback opportunities, in language, for new global markets as well.
This means translating e-mail correspondence, providing customer service phone numbers in global markets (or having staff capable of taking these calls, or contacting customers, in the customers’ own language), and having “contact us” forms that are appropriate for the target market. Contact forms may require customization for local address formats, or require shortening to forms that require input in only a bare minimum of fields.
Be aware of cultural nuances, too. For instance, many residents in some Asian cultures don’t like to provide much personal information to companies. They may find Western-style contact forms as invasive, because they usually ask for more personal information than the local norm.
3. Translation and Customer Awareness
Another “must-have” is obvious: language translation. For your site to resonate with the target market, it should be in that market’s language of choice. Many international shoppers prefer shopping in their native language, and often boycott sites in English.
But to achieve sustained success, an international site should transcend translation. Put another way: once your international site is live, you must make sure your new customers know about it.
For instance, your site should signal to search engines that international versions of the site – in alternate languages – exist. This helps search engines serve organic search results that are most relevant to the user’s language preferences and where they live.
Also, the customer user experience is paramount. For instance, consider these questions:
- Must shoppers waste time hunting high and low for an on-page “switch” that will activate their translated website? This alienates users.
- Can they instead be easily and elegantly redirected to the site that best serves them, in their country, in their preferred language? This best practice dramatically improves a site’s traffic, conversion and revenue. (By as much as 157 percent, 17 percent and 300+ percent respectively, according to our analysis.)
This approach also extends to the site’s SEO efforts. Prioritizing the identification and correct translation of keywords will make the site’s content SEO-rich, and will boost the site’s ranking in regional search engines.
URL translation is important, too. This optimization will also improve search engine rankings. Users will also have a better understanding of where they are while navigating the site.
4. Localized Payment Options
While many companies (especially in the West) believe credit cards and PayPal are the lingua franca of global e-commerce payments, there are many more payment options & platforms worldwide … and they’re preferred by millions of customers. If these customers don’t see their preferred payment options, they won’t transact.
In many countries, bank transfers, invoices, e-wallets and cash on delivery are all preferred over credit cards. For instance, Japanese consumers often prefer paying in cash. According to global payment management company CyberSource, half of Japanese consumers used credit cards for making online purchases, but nearly 20 percent prefer cash on delivery. Further, 15 percent prefer transfers at the bank or post office, and 11 percent prefer paying at convenience stores.
Indeed, another company recently warned that sites that only accept credit cards effectively reduce their sales to 20 percent of what they might otherwise generate. Ouch.
The lesson: support local payment types and currencies whenever possible.
5. Localized Sales Campaigns
Promotional campaigns such as discounts and reduced/free shipping absolutely contribute to an e-commerce site’s success. Companies can leverage these powerful tactics for their international markets, too. Be sure to use a solution that can accommodate this kind of localization.
However, it’s important to consider the nuances of these international cultures. Important days and holidays in the West are sometimes “just another day” in other regions. Research the market’s travel holidays and gift-giving holidays – and conversely, holidays where people may do less shopping. Strategically time your important sales with those periods.