In the internet age, scaling is easy. A digital storefront looks roughly the same whether its traffic is one hundred or one million unique page views a month, even though a real-life storefront would collapse under the foot traffic from a million customers. As a result, growing on a global level is in the best interests of a wide swath of ecommerce store everywhere.
According to one recent Google/Deloitte study, the most digitally advanced U.S. small businesses are three times more likel than the bottom 80 percent of small digital businesses to have exported within the last year. So how can your commerce store compete on the international market? I spoke with Ed Marsh, the American Express advisor on exporting, in order to home in on the four areas of impact that a small business needs to be aware of in order to go global.
Generate and Handle Global Inquiries
First off, you'll need to get your foot in the door: You need to figure out what export opportunities is right for you. But the path to do this isn't exactly clear.
“Many companies are stumbling into export opportunities even though it wasn’t part of their original growth strategy,” Ed explains. “In a world with purportedly more internet connected devices than toothbrushes, prospective buyers are finding and reaching out to businesses, rather than businesses needing to be fully set up in another country to make a sale.
Responding to the resulting inquiries is also eased by communications technologies. Many international companies are already accustomed to the global reach of Facebook and Instagram, and they’re naturally comfortable with email and message communication. These are great tools to communicate with international prospects who often understand English, but may prefer to read/write rather than speak.”
Online communications like these, Ed notes, help to avoid time zone differences, though you'll still need to take care to cut out any industry jargon and abbreviations that may not translate well.
Process International Orders
Actually sending the orders once you have them is easier said than done. After all, you'll need to handle payment, ship the product, and ensure you're complying with local regulations.
“For sales through a public e-commerce platform,” Ed says, “it is likely that the site manages challenges such as payment, shipment and regulatory requirements. On the other hand, for sales directly through a company’s own site or an email inquiry, the company will have to sort through these logistics.”
The bottom line? It's different for everyone, and the safest option is to consult with someone in the know about your particular export area and location.
“Sometimes it helps to talk through these questions with an expert,” Ed tells me, “and the good news is there are a number of resources to help such as a local U.S. Export Assistance Office (USEAC) from the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration or American Express Grow Global. The U.S. Department of Commerce has even launched an eCommerce Innovation Lab which is based in Silicon Valley to establish best practices to help U.S. companies sell more internationally through digital platforms.”
Mine Your Digital Data
If you're reading Tech.Co already, I probably don't need to tell you how much the tech world loves its data. And sure enough, the data available to your business can help guide your international expansions, as Ed explains:
“As companies become more familiar and experienced with the exporting process, they tend to transition from accidental exporting to proactively developing international markets. Data and information like website traffic, inquiries, orders and repeat business can be key in identifying new market opportunities. While there are never guarantees, leveraging this data informs decisions and helps reduce the guesswork during export market analysis, allowing a business to focus on real growth potential.”
Check your data periodically to see if you can uncover opportunities to expand in an organic manner.
Focus on Incremental Refinements
Finally, you need to stay on top of the shifting world of ecommerce. Any small investments in possible ways to improve your service can be made from the U.S. office. As an example, here's a list of tweaks and changes that Ed files under the “incremental refinements” banner:
- translation widgets
- transcreation – or adapting exist content from one language to another – of specific high impact webpages for a given market
- targeting of local language keywords (researched by native speakers and not simply translated)
- creating a microsite, or
- implementing local language SEO optimization and an appropriate TLD (top level domain), perhaps even hosted within a corresponding IP range.
As always with the world of ecommerce, the march towards improvement never ends. But by focusing one these four general strategies, your company may be able to crack the top 20 percent of small digital companies that have taken the export route.
Read more about the future of ecommerce here at Tech.Co