Selling products online has huge potential. Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar stores that have a limited reach based on how far individuals are willing to travel, ecommerce opens up the possibility of selling nationally and internationally. Besides, with website builders and marketplaces, getting set up online is super easy.
Most online shops start by selling nationally – or within a local area alone. This is due to the relative ease of shipping items, and a desire to limit the perceived challenges of selling products to other countries.
However, businesses that decide to open up their customer base internationally also access a vast range of opportunities for growth. In fact, the global ecommerce market was estimated to be worth a huge 5717 billion USD in 2022.
Large parts of this vast sum are in key locations such as the US (470 billion USD), European Union (465 billion USD), and Asia (1965 billion USD). With this data in mind, it’s clear that – in order to tap into the full potential of the market – selling internationally is the way to go.
In this article, we’ll offer you some advice on how to sell internationally. This will cover platform options such as using your own ecommerce website, as well as using an established marketplace. We’ll also offer our top tips for how to make more sales in an international market.
When it comes to selling to international markets, your only realistic and cost-effective method is to sell online. There are two options available to you to do this. The first is owning your own ecommerce website, such as a store built with a website builder like Shopify or Wix. The second is using an online marketplace, such as Etsy or eBay.
We’ll explore both of these options below.
Online Store Website Builders
Thanks to website builders such as Wix, Square Online, and Shopify, building your own ecommerce store is now easier than ever. Unlike times gone by – when you’d need a deep understanding of code to create your own store – you can now build one in just a few simple steps.
These types of websites are perfect for selling internationally. This is because they provide you with the tools, help, and support that you need to successfully sell your products and services to an international market.
Ecommerce website builders also offer you a level of predictability in terms of the costs of running your website: such as hosting, domain costs, and other associated fees. This is ideal for those who want an accurate forecast of how much selling online is going to cost them – something which can become more complex as you expand into new countries.
Some of these platforms also offer dedicated tools to help you tap into global markets. For example, Shopify Markets provides tools to help you reach new consumers across the globe, customizing their experience to increase conversions and facilitate growth.
Online marketplaces offer another option for those looking to sell to a wider, international market. Some popular examples of these include:
These platforms allow you to access a ready-made, international audience of consumers. For example, when you sell on eBay you can select where you’re willing to deliver an item to in the world, which opens up your potential customer base exponentially.
The other benefit of utilizing these platforms to sell internationally is the fact that you can start selling substantially quicker than if you were to create your own site. All you need to do is upload your products, select the relevant options, and you’re ready to go. However, this does come at a cost, as these marketplaces typically charge much higher fees than you pay when you manage your own website.
Marketplaces can be a good option when used in combination with your own website, allowing you to benefit from the ready-made international reach, whilst also being able to generate sales at a lower cost.
Selling into a new market can be daunting, especially when you are used to only selling to local or national customers. In this section, we’re going to provide you with some quick-fire tips on how to start your journey to international selling success.
Select New Markets Carefully
When picking a new international market, there are lots of factors to consider. Just because a market is potentially lucrative, doesn’t always make it the best choice. You’ll also want to consider factors such as:
- Language spoken
- Consumer culture
- Import/export licenses
- Cost of shipping
- Political stability
Once you’ve assessed the full range of factors, you’ll get a better idea of which markets will be the best to target first.
Apply Relevant Marketing
If you already run an ecommerce store, you’ve probably already spent a considerable amount of time working out the best marketing methods, strategies, and tactics to help you not only attract customers, but convince them to buy your wares, too.
Although this knowledge will certainly be helpful, different international markets require different approaches. In much of Europe and the USA, for example, most consumers will start their search for products by using a search engine such as Google. In China, by contrast, search engines are widely restricted, leading to consumers having to find brands via other methods.
By understanding the international market you’re entering, you’ll be able to generate a better ROI on your marketing spend. For example, you may allocate large amounts of your marketing budget to search engine ads in the USA, while investing in a highly functional mobile application to appeal to the Chinese market.
Localize Your Store
Personalizing your store will help you make it both appealing and practical for your prospective customers. For example, you may create a version of your store in another language, to help those visiting from your new target location easily find what they’re looking for.
Choose Payment Options Carefully
Offering various payment methods will make it easier for international customers to buy from your store. If you exclusively offer one or two payment methods, there’s a strong likelihood that some customers will find it difficult to make a purchase.
For example, you may choose to accept multiple credit cards such as American Express, Mastercard, and Visa, as well as payments through companies like PayPal. However, you’ll also want to remain conscious of the fees that each of these payment methods charge, to ensure that your business remains as profitable as possible.
Understand Tax Rules and Regulations
Every country has a different set of tax rules – most of which are likely to impact you when you sell internationally. Exactly what you need to pay will depend on various factors: including the location you’re selling from, the location you’re selling to, and the types of products you’re trading in.
Before picking a target location for international sales, ensure that you make yourself aware of the tax implication, and build them into your prices where required.
Pick a Fulfilment Center
When you commit to selling internationally, using fulfilment centers can be a simple way to reduce stress and costs – while also speeding up the delivery of customer orders. These centers work in a simple way, holding your stock in (or near) your target location. Then, when you receive an order, the fulfilment center will pack the item and send it to the customer on your behalf.
With international shipping often being expensive and slow, using a fulfilment center can be a smart move for fast-paced businesses.
Shipping & Returns Policy
Shipping and returns can be a little more tricky and costly when selling internationally. Often, fulfilment companies will offer you an option for returns, which can make things easier.
If your international sales require customers to take special measures for returns, this should be made clear within your returns policy – which should, in turn, be clearly available on your website. You should also take the time to update your shipping policy, in order to outline associated costs and timeframes for international shipping.
Facilitate Local Customer Service
There are two main reasons why you should consider investing in local customer service.
The first relates to the practicalities surrounding time – that is, ensuring that someone is available to help your customers when they need it. The second reason is to ensure that your customers feel like their questions and concerns are important, and are being dealt with by someone who they can relate to and communicate with easily.
Optimize for Local Search Engines
Taking time to optimize your website for local search engines can pay dividends for businesses looking to sell internationally. Doing so will help you target the specific areas you are selling too and create content that is more applicable to that audience.
Start by conducting local keyword research. This can be done using specialist tools. For example, UberSuggest allows you to research keywords based specifically on searcher location. This process can help you uncover the terms that people in your new target area are using to find your products or services.
Once you have your keywords, you can then use them in your content. You can also use localized information in your meta tags and descriptions – such as using the country or area name in the meta description for a dedicated landing page.
Using country specific backlinks (links from websites in your target area to your own website) can be a great way to build traffic from that area. Creating landing pages in the area’s language can also improve your search engine discoverability and the customer experience.
Offer Multiple Currency Options
Tailoring your website to the new locations you target will reduce friction in the buying process and limit frustration of potential customers. One way you can do this is to offer multiple currency options.
At its most basic level, you may offer an accurate currently converter at checkout so customers’ can check how much something will cost in their own currency. However, you may go one step further and work with a payment processor that will actually support purchases being made in multiple currencies.
Offering an option for viewing all prices in a specific currency can also help customers when they are picking which products are perfect for them.
Adapt Product Packaging and Labelling
If you are sending packages abroad you may need to adapt your product packaging and labelling. For example, you may need to:
- Change packaging to comply to local regulations
- Translate product information, instructions and warnings to the local language
- Consider cultural sensitivities when designing packaging graphics
- Apply country-specific certification or symbols to packages
- Ensure that your packaging is durable enough to undertake international shipping
Monitor Currency Fluctuations
Currency fluctuations can seriously eat into your profits if you don’t monitor them and adjust your process accordingly. So, it’s important to set regular reminders to check key currencies and adjust your prices. This will both limit the potential to lose money, but will also ensure that customers aren’t put off by inflated prices.
Although some website builder platforms and payment providers will allow you to automatically update your foreign currency prices, it’s important to check that yours does rather than leaving it to chance.
Embrace Cultural Sensitivity
Doing business in other countries can be a fun learning curve.
In order to embrace your new customers and show that you respect their culture, it can be a good idea to research cultural sensitivities, norms, customs and taboos. You can then use your research to adapt your marketing messages and website to your local audience
This process will help you better resonate with your new target audience, but it will also help you identify language or imagery that may be deemed inappropriate.
One great way to continuously improve your cultural fit with an international audience is to consistently seek feedback from customers in that space.
Opening your business to an international audience can be highly lucrative. However, doing so can also be both confusing and stressful. Following the tips that we’ve highlighted in this article will help you understand the various factors that need to be considered, which include:
- Picking your target location carefully
- Adapting your marketing strategy
- Planning operations such as shipping, returns, and fulfilment
- Adapting your website and customer service to meet local needs
That’s all from us – let us know what you thought of this article in the comments section below, and good luck on your international selling journey!