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Global Ecommerce: Tips for International Expansion

An illustration of six people walking across a large map of the world: global commerce expansion.
Expanding your ecommerce strategy to any country comes with challenges and complexities. Here’s how to get it right. [Klaus Vedfelt / Getty]

Entering new markets is a great way to increase your revenue and customer base. Follow our steps to achieve international commerce success.

The benefits of global ecommerce expansion are obvious: Tap into new markets and revenue streams, increase brand awareness, and boost your bottom line. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? The fact is: Global ecommerce can be complex. We surveyed 2,700 commerce leaders and they reported a few steep obstacles. About a quarter of respondents said tax, customs, and cultural sensitivities are major challenges to international commerce.

If you’re considering global ecommerce, these five key steps will help you get started.

1. Gauge your potential in different markets

It’s easy to find digital transaction volume in a given country, but that’s just the starting point. Look deeper: Compare that volume to population size. Check if the digital and logistics capabilities can support more growth. Examine the geopolitical environment to make sure conditions are right. This will ensure that you’re using your resources to establish your business in markets that will deliver the best return on investment.

It’s also critical to understand how well prospective consumers know your brand. If your brand is a relative unknown, factor in the cost, time, and effort of building awareness.

This exercise will help determine the markets that will drive the most success for your business:

  • Search for consumers abroad who know your brand. 
  • Capture as many data points as possible. 
  • Dig into web tracking data to learn where people browse your site. 
  • If you have nontransactional sites in the countries you’re considering, analyze traffic volume and trends. 
  • Include referrers and social media signals in these markets.

2. Come up with a global ecommerce plan for payment and fulfillment

Global ecommerce expansion to any country comes with challenges and complexities. Understanding them from the get-go will help you prepare for growth and keep costs to a minimum as you enter new markets. For example, a U.S. retailer looking to expand into Canada needs to consider custom, duty, and taxes.

Taxes can be very complex depending on your brand’s legal status in certain provinces. Similarly, companies in China face challenges that include performance, data residency compliance, and difficulty integrating with local Chinese platforms. As you expand globally, consider a commerce platform that can calculate taxes and shipping without having to integrate with a third party. This will be a crucial asset to your global ecommerce strategy.

It’s most effective to first target a small number of strategic, high-potential-for-growth countries. Fill in remaining markets with a verified third-party international fulfillment service that can plug into your own checkout experience. It’s best if the partner you choose can manage all back-end fulfillment on your behalf. Its capabilities should include payments, fulfillment, duties, customs, and tax compliance, and it should provide a low-risk option for testing across many markets. If not, these are costs — and risks — that your teams will need to manage on its own.

3. Localize by market

Once you decide there’s a market opportunity, immerse yourself in the consumers. Delivering a localized experience goes far beyond site translation, although even that has nuances. A “sweater” in the U.S. is a “jumper” in the U.K., for example.

Language is the most important consideration for localization. Poor translation can be a major hindrance to conversion on foreign sites. Other factors include different address formats and varied checkout preferences. Thanks to large language models and generative AI, this can be made much more efficient and painless. For instance, generative page designers can help you create new webpages for different geographical locations in seconds with simple, conversational building tools. You can also use generative AI tools to write localized product descriptions.

Another key to painless localization is multi-site management. Updating multiple localized websites can be extremely time consuming if you have to manage each site and codebase on its own. The right commerce platform will make this easy by allowing you to use the same codebase across multiple sites. Imagine you have five different localized sites and you want to create a new promotion on all of them. With multi-site management and reusable components, you’d only have to make the change to your codebase once, and the experience would be updated everywhere.

Identifying popular social channels in your target region is another key factor. For example, social media has been the main channel for ecommerce in China for several years, but the platforms commonly used in China are not available in the U.S. With social commerce on the rise, it’s important to understand the intricacies of social platforms in different regions.

Finally, campaigns may need a local makeover, too. Some countries start end-of-season sales earlier than others. And weather conditions in different hemispheres trigger the need for different clothing.

Your localization checklist

  • Decide on your approach for campaigns and promotions. Is it one-size-fits-all or country-specific?
  • Consider your product catalog and inventory mix. Does one central warehouse sell the same products across all targeted countries or are there exclusive products per country?
  • Develop your pricing strategy. Will the item price be the same across regions?
  • Determine the shape and size of your teams. Will you have individual teams in the respective countries? What will be their size and level of web management skills?
  • Identify social media platforms and trends prevalent in the region you’re targeting.

4. Determine the right payment strategy

Payment strategies and taxes are two of the most complex factors affecting a global ecommerce expansion. Less than half (43%) of organizations can always accept foreign currency payments and 38% of commerce leaders say shopper payment localization is an obstacle. Tackle these locally based on legislation, diversity of payment types, and consumer preferences.

Analyze your target market to understand and offer the best payment mix. For example, many consumers in the Latin American market use a payment system called DineroMail. After making a purchase, shoppers are directed to a DineroMail site. They print out a payment slip, then take it to an OXXO or 7-Eleven to make their purchase. If you sell in Europe, you’ll need to take into account the varied payment methods by country. For example, SEPA (or the Single Euro Payments Area) allows cashless euro payments anywhere in the eurozone, but each country has its own unique methods — like iDeal in the Netherlands.

To navigate various payment strategies, you’ll want to work with an ecommerce platform that can natively support payment and currency plug-ins from all leading providers. This makes it easy to quickly launch relevant payment methods in the country or region of your choice. Customers can pay in their local currency using their preferred payment method.

Brands also need to consider capture and settle when it comes to foreign payments. During the investment phase of your expansion, you can spend money on currency exchange fees if you pay local partners and employees in local currency but settle digital revenue in your home country.

In some countries, things get more complex due to internet and consumer regulations. In others, you may face volatile currency. If you’re going to price in local currency but want to capitalize in your home market, watch exchange rates carefully. You may even consider evaluating risks and potential insurance options.

On top of that, you may need to establish a local bank account abroad. Be sure to complete the entire application process as early as possible so all systems are in place when your site is ready to launch. Additionally, set up merchant accounts in the regions you will transact in and make sure your payment providers allow you to do so.

5. Choose the right partners for your global ecommerce efforts

Brands may want to use a minimum viable product approach to fast-track a global ecommerce expansion. Companies might consider working with existing vendors as a low-risk option to test markets. Before contracting with new partners, check existing third-party logistics providers (3PL). A payment gateway in Europe may also support payments in Latin America. Run a full assessment with all vendors to determine their capabilities.

Make sure all 3PLs meet local requirements. For example, can your CMS handle European umlauts and Asian characters? There are a million things that can trip up your launch, frustrate your customers, or put a dent in your plans.

Get started with global ecommerce

Expanding into new markets is a great way for your business to grow your revenue and customer base. A flexible, scalable commerce platform is key to finding success in new regions across the globe. Your ecommerce solution should make it easy to create and manage local site instances, as well as deploy localized marketing messages and promotions, global content strategies, custom price lists, and more. This is the beating heart of any successful global ecommerce approach.

On the road to international expansion?

Don’t leave home without our map to global commerce success. Check out our tips and best practices.

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