Checklist For a Successful International Expansion
Expanding your e-commerce business outside your domestic market might sound ambitious, but many sellers have found selling internationally is the key to a significant boom in sales and profits.
Marketplaces with global presence provide sellers with access to multiple countries, as well as an audience much bigger than their local market. Expanding to other countries opens up a new world full of opportunities for sellers of all sizes. Challenges derived from depending on a single market no longer exist, as selling globally distributes your eggs into different baskets and you’re therefore less prone to domestic market fluctuation. Sellers of seasonal goods should make selling internationally a priority, as buyers in the southern hemisphere are always happy to buy that summer dress you have sitting in stock while we wrap ourselves up in cashmere scarves during our northern winter.
All that being said, a successful international expansion does take planning. Sellers often get discouraged when facing mountains of information online and that’s why we’re going to provide you with a simple checklist to help you plan your expansion and boost your sales worldwide.
Which countries and marketplaces do you expand to first?
Conduct some (basic) market research to discover which countries and marketplace are the best for your items. Follow these steps and build yourself a list of potential markets to kick start your international expansion:
1. Analyze your product portfolio and find out which countries and marketplaces are of the highest potential for you. Asking yourself questions like: “where do I already get orders from?”, and “where are my competitors selling?” can be helpful. As an example, if you’re a UK fashion seller and are already receiving orders from France via your Amazon.uk account, search for your items and compare the price of those of your competitors on Amazon France.
2. Now do the same on another marketplace in that same country to get a more holistic view on the general competitiveness of your items in that country. Make sure you include the shipping cost in your price comparison, and research as many marketplaces as possible.
3. By now you should have a better idea about your items in the French market. Try and repeat step two in marketplaces of another country.
4. Congratulations! Once you’ve gathered similar information for the second country, you have an apples to apples comparison of which countries offer the most ROI, and on which marketplaces you should be selling your items.
While it may seem like a lot of work, there are services and tools to help with your research. Keep in mind that research is fundamental to a successful international expansion. Expanding based on instincts and gut feelings can be risky and therefore should be avoided.
Here we have a list of 7 marketplaces for you to take a look beyond Amazon and eBay
- Are your product listings ready to be launched in foreign marketplaces?
Are all your listings properly translated into the language of your target country? While marketplaces serve as a doorway to foreign buyers, professional translation is the key to the acceptance of your items by those buyers. Don’t cut corners by using machine translation as they simply don’t know what should and should not be translated. A good example of a machine missed translating is a brand name like Under Armour. Machines inadvertently translate brand names, turning it into Unter Rüstung for the German audience.
Localisation is another aspect that’s often overlooked during international expansions. Selling in other countries means dealing with different currencies, measurements and search terms. You might not get much traction on your flip-flop selection in New Zealand unless you localise the search terms properly and refer to them as thongs or jandals.
- Have you met the regulations of selling internationally?
One important element to consider before your international expansion is VAT compliance (Value Added Tax). Do your due diligence and find out if you need to be VAT registered in your target countries. Price your items accordingly so you remain competitive in countries where VAT compliance is required.
Pay attention to different marketplace regulations. Even with global platforms such as Amazon and eBay, there’ll be restricted categories which may vary from country to country, and this bring us to the next point…
- Are your supporting services in place?
It’s almost a prerequisite in any marketplace that the seller provides customer service in the language(s) used in the target countries. Some marketplaces even take a step further in setting a time limit for claims and questions to be solved. Beware of cultural differences when handling foreign buyers, and always have native speakers as your customer service representatives to avoid misunderstandings and potential negative feedback.
How to fulfill your orders is another question you’ll want answered before starting your international expansion. Thanks to fulfillment service such as Amazon FBA, selling globally is now much easier than it used to be. However, it’s an unspoken rule in some countries for sellers to offer 24-hour delivery to remain competitive. Explore your options and choose a mix that works best for your expansion strategy.
Once you start shipping items abroad, a return service is required. This allows foreign buyers to return unwanted products to an address in their home country. The service provider then consolidates those items and ships them back to you in bulk. This can save you lots of time and money in comparison to sending returns individually.
- Do you have the last-mile measures set up to maintain your success?
It takes serious effort and time to start selling in new marketplaces, not to mention establishing brand awareness in a new country. To maximise your online presence, marketing like PPC campaigns is strongly recommended in a competitive e-commerce environment. Amazon Sponsored Products and eBay Promoted Listings are good ways to boost on-site exposures. If you have an online store, Google Ads is also great for generating market buzz and bringing traffic to your online shop.
You’d have noticed by now that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to a successful international expansion. Don’t be intimidated by the time and financial investment that may occur during the process. Bear in mind that with great dedication comes great reward. Follow our checklist, and you’d be on your way to successful international expansion.
This was a guest post by Jia Li, e-Commerce Marketing Specialist at intercultural Elements. She enjoys helping online retailers expand internationally and home-made blueberry cheese cakes.