Make no doubt about it: when it comes to expanding small and mid-sized businesses, the world is quite literally your oyster. In 2020, consumers spent $861.12 billion online, an incredible 44% up from the previous year—the highest annual U.S. eCommerce growth in at least two decades. And with online’s share of total retail sales on the rise (with eCommerce penetration hitting 21.3% in 2020), it is also important to understand that the value of international eCommerce has been predicted to grow by 25% a year—almost twice as fast as domestic eCommerce.
Given these incredible growth statistics, the benefits of having cross-border commerce capabilities are obvious: you can add an entire market to your customer list without the usual brick and mortar store and staff to maintain. With the market showing such demonstrably rapid growth (retail sites worldwide saw 120+% increases in their global sales), there is no time like the present to position your business on the international stage.
There are so many tools at our fingertips, making international eCommerce, in theory, easily accessible. And the advantages of international eCommerce are numerous, including easier expansion into foreign markets, easier-to-find product-market fit, shorter B2B sales cycles, quicker building of international presence, and lower barriers to entry. Yet with 47% of companies behind on starting their digital transformation (and 59% worried that it may already be too late), it is clear that, despite the obvious benefits, many companies feel intrepidation toward taking those first steps.
It is also true that taking your eCommerce business global can feel like an overwhelming task. Yet, while it is inevitable that there will be unknown obstacles to mitigate, there are also tried and true strategies and actions that help ensure that best practices are in place before you even start.
By breaking down this undertaking into five key areas, companies can more efficiently strategize to ensure their global eCommerce development is successful.
1: Build an eCommerce Roadmap
It is important to remember that there is no single roadmap for how to take your brand or marketplace international, but having one is absolutely crucial. Different cultures mean different customer experience expectations, and with huge differences between countries, it is impossible to anticipate every requirement. Staying active on Facebook and Instagram makes visibility easy, but how do businesses create a strong foundation to ensure that their global eCommerce strategies are poised for the long-term? The answer begins with investing in high-value team members that understand the nuances of localization.
There is a lot of research and market strategy involved in launching into a new country. And while the strategy in your home country might include initiatives such as enhancing user experience or adding tools and functionality to drive conversion, the tactics you use in any new market will certainly involve building brand awareness. By building a flexible, thoughtful, and culturally sensitive team that is eager to learn, you will be better equipped to handle the unexpected responsibilities and thus be more responsive to the demands and expectations of your diverse consumer base.
2: Choose an eCommerce Tech Stack
The second consideration is your current technology stack. The infrastructure, platforms, and tools that work in your native country may not be compatible with new locations, including hosting itself. Certain partners, like Digital River, offer help to those planning to launch an international eCommerce presence by localizing your current technology platform. One of the key components of Digital River’s superior solution is a native checkout experience—a key component to any customer journey.
International aspirations can also lead you to evaluate the tools and services that you chose in your initial technology stack, asking you to make some tough choices about which will work and which need to be replaced or upgraded. According to Brian Dearth, Vaimo’s Head of Strategy, “When you’re taking your business cross-border or expanding into new markets, evaluating and selecting tools that can automate ANY aspect of internationalization will increase your chance of quick ROI." Tools like Digital River’s defined focus on international tax and compliance have a built-in framework that allows for a seamless integration into your current platform, thus addressing your new initiative and desire to go global without asking your team to reinvent the wheel.
3: Take Full Advantage of Your eCommerce Platform
Your eCommerce platform is a specific key to unlocking global success. There are some platforms that are particularly robust with international functionality like multi-currency and multi-language tools. With these integrated features available, you may be forced to evaluate whether it’s time for a platform switch.
Regardless of the scale of your business, it is imperative to evaluate timing considerations when it comes to investing in eCommerce replatforming and make an educated approach to that decision. Once you’ve made informed, strategic decisions about the tools that will run your eCommerce business, it’s then time to think strategically about the user experience itself.
4: Refine the Execution of Your Localization Strategy
Not only is the localization of your site pinnacle to both acquiring and building long-term relationships with customers, it has also become a basic expectation. As Akeneo explains, “Truly speaking your customers’ language also includes localizing all product information and assets to fit the needs of your new customers.” Be it changing measurements, updated product descriptions, adapting assets to local norms, or even the actual local language itself (87% of users not fluent in English refuse to buy from English-only sites), enhancing your international eCommerce platform to create a native experience is the cornerstone to both continued success and substantial growth.
And while it would be much easier to fulfil these expectations with dedicated, full-time resources, it seems fair to acknowledge that for most, that is rarely an option. After all, part of the charm of extending your site across borders is the ability to manage it from within your own team and without a local presence. But the more your business can standardize, the cleaner the process will be when you need to change, update, or enhance your localized experience. Of course, having tools that anticipate those localization changes is even better.
5: Have an eCommerce Content Strategy
In addition to practicalities such as measurements and currency, it is also important that international eCommerce businesses get thoughtful about their eCommerce content strategy. There is a complicated matrix of seasons, holidays, local customs, and cultural perceptions that make content creation and distribution methods vital to brand awareness and sensitivity. Tools like Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) can help with content management tremendously, but like any tool, it can only produce what it is fed. International eCommerce teams will have to pay close attention to local norms, do their research, and keep the creative juices flowing to stay up-to-date and relevant with their international clientele. Tools like PIMs (Product Information Management solutions), enhanced search, and personalization tools can also help with this process. With product information consumed in myriad ways that vary by preference as well as local laws and regulations, having a solid organizational system can cut down on the number of human hours that such detailed personalization requires.
With such a rapidly changing landscape, it has become clear that international eCommerce is not just a luxury for businesses looking to expand globally, but a necessity.
That said - as the fruit is ripe for the picking, and unprecedented changes lie ahead, Vaimo is here to help you with these next steps if that is your trajectory. We’ve delivered eCommerce solutions to many of the top B2C and B2B companies in the world, and we’d love to help you with yours. Talk to us today about leveraging cross-border eCommerce for your company or feel free to learn more about this topic by downloading our guide on international commerce.