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Your Ultimate Guide to International ECommerce Expansion

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If you are like half of all US eCommerce retailers, you only sell in the US. You could be missing out on a terrific growth opportunity in international eCommerce. ECommerce is king in South Korea and China. China’s eCommerce market has surpassed the US to be the biggest in the world, according to Forbes.

Plenty of Chinese businesses have found a way to sell to US consumers and ship those orders cheaply (though this may change with the withdrawal of the US from an international postal treaty). The challenge for US businesses that want to break into markets in Asia, and also in Europe, Australia, and South America, is to find a way to deliver the same great service to international customers that they offer domestically.

The internet has made cross-border communication instantaneous. You will still have some hurdles to overcome if you want to expand your eCommerce business internationally, such as establishing ecommerce fulfillment services in your major international markets. Here is your ultimate guide to expanding your eCommerce business internationally.

Opportunities and Challenges of Expanding Your ECommerce Business Internationally

Shopify predicts that international eCommerce sales will reach $4 trillion within the next two years. If you want to tap into the global potential of your eCommerce business, you’ll need to invest in some additional infrastructure to facilitate international sales.

You don’t have to take on the world all at once. Your international growth can be organic. You can start with one country and expand incrementally. Once you have mastered the challenges of selling internationally in one country (and reaped the rewards, in higher profits), you’ll be better prepared to take your eCommerce business to other cross-border markets.

International Ecommerce Markets

A Shortcut for Expanding into International ECommerce

If you don’t have the resources to build out separate websites for different countries, that doesn’t mean you can’t start to expand your eCommerce business on a global scale. Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Newegg are just some of the eCommerce platforms that offer US sellers the opportunity to connect with international buyers. You can also work with marketplaces based outside the US, such as Alibaba (China’s online retail giant) or its international offshoot AliExpress, Mercado Libre (the largest eCommerce site in Latin America), or Flipkart the biggest player in eCommerce in India), to name just a few.

In a blog post, Etsy reported that one seller got almost a fifth of her sales from overseas the year after she started offering international shipping. When you sell on marketplaces such as Etsy and eBay, all you have to do to become an international seller is accommodate international shipping in your shop. In most cases, you can decide which countries you will ship to. This will allow you to try out a few international sales before you add more countries to your repertoire.

You can find lists of international eCommerce sites online, and they are worth considering as part of your research and planning for taking your eCommerce business international.

Where is this Growth Happening?

In 2018, China’s eCommerce sales are expected to hit $672 billion, in US dollars. China presents the biggest opportunity for US eCommerce businesses to expand internationally, but it may not be the easiest market for US-based eCommerce businesses to expand into. US companies have to worry about price competition and knockoffs in the Chinese market. According to a survey by Pitney Bowes, the cost of shipping was the number one reason Chinese customers decided not to buy from international sellers, followed by long delivery time. Fulfillment to Asia can be a tough hurdle to overcome when you first expand your eCommerce business internationally.

Because of the distance from the US, plus the added difficulty of language and cultural barriers, China’s huge eCommerce market might not be the first stop on your route to global eCommerce dominance.

There are other countries that may be easier for US eCommerce businesses to break into. The UK has the third biggest eCommerce market, with $99 billion in sales. Japan, Germany, and France all have robust eCommerce markets that could be good expansion targets. South Korea, Russia and Brazil are also among the top markets for eCommerce sellers.

And don’t forget Canada, which is probably the easiest place for US eCommerce businesses to expand internationally, because of proximity, cultural similarities, and the ease of cross-border trade with our closest neighbor. Canada is a $30 billion online market and the low-hanging fruit for international eCommerce expansion by US brands.

Is Your eCommerce Business Ready to Go Global?

Not every US eCommerce business will do well in the international market. It’s important to consider the competition and need for your products in various countries before deciding where and how to expand.

You will also have to resolve questions about logistics before you invest in a new international sales channel. Plus, there is a business determination to be made about whether you have the resources you need to serve this new market.

Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Expanding to International ECommerce

Here are some questions to help you determine whether your eCommerce business is ready to expand internationally.

Will your product work in another country?

Before you invest in a new website and branding to appeal to, for example, German customers, you’ll need to do some research to determine if your product will work for the German eCommerce market.

You will have to answer some questions by trial and error, but you can eliminate a lot of uncertainty and save yourself money by doing research and understanding your new market before you dive in.

Can you ship it?

International shipping can be both expensive and slow. The expense, in particular, is a deterrent for shoppers in many countries, according to the Pitney Bowes survey.

Some eCommerce businesses choose to work with local shippers and warehouse their products in fulfillment centers close to their customers, for shorter shipping times and lower shipping costs. As you expand your eCommerce business internationally, this solution may make sense for you. At the beginning, however, you will probably want to work with your existing fulfillment resources while you test the market. Make sure your 3PL company will work with international shipping companies and find out which service offers the most reliable, fastest, and least expensive shipper to your destination country.

Don’t assume that high shipping cost is an insurmountable barrier to your entry into international eCommerce. If your product is unusual or hard to find in another country, customers may be happy to pay a higher shipping fee and wait patiently. Their reward will be receiving a product they can’t get at home.

Can you build cultural fluency?

If you sell floral beach coverups, are they too bright for Northern Europeans or do you offer a splash of color they crave and can’t find at home? Can you translate your sizing so German customers aren’t disappointed by getting something that doesn’t fit? Is the market for your product already saturated or is no one selling a product like yours in Germany because Germans won’t buy it?

If there isn’t yet a market for your products in another country, you could be a pioneer and own the niche for your items. That could require an investment of marketing dollars to educate your new customers and raise awareness. You’ll have to decide if you can afford the capital outlay, with the knowledge that there is a real risk of failure if the residents of the other country never warm to your product.

Another consideration is cultural sensitivity. Cultural references and jokes may not translate or may be taken very differently in Germany than the US. A product that residents of one country find indispensable could seem frivolous and wasteful to those in another.

Do you have the right technology?

You may need to make some technical changes to your eCommerce site to be compatible with sales to a foreign market. That could include expanding the types of payment you accept to include the preferred methods in your customers’ country.

One important aspect of going global, especially if you want to expand into developing nations like India and South Africa, is a mobile-friendly site. Mobile phone adoption rates are high in the developing world, and your customers are more likely to have internet access through a smartphone than a computer.

Can your operations handle international eCommerce?

Before you make the leap into international eCommerce expansion, consider whether your operations team can put the systems in place to handle the needs of international customers. Your customer service should be ready to respond in the customers’ time zone and language, if different from yours.

You should also make a plan to support the marketing channels you’ll need to reach cross-border customers. You might want to create a web portal and social media accounts for each international market. Consider ad buys that target your international customers as well. Your marketing team will need to be prepared to handle the extra work that comes with this international expansion.

Do you have a plan to deal with fraud?

All eCommerce businesses have to build trust with their customers. This is particularly important in cross-border eCommerce transactions. You need to assure your customers that you are for real and will deliver what you promise them.

You will need to be able to confirm that your customers are legitimate, as well. You’ll need a system to verify that international shipping addresses are real, to avoid costly mistakes and potential fraud.

If you’re ready to take your eCommerce business international, you open yourself to a huge growth opportunity. Not only do you gain access to a world of customers; you also build international relationships that can enrich your business. The cross-border cross-pollination of ideas and resources could lead to business opportunities you haven’t yet imagined.

If you feel that your eCommerce business has the resources on hand to take on the international marketplace, there are still a few more challenges to be aware of before you get started.

Understanding the Challenges of Expanding Your eCommerce Business Internationally

Expanding your eCommerce business internationally can be as simple as offering international shipping in your eBay store. But if you’re serious about connecting with customers in other countries and building an international following, you’ll need to do more to reach out to your cross-border market.

Here are some of the challenges to consider as you grow your global eCommerce empire.

Duties and taxes

You’ll need to understand the taxes you need to collect on sales to different countries. For example, sales to the UK must include that country’s VAT tax in the price. It’s the opposite of the US, where many states don’t allow retailers to list prices that include sales tax.

Some countries charge a duty when you ship orders over a certain dollar amount, and you may need to fill out customs forms for your orders. You’ll have to factor all these charges and the time needed to deal with these regulations into your plan and pricing for each country.

Language

Google Translate is pretty good, but you’ll need to do better if you want web pages that read well in the language of your target customers. Work with translators fluent not only in the language, but the culture and idioms of the residents of your target country.

Local customs

Even if you stick to markets that speak English, you’ll need to make sure your content speaks to your audience in each country and doesn’t include words or images that are offensive to local sensibilities.

Payment options

You’ll want to expand the types of payment you accept to include the preferred methods for each country you sell into. PayPal, Stripe, and Apple Pay have international reach, but you could lose sales if you don’t include your customers’ favorite options such as Alipay and UnionPay (China), Mercado Pago (Latin America), WorldPay (Latin America, Europe), and Skrill and SEPA (Europe).

Preferred Payments for International Ecommerce

Local currencies

Many online payment methods will allow customers to pay you in US dollars. However, confusion about your pricing could slow your international growth. You’ll increase your sales when you translate your prices into foreign currencies and accept payment in those currencies. Plus, if you want your business to fit in with local customs, pricing your products in the local currency will help you sell like a native.

Shipping options

As you prepare to sell internationally, set up accounts with carriers that best serve your target markets overseas. FedEx and UPS both offer international shipping, as does the US Postal Service. German-based DHL has long been a leader in cross-border freight. The best choice is delivery service that has the best penetration and most reliable service in the country you plan to sell to.

Customer service

If your customer service hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm in Boise, you’ll miss customer calls from Beijing or Brussels. Consider using a call center in the time zone of the country it serves. It’s also a good idea to use agents who speak that country’s language.

Providing customer service that’s responsive to international time zones, languages, and cultural expectations will get you positive reviews. And it will help your eCommerce business grow faster in international markets.

Returns

International customers will need to make returns, too. You’ll need to set up a system that allows customers to make and track cross-border returns and provide timely refunds.

Visibility

One of the biggest challenges when you expand your eCommerce business internationally may be learning how to make your eCommerce site visible in a variety of markets. This could also be one of the most fun and rewarding pieces of your international eCommerce expansion. Consider partnering with local resources to improve your reach in markets that are new to you.

The list of challenges can seem overwhelming. But ask yourself where you want your business to be in five or 10 years. Do you want to plod along with incremental growth? Or do you see yourself presiding over a thriving, international eCommerce enterprise? If it’s the latter, there’s no better time to start than now.

Top Tips to Build an International eCommerce Business

Here are four things that will put you on the right path to expanding your eCommerce business internationally. A little legwork up front will save you expensive headaches down the line.

1. Research, Research, Research

Once you’re ready to expand your eCommerce business internationally, your first step is research. This will help you figure out where it makes sense to expand and how to introduce your product to a new market.

Research which country might be most receptive to your products. You might be surprised by what you find out. Your best opportunities will be in countries with small, but growing niches for the goods you sell. Great tools for assessing market opportunities include Google Trends and Answer the Public.

You can also find tools to help you learn the ropes of selling internationally at the U.S. Small Business Administration and Export.gov.

Decide the best country for your entry into international eCommerce. Then learn as much as possible about your new market. Find out if there are certain cities or regions most suited to your initial launch. Make a list of national holidays and customs. Tailor your web presence and your message to your new customer base. This could include rebranding or repositioning some of your products for that country.

2. Plan Your Market Entry

Your eCommerce expansion will go better if you take time to plan it out. Make sure that you have all the pieces in place, such as payment methods for the local market. Optimize your website for mobile. Have your customer service team ready to spring into action when needed.

3. Plan Your Logistics

Work with your fulfillment provider to make sure your international shipping options are ready to go as soon as the orders roll in. This includes putting a plan in place so you can handle internationals returns without busting your profit margin.

4. Optimize Your Marketing Strategies

Social media that speaks to customers in your new market is an effective, inexpensive way to reach your new audience. Consider partnering with local consultants to make sure your message matches your market. Don’t be afraid to let your new customers know where you’re from, if that adds to the appeal of your eCommerce business. However, make sure you speak to them with a perspective that they will understand and appreciate.

Expand Locally, Sell Globally

You may hit some bumps in the road when you’re expanding your eCommerce business internationally. Your additional revenue will make it worthwhile. As shipping, payment, and communications channels become ever more globalized, international eCommerce will become the norm.

By being an early adopter, you can establish yourself in the international market while the opportunities to grow and compete are still broad.

International shipping requirements

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Getting into home truths: Why is the experience of eCommerce still so poor?

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There’s no denying that the digital world has changed the outside face of marketing. While many of the inner-face principles of marketing have (and always will) remain the same in terms of audience segmentation, targeting and positioning, the way brands now engage with their customers has changed faster in the past 10 years than throughout the rest of history put together.

Now, having a digital presence for large corporations has become the norm. It’s part and parcel of modern marketing. The experience itself has to be great as well, whether it’s on social media, digital advertising, mobile and more, otherwise customers will just go elsewhere. But as brands’ investment in digital properties increases, so too does the challenge of integrating eCommerce, the experience of which is rapidly diminishing for many brands.

Global eCommerce sales are predicted to almost double between 2017 and 2021. But, so many organisations still fail to provide a positive eCommerce experience. This problem is particularly acute at the end of the payment stage where the buyer makes the transaction, which has the highest drop-off rate in the entire online shopping process.

But why is the experience so poor? The reason so many large brands have struggled with the eCommerce experience is because of the rapid speed of change with regards to digital. Just as companies began to get to grips with desktop eCommerce, mobile quickly emerged as another major trend. Then big data. Then personalisation. There has been a lot to keep up with.

This has created different challenges for marketers and eCommerce developers. Merchants and commerce professionals have spent lots of time developing commerce engines that take orders, manage inventories and accept payments – they need to be robust, reliable and trusted. Whereas, marketers have tried to ‘uplevel’ the brand experience to digital – they are under pressure to keep pace with the latest trends. Making these worlds work as one has its own challenges that many companies are just scratching the surface of solving. It's hard, but it’s one that needs work because it hits customers the most.

But what are these issues, exactly?

Unbranded, unpersonalised and clunky

First, on their own, most eCommerce engines don’t offer the flexibility to customise the front end, which creates a jarring templated, shopping experience for the customer with a grid of products to sift through. That’s understandable because branding has never really been eCommerce platform designers’ problem.

But imagine someone who interacts with a brand on social media, is exposed to advertising through multiple channels, and interacts with the brand’s website. Throughout that experience, they’re getting a “feel” for the brand, which suddenly disappears the moment they need to get their credit card out to pay online. Since consumer stress levels rise steadily peaking at the checkout stage, the last thing they need is a poor experience to put them off the purchase entirely.

The sudden change from a warm, personalised experience, ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda

Secondly, not only is the checkout stage often unbranded, it’s often not personalised. Many large organisations are investing heavily in personalisation to improve the customer experience, but the lack of content management capabilities with most eCommerce platforms means personalisation falls off a cliff when it comes to the checkout stage. Again, the sudden change from a warm personalised experience ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda. It’s as if you’ve suddenly gone cold on the customer for no reason at all.

Finally, because eCommerce platforms are often separate to the brand website, they’re often slower and clunkier than the slick pacey website they’re attached to. Often, shopping sites are separate from brand sites because there are two different technologies supporting both — the CMS for the brand and the eCommerce system for the shopping. For instance, www.brand.com may direct shoppers to www.shop.brand.com. Yet in those scenarios, the experience suddenly becomes inconsistent with what the customer has become used to. The best shopping experience, however, is a unified one, where the brand and shopping experience (or content and commerce) are intertwined.

What to do about it — get the most out of legacy tech and integrate the experience better

The problems above aren’t just small irritations; they’re fundamental issues that are undoing years of hard work from IT teams and marketers who are looking to improve the overall customer experience. Countless studies have shown that a better customer experience leads to more revenue, so what can you do to address this area that’s letting the side down?

The good news is that you don’t need to rip and replace your current eCommerce technology. Instead, consider a “headless” approach. With a headless commerce approach, you decouple the front end part of your shopping experience (the part the customer sees) from the back end (the part your IT team manages) — thereby separating the presentation layer from the eCommerce stack. Decoupling in this way gives you greater flexibility to customise and personalise the part the customer sees without worrying about disrupting the back-end infrastructure. And when you don’t need to worry about the back end, you can be more agile and test features more quickly and efficiently.

Moreover, whenever you as marketers want to integrate any new devices (like mobile), channels (like digital signage or Alexa voice), touchpoints, content or payment gateways you can easily do so through APIs. Then, you can simply focus on the presentation using the framework of your choice — and leave the IT to the IT team.

I really believe that headless commerce is the way to improving the eCommerce experience once and for all. After all, you’ve done all the hard work already getting customers to the checkout stage. Don’t let them fall at the last hurdle.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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The future of advertising is not just martech but a re-emphasis on branding

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I believe the next stage of advertising will see the re-emphasis on branding.

Marketing tech has become in vogue and it has its role but in a world dominated by Amazon and a ‘sort by price’, but you can only go so low in terms of price. Also, it’s difficult to differentiate yourself from all the others who have got a ‘4-star rating’ in a process which promises a checkout in mere seconds.

This re-emphasis on branding will not be about the logo or brand colours. Those will be there but businesses will realise that these are details in the larger scheme of things.

What will matter is the impact you have on the world because six things have happened for the first time in the history of business:

We are moving to a world where few brands will control the majority of the market and not just in one industry but across industries.

The five FAANG companies; Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google have a market value greater than India’s economy or more than the companies that comprise Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index, and more than Germany’s Dax and France’s Cac 40 put together.

Businesses are global in their impact, pushing beyond one market.

You can’t be a big retail player in any part of the world and believe you won't have to compete with Amazon or Alibaba, or both.

Businesses will align and may for the first time even compete with governments.

From now on governments may not win in this unlikely competition because, unlike governments, these businesses have become so intrinsic or ‘addictive’ to our lives that we can’t get rid of them and they also can’t be outvoted every four to five years.

Since most of these are tech businesses, the speed at which they scale is faster than ever imagined before.

Thus the impact, good or bad, is far less easy to comprehend now.

Many of them are fundamentally changing how we deal with things.

They are literally playing with our brain chemistry more effectively than ever before and, having their own intelligence (AI), they will self-evolve.

But most importantly… The negative impact of some businesses has moved from something further afield for most to comprehend, such as global warming or poor kids in some part of the world being exploited, to it having an impact on a deeply personal level, such as our own well being, our own society’s freedom thus happiness.

We have all chosen to be quite self-involved when the impact was on others but steadily it’s getting personal.

On the other hand, the positive impact will be movements of equality, self-expression, great ideas and knowledge being spread because of them. Think #metoo, which has spread globally courtesy of Twitter and Facebook. We are also, as in my case, now able to know about some culture through Netflix or buy cacao beans from a small business abroad thanks to e-commerce.

As these businesses have grown bigger, a brand strategy will step in and help others create an identity and a voice, and thus define not just how they market but how they conduct business.

Brand building will have to move beyond tactics and confront some big questions.

What is your purpose? Just financial or a social one too? Are you living your purpose constantly or just in the future? What is your take on culture , for employees and vendors? How do you deal with the community of consumers?

I don’t want to imply a moral code here. Some businesses will want to just make money, have a purely transactional relationship with their customers and employee, and that’s fine. The only difference being that this will define their brand, and in this always-on, information-heavy culture they won’t be able to convince customers otherwise.

Your brand vision will step out from the paper to some action, or else you will just be the benefactor of ‘sort by cheapest’ on Amazon; which is still a perfectly legitimate way to make money but perhaps not the aim a lot of people have.

The difference will be the ability to create and evolve these new age brands and this is something the agencies of the future will also need to do.

Saurabh Parmar is a consultant and trainer for brand, digital and start-up growth.

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What is Guerrilla Marketing? + 5 of Our Favourite Examples to Inspire You

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Guerrilla marketing is an advertising tactic in which a company uses imaginative yet unconventional marketing tactics to promote a product, service or brand without the hefty budget. It is usually completed in public places such as city streets, shopping centres, parks or beaches to maximise its effects and attract a lot of attention from the public.

Guerrilla marketing is different to traditional marketing as it often relies on public interaction and is usually designed to create a memorable experience for the consumer. By creating this experience it will leave an impact on the consumer, hopefully urging the consumer to relay their experience to others or sharing their experience on social media.

Types of Guerrilla Marketing

There are several kinds of guerrilla marketing. Here are some examples of the most common types:

  • Viral – Viral marketing is a type of guerrilla marketing that consists of strategies that encourage individuals to pass on a marketing message to others.
  • Stealth – It refers to a deliberate act of entering, operating in, or exiting a market in a secretive manner. In stealth marketing, people get involved with the product without actually knowing that they are the part of an advertising campaign.
  • Presence – This is about making the business name recognizable and familiar by being visible daily.
  • Ambient – This tactic allows a business to create brand recognition without necessarily pushing their products.
  • Experiential – Experiential marketing aims to give you an experience and lets you interact with the product and associate your immediate emotional responses with that brand.

Some of the lower-cost, high impact guerrilla marketing tools you can use, include:

  • Stickers – Stickers are an inexpensive way to get your brand out there. You can give stickers away at events or even in the street or you can canvas specific locations with branded stickers to advertise a message or attract peoples attention.
  • Flash mobs – Flash mobs are a fun, upbeat way to generate excitement and usually take people by surprise. Having your brand featured on the t-shirts of the dancers will allow the audience to connect the event with your business,
  • Branded pens – Get pens with your brand and get a bunch of employees to spend a day in the city ‘accidentally’ leaving pens everywhere they go or give them out to the public in the street. People keep them and will remember your brand from seeing the pens everywhere they go.
  • Treasure hunts – Consider hosting a treasure hunt that takes people through your city or town and ends up at your business, or cover the treasures with your branding.

Our top 5 favourite examples of Guerrilla marketing:

  1. King Kong 3D Footprints Campaign

To build buzz for the new release of King Kong 3D, giant footprints were carved into the sand at popular beaches causing people to take to social media to share the images. The story made headlines and ended up all over social media.

  1. UNICEF Dirty Water Campaign

A vending machine was set up on the streets advertising dirty water. Instead of different varieties of flavoured water, it was in fact different varieties of diseases found in dirty water such as Malaria, Cholera, and Typhoid.

  1. McDonalds Urban Instalments

McDonald’s took advantage of common elements on the streets to showcase giant versions of their most popular products such as; french fries, chicken nuggets and coffee.

  1. Frontline

Frontline utilised a full floor space in a multi-level shopping centre. From the second level, customers could lean over the floor and look down on a giant dog which looked like he was scratching his ear. Ttaglineine was, “Get them off your dog”, and from the second floor, the people walking across the floor look like fleas irritating the dog.

  1. Coca-Cola Grip Campaign

To advertise its new “grip” bottle, Coca-Cola placed a static-charged ad at a bus stop, which would grip people’s clothing if they stood too near.

Need a little help to ensure your marketing efforts capture the attention of your audience? You’re in the right place, get in touch with our team today to discuss your requirements.

Square Media is Northamptonshire’s premiere Web Design & Marketing Agency experienced in developing effective content and marketing strategies for forward-thinking companies in the local area. Our team of specialists consistently deliver outstanding results working in a variety of areas such as Search Engine Optimisation, Social Media Marketing Consultancy, Pay Per Click (PPC) and AdWords Management amongst a wide range of other services.

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