How to develop an international e-commerce strategy

E-commerce is here to stay. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers had already spent over $3 trillion online in 2019 alone. This guide will show you how to develop an international e-commerce strategy for your business using market research, digital marketing and website updates.

It is predicted that 1.8 billion people will enter the consuming class by 2025, annually spending $30 trillion. Consumers will have better access to businesses all over the world due to wider internet penetration.

Many companies are very interested in breaking into new or expand within existing international markets to increase sales and brand awareness. However, launching your business on an international scale is extremely challenging. Often your website becomes the central point of any campaign as an instrument where you can tell your story in a way that resonates with different target audiences to attract their attention.

Here are some practical and technical considerations & best practices when launching your website onto the global stage.

Where are people buying your products: market research online

Market research is very important before targeting international markets. Start online market research by looking at your internal data from Google Analytics to see from which countries people are already buying your products or services. Try further expanding your reach into these markets, even if only to test selling specific products. You can do online market research using the following  websites.

  1. Google Market Finder
  2. Paypal Passport
  3. Google Trends
  4. Statista
  5. DIT Country guides
  6. CIA World Factbook
  7. UN Data
  8. Algopix

Find your marketplace: Recommended list of online marketplaces from DIT

Online marketplaces are incredibly popular selling channels amongst consumers around the world, often providing you, as an online seller, with a platform to reach an extensive, ready-to-buy customer base. 40% of international online transactions will take place on global marketplaces by 2020 and they are widely regarded as a major opportunity for businesses looking to expand into new markets (source: Statista). The problem is that it can be difficult to identify which ones are a good fit for your e-commerce business.

I have outlined some of the biggest global marketplaces in the below link, that will give you the exposure and reach you need to sell your products internationally. Through our contract with the Department for International Trade, we have partnered with many marketplaces to maximise opportunities for UK companies and can help simplify the process of selling through online marketplaces.

Department for International Trade: Selling online overseas >

Generate an international following through digital advertising

There are some practical techniques to follow before you start a Facebook and/or Adwords campaign in a country whose primary language isn’t English. It is always best to run a campaign in English speaking countries first before targeting other countries. You want to ensure that each campaign is a success, reaches the right international audience, and also has the right information.

Create an international-focussed paid ad campaign using Facebook and Google Ads

When creating international campaigns, please ensure you set up different campaigns for each country. If you are targeting multiple languages, create separate campaigns for each language and optimise them accordingly.

Google Ads allows you reach expatriates with location and language targeting, for example, English speakers who live in Sweden. To reach your English-speaking audience in Sweden, you can target your location as Sweden and language as English.

You have to take some measures against possible mistakes. Here are five quick tips that you may want to keep in mind when it comes to international paid campaigns:

  1. Research your competition: It’s important to get to know the level of competition in that market and then change your campaign accordingly. Traffic levels, variations of keywords, CTR and average CPC are not the same in United States as they would be in the Australia.
  2. Research your target audience and gather audience insights: It’s vital to gain an understanding of your audience landscape and leverage relevant industry information.The international target audience for a product or service may search for things in a different way. The top converting keywords in your native campaigns may not always translate to winning keywords in your international one.
  3. Translate important pages: Tools like Bablic can be used for translating landing pages and other important pages like most selling products, but you need professional translators to proof read the copy before starting the Ad campaign.
  4. Responsive Landing Pages: The entire website experience should be in the language you’re targeting  which includes landing page, pricing and shipping details. It is important to make sure that the visitor is not moved away from the conversion funnel by a page full of language they don’t comprehend or pricing that isn’t valid to their needs. Your landing page should be related to the ad and the content should be optimised for the keywords you are targeting for that country.
  5. Traffic and bids are different: If you did a straight copy of your native campaign and then translated into the other language, take a second look at your Max CPC’s and budgets. It’s important to remember that traffic will be different in the other country and your CPC’s will be different.

You can target your Facebook and Google ads to multiple countries by following the below links:

Facebook Business – International Location targeting >
Facebook Business – Introduction to Cross-Border solutions >
Google Ads – best practices on exporting your business to new countries online >
Google Ads – How to make your Google Ads campaigns work in overseas markets >

It is also possible to combine audiences across Facebook and Google Ads.

Running a Facebook and Google Ads campaign in different markets is one of the easiest ways to test the market before launching an expensive international SEO strategy.

Developing a multi-currency website

The option to accept credit cards online makes it easy for you to do business around the world. You can have customers from New York and Sydney as easily as customers in Paris or Frankfurt. If you are developing an international e-commerce website, you should consider adding multi-currency support.

You can charge international credit cards using merchant account. Credit card companies make it easy for you and the customer by automatically converting currency.

There are various alternatives to implement the exchange rates that are required to make sure that you charge a fair price to every customer, at the very least you can update the rates every week or so, or you can implement a tracker that will update according to one of several exchange rate feeds.If you have e-commerce consumers who don’t want to complete transactions in the U.S. dollar, you will need to make it easier for them to access, shop and compare by showing your prices in their currencies.  In fact, this might help attract new international customers. If you make easier buying choices, consumers will be more likely to choose your business over competitors.

Designing a multi-regional website

There is big difference between a multilingual and a multi-regional website.

A multi-lingual website is one that has content in more than one language (e.g., a website in English and German).

A multi-regional website targets users in different countries. For example, a version of your website for the US and a version for Canada can provide multilingual support in English and French and currency support for Canadian dollars. Multilingual sites often feature the same or similar content in multiple languages, whereas multi-regional websites may feature completely different options, offer country-specific products or services, and use different marketing messaging to target various demographics.

Most large international companies have multi-regional websites, and you can see how the experience changes simply by switching to a different country. Geo-location is the technique of identifying the geographical location of a website user by means of resolving their IP address.  Although the IP-based geo-location is not always accurate, it provides insight into the user’s origin (including country, region, city, postal/zip code, latitude, longitude and time zone). This information allows you to provide the regional version of your website that corresponds to their geographic location. If you have a multi-regional website or plan on having one built, you should research and discuss the legal, technical and administrative requirements that may be applicable before proceeding with the project.

Creating a Multi-lingual website

If you would like to expand into non-English speaking international markets, you should seriously consider translating your website into other languages.

According to Wikipedia, 70% of the world’s population doesn’t speak English language. A multi-lingual website means it’s been translated in other languages and your users can choose their language preference. A multilingual content management system (CMS) allows you to maintain the website in multiple languages and allows your users to select a language of their choice.  If the long-term objectives for your company’s expansion includes translating your website into other languages, you should invest in a multilingual CMS ( WordPress with Woocommerce plugin is the best) when you build your website. You can always translate your website in future, but if you don’t have multilingual support, you will have a content management issue when you need the support. It will be more cost-effective to have all the tools and infrastructure ready from the start , as opposed to including it later.

Vivish George

Digital Trade Adviser, Exemplas Trade Services/Department for International Trade

Our specialist Digital Advisers have experience of the tools needed to export your product or service online. Whether you are looking to drive overseas sales using social media campaigns, wanting to export to a specific country but not sure of the appropriate e-commerce marketplace, or are just starting your export journey and are unsure how to take your first digital steps, our Advisers are able to help.

Get in touch with us today and learn how you can boost your international sales with the support of our Digital Advisers.

For more information on this topic of e-commerce, please contact Vivish at vivish.george@mobile.trade.gov.uk.

Exemplas Trade Services Ltd (ETSL) has delivered the contract for the Department for International Trade (formerly UK Trade and Investment) in the East of England for almost a decade.

For more information on how we can support your business in exporting overseas, get in touch.