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International Ecommerce: How To Sell Globally Online

International Ecommerce: How To Sell Globally Online

Serving a global audience with international ecommerce isn’t just an advantage—it’s a necessity. Approximately 30% of an online store’s visitors come from an international market.

Today’s top brands use international ecommerce tools to give global customers a satisfying shopping experience. In this post, we’ll look at how to manage regional payments and set up cross-border shipping, so you can take your business worldwide.

What is international ecommerce?

International ecommerce involves using an online store to sell goods across national borders to consumers in foreign markets. Thanks to the features of ecommerce platforms, international sales have become accessible to a wide range of retailers. For example, online stores can stay open 24/7 and be easily accessed from anywhere. Many ecommerce platforms such as Shopify support localization, adapting a website’s language, product catalog, and currency to match the expectations of different regions.

International ecommerce involves using global payment systems and shipping networks to ensure smooth transactions and delivery of customer orders, despite diverse customs and import regulations.

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How to create an international ecommerce strategy: 5 steps

Breaking into international markets can be exciting. However, it’s important to expand sales strategically so you’re ready to provide the same level of service you give to local customers.

1. Identify international target markets

A screenshot of a Shopify report showing sessions by location

When expanding internationally, a targeted approach ensures your efforts are concentrated and more likely to succeed. Different markets around the globe have unique browsing and purchasing habits, so most sellers expand territory by territory.

Shopify users can find potential markets by looking at their sessions by location reports. This report allows sellers to pinpoint potential markets by showing where site visitors and customers are located. If there’s already a steady stream of visitors or sales from certain international locations, these regions might be ripe for expansion.

The goal is to identify signs of demand for your products from international consumers. Use this data to select one or two markets as your initial focus for expansion.

If you haven’t yet attracted international visitors or sales, don’t worry. It’s still possible to identify promising markets. Typically, starting with countries that are geographically close, speak the same language, or have similar consumer behaviors makes for a smoother entry into international selling.

For instance, if your business is based in Canada, the United States would be a logical first step for expansion.

2. Make it easy for international customers to pay

Mobile pop-ups direct an online shopper to visit a Canadian subdomain formatted in English.
Geolocation app

Ensuring that your online store can accept the local currency of your international customers is crucial. A significant number of shoppers—up to 49% according to a recent report—might abandon their carts if they cannot pay with their own currency. This highlights the importance of displaying prices in local currencies to enhance customer comfort and confidence.

Users of Shopify Payments can let customers browse, pay, and receive refunds in their local currency. Prices are converted automatically using the current market exchange rate, or sellers can set custom local prices to avoid frequent price fluctuations.

If you’re selling in various currencies, it’s essential to provide customers with an easy browsing experience. You might set your store to automatically redirect customers to the correct subdomain based on their IP address. Or, use a Geolocation app to allow visitors to manually select a region, giving them control over how they view your store.

International taxes

Different markets around the world have different expectations when it comes to seeing and paying sales tax.

In North America, it’s common practice to show product prices without tax, and then add the applicable taxes during checkout based on the customer’s shipping address. In contrast, countries in Europe, Asia Pacific, and other areas require prices to include all taxes.

Shopify merchants can include or exclude taxes in product prices based on buyer location.

Also consider relevant duties and import taxes when selling to international customers. You may decide to leave the responsibility of paying import fees to customers. Another hands-off option is to provide a duties calculator at checkout.

Alternatively, you can take on the responsibility of collecting duties yourself, by giving customers the option to prepay any fees owed.

3. Offer international shipping

A flatlay of different shipping supplies, like a box and clipboard

When you show that your store values international customers by providing tailored shipping options, you’re signaling that everyone gets the VIP treatment. Shipping across borders is usually costlier than local deliveries, but there are ways to reduce the expense for buyers:

  • Research and disclose shipping costs: Research reliable carriers that deliver to the countries you target. Be upfront about costs to customers. If you offer a flat rate, let your customers know what they’re paying and why.
  • Be clear about shipping times: No one likes to wait for an online order, especially without an estimated delivery date. Make sure to spell out shipping speeds alongside your shipping rates to enhance buyer trust.
  • Incorporate shipping into pricing: Some sellers raise product prices to cover the shipping costs themselves. This can be an effective shipping strategy if your goal is to simplify customer decision-making.
  • Tailor your product line: It’s wise to avoid selling items that are too cumbersome or pricey to ship internationally. Use Shopify’s shipping profiles to manage what can be shipped where, preventing logistical headaches later.

For managing different regions efficiently, Shopify also lets you set up specific shipping zones, controlling rates and services for each area.

4. Localize your website

A product description for soap is localized for the German market.

Localizing your website means making it accessible to shoppers in international markets. This goes beyond translating text; it means tweaking layouts and setting up specialized subdomains to keep everything organized.

International domains

Let’s say you’re a US ecommerce merchant who runs the store johnsapparel.com. For expansion into the UK market, you might create an international subdomain such as uk.johnsapparel.com, so that UK buyers visit a tailored version of your site. Or you could choose to replicate your site using a full country code domain, such as johnsapparel.co.uk.

Having country-specific domain names not only reassures international customers that they’re browsing a local site, but also simplifies the process of displaying prices in the local currency.

For Shopify store owners, setting up international domains is straightforward. Shopify automates complex SEO aspects like hreflang tags, making sure your domains are correctly matched to their respective markets, and that the right prices show up on search engine results pages.

Content translation

Web browsers are becoming increasingly capable of translating web pages. But they still don’t match the quality of a manually translated site. If your target market speaks a different language, consider whether buyers would prefer to shop in their native tongue.

All Shopify stores come with the option to sell in up to 20 languages. You can activate multiple languages from your Shopify admin. When customers land on a page that you’ve translated, your store will automatically display the relevant version.

To enable this feature for your Shopify store, add a new language in your store settings. This will prompt the Translate & Adapt app to install. If you prefer, you can also use a compatible third-party translation app.

The languages tab in the Shopify admin shows a dropdown to select a new store language.

Despite the convenience of automatic translation apps, you may still need some manual editing or translation work—which can be tricky if you don’t speak your target market’s language.

For this, tools like Deepl generate machine-translated content in your required language. If that’s not enough, consider hiring a professional content writer who’s fluent in your target language through the Shopify partners directory.

When launching in a new market, you might use automated translation for your product listings. Then, invest in more nuanced, manually translated content as you gauge sales trends. Prioritize translating high-traffic pages, product details, legal information, and customer service communications—including email notifications—to ensure consistency across all customer interactions.

5. Tailor international marketing content

Capitalize on your localization efforts by marketing your store to international shoppers. Whichever advertising channels you use, it’s important to send international buyers to the correct version of your site. 

Craft region-specific campaigns for the platforms you use, whether that’s social media, email, or paid ads. Simply repurposing existing campaigns for different regions often reduces effectiveness and may decrease the likelihood of clicks and engagement.

Social media ad platforms such as Meta Ads Manager allow you to segment ad audiences and target new buyers with bespoke campaigns. Remember to localize your ad copy and imagery, and ensure destination URLs reflect your international domains.

If your audience size justifies it in each region, think about setting up separate social media accounts for different markets. This enables you to engage more closely with local audiences and post highly relevant content. 

Benefits and challenges of international ecommerce

Going global with your store can be transformative, but it’s likely to bring a few business challenges. Here’s what you need to know about the opportunities and obstacles of international ecommerce.

International ecommerce benefits

  • Expanded market reach: Going international expands the geographical limits of your market. You can reach millions of potential customers across the globe, significantly increasing your sales potential.
  • Diversification: Selling in multiple markets helps stabilize your business, since economic shifts may not affect all regions equally. This diversification can protect your revenue streams against sales slumps, new competitors, and changes in local laws or tax rules.
  • Enhanced brand visibility: Being present in international markets increases your brand’s visibility and helps establish your brand. This increased reach can also boost your reputation at home.
  • Learning from new customer behaviors: Operating in various markets allows you to learn from diverse consumer behavior and preferences. This knowledge can inform future business strategy, product development, and marketing.

International ecommerce challenges

  • Complex logistics: Managing shipments across borders can be complex due to varying regulations, duties, and taxes in different countries. This can increase operational work and may require an international shipping solution.
  • Currency fluctuations: Dealing with multiple currencies can expose your store to increased financial risk. Carefully price your products and put robust financial controls in place to hedge against losing profit due to exchange rates.
  • Cultural differences: Marketing and selling products in a country with cultural nuances different from your own can be challenging. You need to ensure your brand messaging and products resonate with local preferences, which might require adaptations and sometimes even complete redesigns.
  • Compliance and legal issues: Each country has its own set of laws and regulations regarding commerce, data protection, and consumer rights. Compliance can be resource-intensive and needs careful legal consideration and possibly local legal support.

Give global shoppers a local experience

Navigating international ecommerce comes with its share of challenges. From the complexity of global shipping to intricate product pricing strategies, there’s a lot to manage.

Using an ecommerce platform like Shopify simplifies these obstacles. By leveraging the latest tools, you can provide a seamless, localized shopping experience to customers worldwide.

International ecommerce FAQ

How do I start international ecommerce?

Start an international ecommerce business by identifying markets with a high demand for your products using data analytics. Localize your website by translating content and ensuring payment can be made in local currencies. Also, understand legal and logistical requirements such as taxes and shipping for each target market. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify provide helpful tools to simplify this process.

How do I sell my products internationally?

Selling internationally involves:

  • Market research: Identify which products are trending in specific international markets.
  • Website localization: Adapt your site to the cultural preferences and languages of your target markets.
  • Payment methods: Implement popular local payment methods to prevent cart abandonment.
  • Shipping solutions: Establish clear and reliable international shipping options.
  • Marketing: Tailor your digital marketing efforts to suit local tastes and customs.
  • Customer support: Provide multilingual customer service that’s accessible across different time zones.

Is it worth getting into ecommerce?

Entering ecommerce is worthwhile, as it offers significant opportunities for business expansion and reaching a worldwide audience, without the high costs of physical stores. While challenges like competition and technological demands exist, the industry’s potential growth and profitability make it an attractive venture for new and established stores.

This article originally appeared on Shopify and is available here for further discovery.
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