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International E-Commerce: Key Challenges That Deserve Your Attention

E‑commerce

Michael Simcoe

8th May 2018

International E-Commerce: Key Challenges That Deserve Your Attention Internationalisation also comes with unique and diverse business challenges. Your senior team need to be well aware of every hurdle, and your business will need patience and some careful calculations to secure ROI abroad.
So you’ve decided to take your E-Commerce business global. Congratulations! Whether you’re starting from scratch, or building on a well-established flow of foreign custom, internationalisation is a massive opportunity for growth in E-Commerce.

International E-Commerce: Key challenges that deserve your attention

Just as long as you keep a cool head... 

Because internationalisation also comes with unique and diverse business challenges. Your senior team need to be well aware of every hurdle, and your business will need patience and some careful calculations to secure ROI abroad. 

“There’s no one way to launch an international expansion, but there are a similar set of challenges every business will face. What matters is staying smart, working step by step and learning as you go.”
Chris Maule, Managing Director, Venditan

So here’s the biggest hurdles to E-Commerce success on the world stage, and how your business can beat them. 

IT STARTS WITH DEMAND

The first secret to international success is simple: you don’t need to tackle every challenge head on. Pinpoint specific opportunities for expansion and you’ll save your team a lot of time and money further down the road. 

That’s why step one of the international game plan is keeping a cool head. 

Start with a hard look at the real level of international demand…

1. Pinpoint exactly where the traffic is coming from. 

Your resources will go a lot further and your operations will be a lot more effective when you tailor your expansion for one country—so think ‘Italy’ before you think ‘Europe’. 

“Analyse existing web traffic patterns to make some informed assumptions around the opportunity from international markets,” says former Econsultancy Editor in Chief Graham Charlton.

“There are also important considerations around PEST analysis (Political, Environmental, Social and Technological factors) that you should review before making a decision on what countries hold the best prospects for you.”

2. Work out where the sales are coming from. 

It sounds simple, sure, but stay clear on the difference between traffic and genuine sales. (There may also be easier fixes if you do spot underwhelming conversion rates in a specific country.)

Get granular if you need to. What’s your traffic to sales ratio for each respective country? Understanding where purchases are actually being made lets you hone your focus on the region with the greatest demand for your product, sidestepping some of the bigger problems of internationalisation. 

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3. Gauge your international social media following. 

A social media buzz is a top indication that your brand is making enough noise to hold its own in a foreign market. Because while customers are great, engaged customers are gold. 

To speed up the process, make a point of finding evangelists who’ll spread the word (doing your marketing for you…), and give them compelling content to share—just remember you’ll need to tailor it for the region it’s aimed at. 

For example, translating your social communications into native language goes a long way. This is where research is paramount: choose the right local networks, and work hard to unearth and produce the types of content people engage with most.  

4. Get a read on the competition for your products in the countries you’re targeting. 

Internationally, there’s a different competitive landscape. Taking on the locals in Spain is an option, but why bother if it’s safer to do so in France?

Evaluating market demand is actually easier than you might think. Make no mistake, you’ll need to put in the man hours to really get a grip on the state of things. But, using tools like Google Trends, Keyword Planner and Tops; you can assess everything including geographical search volume, social validation and competitor presence. 

FOCUSING YOUR STRATEGY

Once you’ve got a handle on exactly where the demand is, identifying the specific markets for your expansion, it’s time to get focused. 

Step two is locking onto the next level challenges you’re facing.

LOCALISING SEO AND PPC

Traffic is the fuel for purchase and conversion, so SEO and PPC go just as far in foreign markets as they do at home.

Just remember that prospective international customers won’t necessarily search for your product in the same way your current customers do. 

Once again beating this challenge is all about your research: work out which search engines your overseas audiences are using, and maybe more importantly dial right down into the different keywords they use to find your products. 

CUSTOMS

A serious potential roadblock to the market comes in the form of customs. It’s all too easy to forget about hidden custom costs and end up burning your margins—will your product still make it over the border at a profit? 

Always make sure you understand the rules and regulations concerning each country. Unplanned costs really are a killer, but get on top of all the paperwork right from the off and they won’t hold you back later. 

RETAIL CULTURE 

Wherever you go in the world, you’ll find radically different ways of approaching shopping and retail—your success will stand or fall by appealing to your customers’ shopping culture...

E-Consultancy’s Graham Charlton actually points out that even within Europe, markets are hardly comparable:

“A good example is design. In Sweden, functionality, simplicity and speed are the most important features of an online shop. This is in contrast with France, where the focus is on design.”

Beyond these cultural investment priorities, it’s also worth remembering that each country has idiosyncratic holidays and festivals—which can cause all manner of operational issues if not fully considered in your strategy. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We’ve highlighted just a few of the key challenges that deserve your attention when thinking about going global with your E-Commerce business. 

This list isn’t exhaustive, and the complexities of expanding overseas definitely aren’t to be understated. Beyond the obvious blocks like language and logistics, there are plenty of subtle issues coming from culture and expectations. 

But as we’ve seen, none of these roadblocks need to undermine your international ambitions. Businesses that do their homework and invest the time in getting pinpoint accurate in their strategy will still find a golden opportunity in internationalising their business.

To see more international strategies and how they work in a wider E-Commerce growth plan, download our eBook Beyond the Hype: Four Fundamentals For Sustainable E-Commerce Growth now.

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Michael Simcoe
Michael Simcoe

8th May 2018