I was reminded this week about how eCommerce businesses can be a little tricky to setup and run successfully. With the launch of my new book, Marketing, Interrupted, we’ve attracted attention from interested readers all around the world. The journey to get the book into the hands of our target audience has not come without a few bumps along the way. Spoiler alert: international shipping is not as seamless and straightforward as you may think!
It all sounds so easy—just setup a seller account on Amazon, activate your social channels, and you’re off to the races. If you have needs for greater functionality and a desire to offer your customers a shopping experience with more bells and whistles, there are many powerful platforms out there. Companies like Magento and Shopify stand ready to power up your business.
However, regardless of the Systems you select, it’s easy to overlook the fact that with an eCommerce business model in place, you are practically a global company overnight. Whether you like it or not and whether you are prepared for it or not—you’re global. When you open up for business that first day, customers will find you. And those customers may come from right around the corner or they may come from halfway around the globe. There are real implications here, from currency issues to shipping costs to cultural differences. If you’re not prepared, it can get really messy, really quick.
Of course, going global with any business is a huge undertaking that requires an immense amount of research, planning, and preparation. If you’re confident that growing global is the right next step to take, then you may be wondering how exactly to get started. Here are three critical questions to ask as you launch your eCommerce business.
Is Your Website “Globally Responsive”?
Obviously, your eCommerce website is going to play a key role in the success of your brand in global markets. Therefore, the user experience (UX) that it provides to your prospects and new customers should be a top priority as you begin to expand. To make sure that your website is optimized for international business, you’ll need to know which features are essential.
The best strategy here is to partner with an eCommerce platform like Magento or Shopify that is designed specifically for global reach. Be sure to look for one that has location settings to customize your website based on where your customers are shopping from. Everything from the language to the price to the shipping rates (especially pay attention to this one!) will change depending on the market, so your best bet is to go with one that can adjust for all of this automatically.
Another important feature to keep in mind is how quickly your website loads in different countries. For example, if your main server is located in the United States, but a customer clicks on your link in Kenya, it could take several seconds for the page to load entirely. While this doesn’t sound like a huge deal, it could actually lose you that customer. According to studies, 50% of customers will exit a site that takes longer than just three seconds to load.
Use a host that includes CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to speed up your website. This strategy means that your website’s pages are distributed globally through a connected network of cache servers to boost loading speeds.
The quality of your site will affect the bottom line, so take care in the design and features that it provides. Make sure that your eCommerce platform is ready to handle a global market and can support a better UX for higher conversion rates.
Are You Prepared to Fulfill Orders with Quality … Anywhere in the World?
You are certainly accustomed to shipping products in your home country. However, when it comes to shipping internationally, there is a whole new set of rules you must consider, such as FOB (Free on Board). So, what does Free on Board mean? FOB information and pricing guides are extremely helpful for understanding and wrapping your head around all of the jargon in the mysterious world of global freighting and shipping. From export fees to shipping costs, you may see that shipping is much more expensive than you previously imagined. In some cases, it may exceed the cost of the product itself! Making sure your business model takes this into account is essential before you begin making your global eCommerce plans.
Another major issue that international brands run into is ensuring a consistent experience, no matter where their customer is. This gets far more complicated as the company expands to markets that are further away.
For instance, it may be much cheaper to partner with a local drop shipping company that is located in or at least closer to your new target market. That said, with the lower price also may come lower quality. If your international customers are receiving products of lower quality or with poorer service than other markets, it will damage your brand’s reputation, trigger negative reviews, and lead to excessive product returns and refund requests. Therefore, it is critically important that you find trustworthy partners around the globe to handle the assurance of not only your product quality but also your service delivery. If not a dropshipper, then you may want to consider going private label, and partnering with a third party fulfillment service.
As your business continues to grow, be sure that product and service quality assurance checks are conducted regularly to assess things. Stay on top of your customer reviews and address any issues as quickly as possible before things get out of hand.
Do You Have the Right Marketing People, Processes, and Platforms?
Perhaps one of the trickiest parts of expanding globally is the process of gaining brand recognition. In order to start turning a profit from global sales, you will need to build this sooner rather than later, but getting your name out there in the global market will require specialized marketing strategies.
Your best bet here is to gather a globally-minded marketing team that is up for the challenge and highly knowledgeable about each international target market. Since your online customer base will be dramatically expanding, the demographics, preferences, and needs of your audience will shift. Furthermore, there are some channels (with which you can reach global customers) that are simply not available or popular in places like the US. For instance, there are some social media platforms that are extremely popular internationally. QQ/Q Zone is a common chat app used in China, and Taringa and is one of the most popular social networks in South America. Failing to utilize these channels properly could impact your reach and slow down your brand’s growth.
When you are marketing to a global audience, be sure that your team has an understanding of the culture and customer behavior within that market. It may be best to hire local freelancers for each area of expansion to ensure that your brand story is not only translated properly, but written in the most impactful and relevant way for your target customer.
If you’d like to learn more about going global with your brand, order a copy of my new book, Marketing, Interrupted. It tells stories of the successes and failures of brands like Weber, Crocs, and Faberware as they went global, giving you a front row seat to the practice of transformational marketing. In this story, the brand marketers are the heroes. They align Story, Strategy, and Systems to give their customers a reason to care, a reason to listen, a reason to engage, a reason to buy, and most importantly, a reason to stay and advocate for the brand.