International Ecommerce: A Guide to Digital Global Expansion

Learn how to take advantage of international e-commerce and understand key considerations when developing an international strategy.

Reagan Evans's avatar
Reagan Evans

May 30, 2022


It’s easier than ever to connect with new customers (and generate more revenue!) by expanding into new international markets—especially through online channels. By 2023, global online sales will reach $6.169 trillion, accounting for 22.3% of total retail sales. This is an increase from $3.351 trillion and 13.8% in 2019.

E-commerce sites can achieve growth in new markets when they are published in local languages. Around 60% of global audiences prefer websites in their native language over English. Additionally, these individuals may completely avoid English websites.

What is International E-Commerce?

International e-commerce is the process of selling products or services across borders on an electronic platform. Unlike the physical retail industry, e-commerce can access new and growing markets with relatively minimal investments, like through website localization.

Why should you invest time and money into international e-commerce? The world is wide open for business, and the possibilities for growth are immense. You don’t need a brick and mortar store to sell products internationally, and your customer base can expand exponentially, if you take the time and effort to develop a thoughtful global e-commerce strategy.

International E-Commerce Tips and Best Practices

Everything Starts with Research

Before you jump into an international market, you must conduct research. Research is important for finding out barriers to entering a market, competition, or demand for your product. You can save time and money in your new market expansion efforts if you are prepared for roadblocks.

Some of the most important research relates to your target customers, including shopping preferences and habits. Ideally, you should have flexibility to engage international shoppers from different cultures and locations. Understanding potential customer expectations, habits and motives are crucial to successfully expanding internationally. 

One way to assess the potential of a particular market is to explore the online search demand around your product or industry. Tools like Google Trends show you internet search trends in various markets.  

Keyword research tools like KWfinder can give you estimates of keyword search volume by country to help you develop marketing campaigns and strategies.  

Using survey companies like SurveyMonkey can help assess international demand and find opportunities not available locally.

Finally, it’s essential to research compliance laws and regulations specific to countries where you want to do business. Import and export regulations can be confusing and are constantly changing. This includes learning about import regulations as well as which export regulations may apply to your products. 

Craft an International E-commerce Strategy

After you lay research groundwork for your business on an international level, transform your findings into an actionable strategy. A solid international e-commerce strategy develops plans to achieve reachable goals for your business. Ask yourself and explore: 

  • What markets are worth moving into, and why?
  • Who do your target audiences look like in each of these markets? 
  • Where are you trying to reach your target audience? Will it be through a higher intent with paid and organic search or lower intent with social media? Think about how well certain channels perform domestically for your business and how it may be applied across borders. 

And finally, one of the most important questions to explore: How are you going to adapt your business’s website, ads, and social media presence to speak to these global audiences? To achieve success within international markets, you’ll need to consider global localization of your content.

Prioritize ECommerce Localization

To enter global markets, you have to understand the role of translation and localization services. Web localization strategies go beyond word-for-word translation and makes your website culturally relevant, giving international customers the confidence to make a purchase.

According to CSA Research, 72.4% of global consumers prefer to use their native language when shopping online, and 56.2% of the consumers said the ability to obtain information in their own language is even more important than price.

You need to localize web-based content and other digital channels, like payment portals and marketing material. Sales and promotions may also need to be adapted since shopping holidays are often country specific. Finally, you should provide localized customer service to handle queries in the language they’re submitted, enabling end-to-end support for your customers’ needs.

Test, Optimize, Repeat

After creating a research-based plan and supporting customers in your target market, begin testing your strategy. There’s no need to rush – test strategies and slowly develop a formula that works for you.

Use analytics data to make adjustments to your marketing plans. Frequent target testing allows you to continually optimize your site experience. It’s important to stay current on larger market preferences and pressures. Then use your findings to see how global customers respond.

International E-commerce Trends

Global markets are waiting for your business. Here are some global e-commerce trends to help you expand your business internationally.

Using “Buy Now, Pay Later” 

Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) is a popular financing option at checkout. Its popularity is growing, and international checkout pages now often feature it. BNPL allows people without credit or those who prefer not to use credit cards to pay for purchases in installments. BNPL allows shoppers to purchase a product and pay in a predetermined number of installments over time, with little to no interest rates and hidden fees.

Create a Faster E-Commerce Checkout Process

Research shows that 55% of global consumers said they only buy products from websites that provide them with information in their own language. This includes navigating the checkout process. Selling products in different countries means understanding the different preferences for international visitors, including language, currency, and payment options. Localize website content for international visitors and give them a faster, more streamlined e-commerce checkout process.

A Strong Online Presence for the Wholesale Industry

Wholesale e-commerce is a business-to-business (B2B) model where, instead of selling your products individually to consumers, you sell them in bulk and at a discount to other businesses. A recent B2B e-commerce report shows the global B2B eCommerce market valued at $14.9 trillion in 2020, which shows the rise of specialized marketplaces, including international, for B2B buyers and sellers.

Challenges of International Ecommerce: Key Considerations

1: Technical Infrastructure

Launching sites in international markets doesn’t always require hosting those sites on servers in those markets. In many cases, that isn’t possible due to local infrastructure limitations. It’s also often unnecessary: latency issues are uncommon when using robust solutions that can smartly distribute server loads across larger regions (such as Europe). 

The need for local hosting—or geo-based server load balancing—can be quite high in other international markets. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and geo-load balanced servers are often used by companies to improve domestic site speed or reliability, when delivering their primary-market site content (often in English) to core customers.

However, in international markets, CDNs have the added benefit of making it easy to “play nice” with a country’s laws. Finding a website localization software vendor that provides dedicated IT resources and geo-load balancing is imperative.

Finding a solution or turn-key vendor that provides dedicated IT resources and geo-load balancing, when appropriate, is imperative.

The result? As Ashley Erumsele , Senior Direcor of Solutions Engineering for MotionPoint, explains: “The system functions at optimum speed, which is great. But there’s also an ongoing component to this. Observation and care over time can help identify optimizations to ensure load time is decreased, and site functionality remains intact.”

2: Logistics / Geopolitical Status

The Internet and e-commerce have ushered in an era of untold changes in cross-border conversation, culture and consumption. According to Asendia, a provider of international shipping services for businesses, companies that ship overseas see a 15% increase in sales.

In the end, governments and bureaucracies have the final say in the flow of most international e-commerce. Your company will need to “play nice” with international import regulations, tariffs, taxes and other nuances. Your organization must abide by export laws; some governments simply won’t permit companies to legally ship to specific countries.

Further, some international market segments are infamous for local corruption, supporting terrorism, or are in a locale that’s prone to natural disasters. These things and more can threaten reliable international e-commerce transactions and delivery.

There are a few key ways to mitigate these risks.

“Firstly, align your product or industry with the potential threats of an area, and have solutions for those problems,” Aaron Hakenson, Senior VP Sales & Account Management,  says. “For instance, some shipping providers have issues shipping packages to countries like Pakistan. Others don’t. Choose fulfillment options that can accommodate your international expansion needs.”

You can also partner with a vendor already fluent in these marketplaces, and their unique challenges. They can educate your company on best practices in these markets, viable fulfillment and marketing options—or in some cases, advise you to engage other markets poised to deliver greater returns at less risk.

3: In-Market Customer Support

Companies keen to expand into international markets shouldn’t forget about the customer support needs these markets will inevitably have. If your organization provides customer service via e-mail, inbound phone calls or “contact us” forms online, you should deploy localized versions of these experiences for new consumers, too. This is especially important if you already offer call center support in different languages. Localizing your website and other assets can instantly decrease the incoming volume of customer support calls. 

While a localized website with customer service FAQs (translated into the local market’s language) will dramatically reduce customer service requests through self-service, your company will still field calls and e-mails. This often means translating e-mail content, and providing localized marketing collateral for your customer service representatives.

4: Relevant Payment Methods

“Without using an all-in-one fulfillment partner,” Hackenson says, “most payment providers by market allow for simple adoption into CMS/CRM platforms. Look for partners who can identify the proper payment methods and units of measurement for each market. Reputable vendors use tracking alarms and QA teams to ensure these payment methods are working correctly at all times.”

Indeed, U.S. retailers are very familiar with credit cards and PayPal, but most don’t understand that those payment types aren’t actually ubiquitous beyond U.S. borders. If these customers don’t see their preferred payment options, they won’t transact.

Our research absolutely supports this. Hackenson recalls one client who launched an e-commerce site, and accepted only credit card payments for the first few months online. “But after integrating local payment options, revenue skyrocketed,” he says. “Within weeks, a full third of its site revenue hailed from these local options transactions. Orders were up, too.”

If these customers don’t see their preferred payment options, they won’t transact.

Another client also saw amazing lifts when adopting local payment platforms. Its conversion rate grew by 217%, the quantity per transaction increased by 33%, and revenue grew 210%.

Ready to Expand Your E-Commerce Business Internationally?

Marketing platforms for global online shopping utilize real-time messaging across multiple channels. These channels include websites, mobile devices, social media platforms, email, and direct mail. Maximize your marketing efforts through global e-commerce localization.

The key to integrating translation and localization is to utilize a flexible website localization service provider that can quickly provide updated, relevant content to all of your customers, in their language.

MotionPoint can assist you with your e-commerce website translation efforts, including developing the types of translation that support your needs, and implementing changes and updates quickly and efficiently. No matter the translation, we have solutions to support all of your e-commerce needs, wherever your business takes you.

Last updated on May 30, 2022
Reagan Evans's avatar

About Reagan Evans

Reagan Evans is MotionPoint’s SVP of Sales. He has a strong background in sales and data management and has nearly 10 years of executive level experience in the field. He uses his expertise in global sales, new business development, sales production, and data organization to drive MotionPoint's market expansion and new client acquisition. Evans leverages MotionPoint’s industry-leading technology to drive sales and ensure higher customer satisfaction.

Reagan Evans's avatar
Reagan Evans

SVP, Head of Sales


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