E-commerce has irreversibly changed our lives and made the world smaller than ever before. Only a few years ago, shopping meant heading to the local mall, main street, or big box store and hoping that they had what you wanted in stock. Nowadays, shoppers have a whole world of options available to them. If their local store doesn’t have what they want at the price they want to pay, a merchant halfway around the world surely does – and will ship it right to their doorstep – often at no extra charge. Customers can shop 24/7, around the world, from anywhere, and from any device. This means that retailers can no longer compete on convenience or price alone. The bar has been raised higher than ever before when it comes to delivering frictionless, engaging shopping experiences, both online and in stores, and customers don’t make any exceptions for international merchants.
While e-commerce has made it possible for a merchant in Melbourne to sell goods to a customer in Montreal, this new capability also brings about some unique challenges. Selling across international borders often means dealing with different currencies, multiple languages, varying tax laws, global shippers and customs brokers, and add to that diverse cultures with their own customs and preferences to respect. While the challenges are many, so are the opportunities. A retailer who fails to localize their website may risk alienating or even offending some customers, but one who gets localization right has the opportunity to grow their business across borders.
In this article, we explore key strategies for excelling at international e-commerce. Here are some things you need to consider on your path to global domination.
Translate Your e-Commerce Site Into Multiple Languages
A Common Sense Advisory survey of more than 3,000 global consumers in 10 non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia, and South America found that three in four shoppers prefer to buy products in their native language. 60% of respondents said that they rarely or never buy from English-only websites. You’re missing out on major revenue opportunity if you fail to translate your site into multiple languages.
Making a great first impression, with targeted native-language content, may not be as challenging as you think. While it may seem necessary to translate all the content on your site into multiple languages to offer localized international browsing, that may not be necessary. The same Common Sense Advisory survey found that even limited localization – for the landing page and checkout pages – was effective in converting customers. It also provides an important starting point for targeted marketing, as well as an opportunity to provide payment, privacy, and shipping experiences similar to those international customers would encounter when shopping on local sites.
Offering multiple languages may seem daunting – won’t it require duplication of effort, maintaining separate databases for inventory, separate sites for each language? Not necessarily. A fully-integrated e-commerce platform makes it easy to offer and manage multiple languages from a single location. A dynamic content management system and adaptable site themes allow you to manage and merchandise inventory from a central toolkit and set zones for targeted marketing and customization. Rather than working through updates for dozens of countries, simply update each of your themes and changes are pushed out across your e-commerce storefronts.
Adapt Content to Respect and Reflect Local Cultures
It may take more than word-for-word translation to ensure your site resonates across different cultures. For example, some imagery, messaging, and even colors have different meanings to different groups. What is widely embraced in one part of the world may be inappropriate in other countries. Consider the oft-told story of the Chevrolet Nova, a care that was hugely popular in the US in the 1970s. When General Motors exported the Nova to Spanish-speaking counties, they became the object of many jokes about their cars that “don’t go,” the literal Spanish translation of “no va.”
Another important consideration – especially for apparel and footwear retailers – is to consider including a size conversion chart on your site. A US size 8 shoe is a UK size 6, or a European size 39, for example. Furniture and home accessories retailers should offer measurements in both imperial (feet and inches) and metric (centimeters).
Cosabella is an online retailer that gets localization right, in part using a banner image system. Each site theme includes space for banner images to highlight products, which Cosabella can update quickly and easily based on one of many segments through their toolkit. With just a few clicks, each of their storefronts can be localized to reach their target audience.
Audit Your SEO Localization
As Google and other search engines update their algorithms with regard to international sites and native-language returns, it’s important that your e-commerce site includes the features necessary to make you visible to your target audience. Having localized prefixes for each URL (e.g. /en-us, /es-us, /de-de, /en-fr for English – US, Spanish – US, German – Germany, English – France) that indicate target nation and language help your customers and search engines quickly recognize your nation-specific content, whether you translate your entire site or just essential components. A centralized backend toolkit makes it easy to manage all these storefronts effectively, as Cosabella is doing. This central toolkit also makes it easy to update banners and other localized content so that it appears in the target language, further improving visibility in search results.
Geographic-dependent IP detection can also help your customers find the right storefront, displaying content in the correct currency and in the correct language. Consider an e-commerce platform that can automatically determine whether a visitor has a US cookie preference and redirect them to the US version of your site without interrupting customer browsing. Even if there is no cookie preference, your e-commerce platform should provide tools to alert customers they are viewing content intended for a different location. The fewer barriers international customers encounter when browsing your site, the more likely they will be to complete their transaction.
Currency and Checkout Considerations
Offering the option to shop in a local currency, with real-time international currency conversion, is quickly becoming the standard in the world of international e-commerce. However, currency isn’t the only consideration you need to make when it comes to engaging customers around the world. Connected customers want real-time shipping quotes, just as if they were shopping with a merchant in their home country. One way smart retailers are achieving this is with an integration to a global shipping carrier like FedEx that also calculates landed costs automatically. Nobody likes to get a big surprise customs bill when receiving their eagerly awaited order.
You also need to educate yourself on local tax laws. Are you required to collect sales taxes in certain jurisdictions? Taxes can quickly become incredibly complex, so you may want to think about integrating with a tax management solution, that takes the burden of keeping up with tax compliance off your plate.
Expanding internationally may not work for everyone. It may be something to plan for in a crawl, walk, run approach: once you are comfortable selling in your local market, expand first to one other country (ex. Canada and US), then add other markets over time. When you decide that the time is right for your company to expand across international borders, be sure that you’re equipped with an e-commerce platform that includes a dynamic content management system to make the job a manageable – and sustainable – one.