International E-commerce Expansion: What's Your Strategy Right Now?

May 6, 2020

What do domestic e-commerce merchants need in place to execute a successful international expansion strategy in today’s global environment? Here are some of the basics.

As an online retailer, you already know that your customers are living through a significant global event that will undoubtedly change everything about their shopping behaviors. And certainly the crisis has changed your business, too, in ways you didn’t expect. As global consumers search the internet for items that are difficult to find locally, your online store may be seeing a surge in international traffic. Given the circumstances, it’s always the right time to think about how to convert that traffic to grow revenue, so start planning now so that you can take advantage of future sales in cross-border markets where interest is high.

After this current period is past, consumers will slowly return to shopping store, but it’s more likely that they’ll remain wary of face-to-face shopping in the near future, and e-commerce will remain a preferred model and channel that continues to see rapid growth. It’s also possible that consumers who have turned to e-commerce during extended stay-at-home orders may grow accustomed to the convenience of online shopping and decide to continue this shopping habit even after local stores have reopened.

This creates an opportunity for building your launch plan for a cross-border e-commerce business particularly in markets where consumer sentiment is less impacted and demand still continues to grow due to the lack of local availability of certain products. If shoppers in other countries have been relying on your online store during this global situation, you have a chance to keep that relationship going even after things return to a more normal state. But, before you can ramp up engagement in global markets, there are a few aspects of the customer experience that will need some fine-tuning.

Select your e-commerce target markets for entry/re-entry

If your brand is planning an international expansion as a way to recover lost revenue from the shelter-in-place period, it may be best to roll this out in phases. This will give you time to test your messaging and your online store’s overall customer experience. To determine which markets to launch first, take a look at where global traffic was coming from before the COVID-19 crisis, and where it’s coming from now. Are you seeing any new trends?  Look at this data alongside your product sales by country and see where your products are already gaining traction. This relationship between traffic and low conversion that you want to assess are the countries where there is high traffic and low sales. Put a different way, look at markets where the international traffic from a given country is high and cart abandonment is high throughout the customer journey, but particularly once that potential customer has entered the checkout flow.

Think local with your online presence

Once you have determined which markets present the greatest opportunity, it’s time to localize your in-market e-commerce site. This includes the local currency, and online payments mix that is relevant to your customers in that market. Consider not just which products or product categories are popular in each market so that you can appropriately tailor your catalogue to your audience, but also find out if there are any goods that can’t be sold to customers in those countries. Your e-commerce store will need the ability to handle a hyper-localized shopping experience with local displays, currency formats, payment methods, targeted product catalogs (or exclusions) and more.

Understand consumer behaviors in your target market

You may be encouraged by the amount of cross-border traffic your online store is receiving, but your market research doesn’t end there. It’s great that international consumers are looking at your merchandise – but is it really what they want? Brands and retailers must spend some time upfront understanding the behaviors, motivations, and preferences of consumers in a market before they enter it. For example, what are the details brands should include in their product descriptions that will influence their customer to buy in each market? Do consumers in that specific market care more about price, selection, delivery time, or customer service? Understanding your target customers’ priorities should frame the entire online experience for your localized e-commerce store.

Fine-tune shipping and logistics in global markets

In the current global climate, merchants are dealing with order fulfillment and shipping delays due to increased challenges with staffing and supply chains, among other issues. These roadblocks should clear. When they do, it will require swift action by cross-border e-commerce merchants to let customers in those affected markets know that delivery windows and shipping lead times are back on track. Also, serving an international audience will require your brand to reconfigure your supply chain to ensure continuity in the future.

Shipping Delays 2020 Q2

Source: Last-mile technology vendor Convey data on 130 retailers, 2020

Above all, your primary objective with an international expansion strategy is to remove any friction in the cross-border e-commerce shopping experience for your customer. Every decision you make on your journey to becoming a global online retailer should be based on what makes it easier for customers to shop with you versus a competitor.

Start planning your international expansion plan today. Download our free International E-commerce Kit, or get in touch with a Flow cross-border e-commerce expert.