Are you thinking about taking your ecommerce business global or even expanding your online presence into new regions of the world? While granted it’s not a new prospect, embracing the world stage continues to be rife with opportunity.
There is a growing generation of more than a billion digital buyers responsible in 2013 for $1.2 trillion of global ecommerce sales. Research tells us that even though ecommerce is widely engrained in markets like North America and Western Europe, ecommerce growth rates are still expected to be in the double digits in 2014, coming in at about 12%, according to emarketer.com. In the Asia Pacific region, growth rates are projected to be much higher still – around the 44% mark in 2014.
It’s clear that opportunities to sell globally are abundant, but expanding across borders should be considered only with a well-laid plan that addresses up-front considerations for supporting languages, local customs, tax compliance and many other online selling requirements. Failure to plan ahead can unnecessarily cost considerable time and money and result in shopping cart abandonment and lost sales of 10% to 30%.
Before you make the decision to expand worldwide, assess your product or service to ensure that it’s a good fit for global customers. Is there sufficient demand in global markets for what you sell? Is your product or service something that translates well into other cultures? If the answer is yes and you’re ready to take on the challenge of expanding globally, your next step is to plan how you’ll roll out ecommerce operations worldwide. The following six tips can help you achieve a successful launch:
1. Global + local = think “glocally”
To sell your products or services successfully abroad, you’ll need to adapt your global marketing strategy to each local market. It’s not as simple as applying your existing strategy to new regions. A strategy that works in North America won’t necessarily resonate in Africa or Asia. Rethink your marketing strategy and shopping experience for each local market you’re entering, and adapt your approach to accommodate regional expectations. “Glocalization” is the only way to build the credibility and brand trust you need to succeed on a global scale.
2. Create a detailed, repeatable regional rollout plan
Regional launches should be carried out under a replicable approach that you can adapt to each market. Develop and test a comprehensive plan you can use to create a local sales presence, making it broad enough to apply (with local caveats) to each region targeted for expansion. The plan should address forming the local partnerships you’ll need. It should provide guidance to local teams or partners who will work with you. It should also identify the market characteristics and customer preferences that will be included in your “glocalization” plan.
3. Make sure your site accommodates local languages and customs
The first impression potential customers will form of your company will likely come from the copy on your website. Straight translation isn’t enough: If you need convincing, pull up a foreign language site and ask Google to translate the page. Language is subtle and complex, and context is everything. To adapt your content to a new market, you’ll need expert help, a local team capable of translating your message using excellent grammar and language that resonates with shoppers in that market.
4. Develop a pricing and tax compliance strategy
No matter where you operate, you’ll be required to comply with local tax collection regulations, so it’s critical to have an accounting infrastructure in place. This reduces liability exposure in the event of an audit. Taxes on ecommerce operations can be complex, involving local nexus issues and export regulations. In addition to the tax issue, you’ll need to make sure your pricing reflects local market realities. You’ll also need to display the cost of each item in local currency and make sure prices are in line with local averages and expectations.
5. Design a scalable ecommerce infrastructure
A global expansion strategy generally involves a step-by-step ecommerce rollout, which will be much easier to accomplish at every stage if you’ve kept expansion in mind when defining your back-end processes. Find a cloud-based infrastructure and secure offsite technology resources that are designed to make scaling up quick and easy. Ensure that your infrastructure offers features like flexible automation so that you can expand to new markets quickly – without reinventing the wheel every time.
6. Establish an operations plan
In all the preparation to launch your ecommerce site and e-marketing operations in global markets, don’t forget to carefully build a network to handle logistics on the local level. Include detailed supply chain and transportation plans based on information from local teams that can walk you through every stage from order receipt to delivery. Make sure you provide 24/7 support via customer service representatives that have local language skills so that you can maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, which is critical for building your brand.
Scott Heimes is senior vice president and CMO for Digital River.