Chapter 10 22 Ecommerce Experts Give Their #1 Tip for Cross-Border Expansion in 2019
To wrap up our guide on cross-border commerce and launching your brand internationally, I knew it was necessary to make sure everything we said wasn’t a “strategy in a bubble.”
In other words, I wanted to ensure that industry experts and brands who have done this before offered the same advice as this book does.
So, per usual, I asked them:
What’s your #1 tip for brands looking to launch internationally?
The 21 responses below turned into 9 categories of advice.
Dive on in. Learn from the experts and those who have done it before.
Just do it!
“If you are considering international expansion, do it now.
Simply put — beyond international expansion being a great way to expand revenue, it is a great way to help future-proof your business.
As the cost of Facebook ads increases in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia, other countries continue to remain very affordable, especially places like Asia.
By opening up your targeting to foreign countries, you can often find media arbitrage opportunities, where your cost to acquire a customer is much lower.
By figuring this out now, you can identify opportunities to adapt as media costs rise and you can identify opportunities to become more efficient in your fulfillment and conversion, i.e. currency localization, over time.” — Eric Carlson, Co-Founder, 10xFactory
Have a strategy.
“I recommend that you take the time to develop a strategy for cross-border selling. You should identify and leverage the right channels and tap into the right foreign markets to promote your products.
- Which of your products are in demand in foreign markets?
- Which ecommerce platforms do people shop from in your target country?
- Who are your competitors there?
- Will you be able to ship to those countries?
- And more!
All of these will help you understand and plan a robust marketing strategy.”
— Shane Barker, Digital Strategist, Brand and Influencer Consultant, Shane Barker Consulting
Understand the motivations behind international customers.
“Talk to people who live in the country to learn customs, language, and business nuances while you are still in the planning stages. Work with trusted ‘cultural translators’ to avoid big mishaps.
Chevy introduced Nova in Mexico which translates as ‘doesn’t run/work’. A German chocolate manufacturer introduced its own brand here called ‘Zit’. Get the picture?”
— Mike Wittenstein, Managing Partner, StoryMiners
“Keep each culture and their unique business best practices in mind when developing your marketing strategy. What might be perceived as comical/commonplace in one country, may not translate well in another. The last thing you’d want to do is turn off a prospective customer.” — Jessica Lago, Manager of Marketing & Partnerships, iMedia
“It is critical to ensure your payment methods match the local culture. You need to understand how each country likes to pay for things online.
For example, did you know that many online shoppers in Japan pay using a service where they don’t pay online, but take a reference number obtained after checkout to their local convenience store, and pay cash to the cashier to complete their purchase?
It seems crazy to us Americans, but it is normal in Japan.” — Justin Emond, CEO, Third & Grove
“All cultures have different drivers to get them to purchase something. It isn’t just about having the technology and infrastructure to sell across borders. Make sure you understand the consumer as well.” — Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO, Hawke Media
“Understand the differences in consumer behavior within a local market. Standing up an additional country for many brands is simple, but understanding buying behaviors for consumers in that country (split-payments in South America, COD in the Middle East, detailed product specs in the Far East, etc.) can be the difference between tiny sub 1% growth and step change difference in expansion revenue.” — Adam Grohs, Co-Founder/CEO, Particular.
Get to know the international markets.
“Understand the market you’re about to enter! Rule/mistake number one is to think that the way you market in America will work in Australia or the UK for example — let alone in France or China! You must understand the culture and what makes it tick before you embark on that expansion. So word of advice: look at your number one country by revenue outside where you reside and target that first. However, don’t forget to do TONS of research first.” — Elie Maalouly, RANDEM Group
“Recruit an expert in each country – someone who understands the local market and can build your profile there. Depending on the type of products you sell, this may be a distributor, an affiliate, or an employee. They will be responsible for tailoring your brand to the local market and show local people that your products are relevant to them. They can also help with translations and advise on any local legislation or tax rules that may affect you.” — Katie Keith, Co-Founder, Barn2 WordPress Plugins
Square away the technical details.
“Make sure your website domain is optimized for multiple locations *before* launch or expansion! This seems like a very simple task, but in reality it often requires a fair amount of work. Ensure that local SEO and keyword targeting has been considered, pricing structures are set to the correct currency, and — when appropriate — smart content is utilized to showcase geographic-specific info/products for users with certain IP addresses only.” — Abby Thompson, Director of Marketing, Salted Stone
“First and foremost, make sure your infrastructure is set up to support international expansion before you start advertising in new markets. Do you show pricing in international currencies? Do you have affordable shipping options that are clearly explained, while also considering duty charges? Do you have proper translations in place? Once your user experience is optimized to accommodate your new market audience, then you can start advertising in those regions.” — Corey Dubeau, VP Marketing, Northern Commerce
“Make your website as appealing to cross-border customers as possible, but only if you can follow this through all stages of the customer journey. For example, it’s a great idea to make your website multilingual — but only if you can also support customers in their own language. It’s also a great idea to provide free or affordable shipping for overseas customers — but only if you’re also willing to make it affordable for them to return items to you.” — Katie Keith, Co-Founder, Barn2
“Focus on how people pay locally in your market. If you can’t offer the payment methods that are the most common, most trusted, and most useful to the market you are entering, you should reconsider entering that market. Payments must be localized.” — Justin Emond, CEO, Third & Grove
“Make sure you understand the post-sale issues that can arise from international sales. This is absolutely key.
Returns can easily wipe out any margin, and there are many reasons why you may have to arrange a return; from the customer not needing the product to the wrong item being sent out, or the customer misunderstanding the features of the item due to language or cultural differences (example, a cappuccino cup in Italy is much much smaller than a cappuccino cup in the UK) to customers not wanting to pay any customs duty due on the order.
You may end up refunding the order and not justifying the return of the item due to costs.
BUT make sure you use every problem you encounter to improve your website and service.”
— Luigi Moccia, Founder, Calashock
Open a multi-currency account.
“”Open a multi-currency account – this is essential to set yourself up for international success in the long run.
You’re going to save yourself a lot of headache when you’re accepting payments in multiple currencies and have suppliers scattered around the world. You don’t have to worry about funds lost in the conversions (especially as you scale) and complicated accounting and reconciliation at the end of each month.
What’s more, some multi-currency solutions can also save you international transfer fees, by allowing you to open local accounts in the same jurisdiction as that currency (a.k.a. a GBP account in the U.K., instead of a GBP account in the United States).”
— Iris Ten Teije, Growth Lead, Neat
Expand your digital footprint.
“Create the largest digital footprint possible through Google, Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms. You have to build a loyal following.” — Lon Safko, CEO, Innovative Thinking, Safko
“A lot of the organic reach you’ve built won’t translate outside the US. You’ll need to reinvest in digital marketing for international Google results.” — Joe Chilson, Head Writer and Project Manager, 1Digital Agency
Tailor your customer acquisition channels to the region.
“Consider your current customer acquisition channels and then analyze how well they may work out when internationalized.
So, if your primary acquisition channel is SEO, different regions will have different ways of describing products, different buying processes and information requisites, and differing levels of search volume (even if the different regions speak the same language, this could be the case).
Before you plan an international roll out, try to model your demand given your current acquisition channels and what you can feasibly expect by rolling out internationally in certain regions (and also model the costs associated with localizing content and products).” — Alex Birkett, Sr. Growth Marketing Manager, HubSpot
“The logistics and technology are not your largest problem in international expansion. Your largest problem in international expansion is building an engaged community in a market that may not know of your brand – yet.
Lead with community building & engagement campaigns. Prove that you can gain the attention of prospective shoppers. Then monetize that audience.” — Steve Deckert, Co-Founder, Smile.io
“Understand the new market, your new competitors in each space, and ensure you have a go-to-market strategy unique to user behavior and values in each region.” — Talar Malakian, Business Unit Director, Salted Stone
Make sure you test your approach.
“Test test test. Leverage local marketplaces initially to assess demand and don’t be afraid to pull the pin in a market if it is not meeting your targets or strategic objectives.” — Jason Greenwood, Ecommerce Manager, HealthPost
And, when it comes to Amazon…
“Assuming you’re already using a unified FBA-stocked Amazon account to sell into all of Europe and that you have been set up properly, are brand registered, have good content, and have pricing set up properly so VAT is built into your offer, then we recommend that you leverage advertising.
The European market is less saturated with sophisticated Amazon sellers and your advertising dollars will return a bigger bang for each buck. Whereas the US market has become much more mature and CPCs are rising YoY and MoM, there are many categories/subcategories where no Headline Ads (Sponsored Brands) appear.
That alone should demonstrate the ability sellers and brands have to leverage the entire suite of Amazon advertising tools to propel their products and gain paid and subsequent organic dominance in those markets.” — Joseph Hansen, Founder, BuyBox Experts
The Cross-Border Opportunity: Taking Commerce to New Heights
Tim Brown, co-founder of Allbirds, recently called China the “brand’s horizon for future expansion.”
In previous years, expanding operations from the United States and the U.K. to China was a feat not often accomplished by brands due to the complexity associated with reaching customers and understanding product demand in those regions.
A newfound demographic and geographic understanding — paired with a revisited tech stack — makes it easier than ever for brands like Allbirds to expand internationally.
With more and more merchants taking their business across international lines, a rise in tools and technologies have stepped in to help amplify the results of a cross-border strategy.
By using this comprehensive guide, you’ll have extra insight into what your brand can do to shift your business into international territories.
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