The first step in international expansion is to make a plan about how you are going to communicate with your international customers.
That starts with their language — not just the words they speak, but the phrases they use, their expected brevity of content, and the level of formality that’s baked into the culture.
A cross-border strategy will help you create and multiply your revenue in foriegn markets by translating text, currency, and communication to the language that fits your foreign buyers.
All of the important front-end actions of an ecommerce sale happen on the storefront — that is, the website where the customer finds their product, adds it to the cart, and purchases it. This storefront holds a lot of power, which is why there is such an emphasis on user experience enhancements and retargeting efforts.
Early on in your strategy, you need to determine whether you’re going to use one single site and have the content translated depending on the visitor, or create a separate site for every region you intend to sell in, where you can customize the content depending on the language, currency, and other nuances of the country.
This is where you distinguish between a localized or single-site ecommerce experience.
In layman’s terms, the localization of an ecommerce site is creating copies of an existing site and changing the experience to mirror the language and currency for a particular region.
For example, an ecommerce site may identify the USA, UK, and China as the three regions where they want to sell their products. In a localized approach, they will create three separate websites with a multi-site approach: one for the USA, one for the UK, and one for China. The content of each of the sites will be built for that region only.
A localized process takes more time, but it results in an increased familiarity and better user experience for the shoppers in that region. It is as close to a domestic shopping experience as possible, while being created by a brand that lies outside of their border.
Balancing international shopper needs while maintaining the brand identity and tone that was built for one region is a struggle that many international brands faced at the beginning. But the introduction of new tools, technologies, and cross-border consultants makes this much simpler as we thrive in the digital era.
If you want specific marketing content to new regions. Think back to marketing to the USA vs. shoppers in the UK. You want the marketing material and images to reflect that of the ideal consumer, so they don’t land on your site and think they’re in the wrong place.
If you want to merchandise separately to that audience — i.e. only sell certain items in certain regions.
If you see a lot of lost sales in foreign markets. If your cart abandonment or page abandonment rates are significantly lower in foreign markets, it may be about more than just the demand for your product type. It may be that they’re not comfortable or unsure of the language and experience that your site offers.
A single-site ecommerce approach allows you to have one standalone site, with software plugged into the front-end that translates all of the text on the page.
It’s a quicker solution than localization, but depending on the technology that you use for in-browser translation, it may not be understood well by your shoppers. There is inconsistency between automatic translators, which can result in faulty translations, broken search functionality, and poor SEO.
If you opt for a single-site approach, you’re trusting technology to understand the nuances of different languages.
A successful marketing strategy is very dependent on using the right keywords at the right time within your on-site experience. Using a single-site approach limits the availability of a strategic keyword approach.
If you need translation quickly. Many merchants start with a single-site approach and then move to localization once they have more robust research and insight into where their products will sell.
If you’re uninterested in managing multiple sites, and you’re comfortable with translated product descriptions and checkout text. This approach may work if you’re marketing to regions that are similar to yours, like the USA, UK, and APAC regions.
If you will be selling the same merchandise to all cross-border audiences, rather than specific goods for specific audiences.
Is your cross-border audience in the same hemisphere? Many product catalogues are based off of seasons, and marketing campaigns follow suit. Brands want to market certain items when it’s appropriate, and offer sales when shoppers expect it — like on holidays such as Black Friday and Christmas. If your target audience is in the same hemisphere — and therefore has aligned holiday times — a single-site approach may work. If not, your international shoppers may be confused by seeing a swimsuit advertisement in the dead of winter — it’s time for a localized technique.
What are your customer’s shipping expectations? Localized or not, you’ll likely want a warehouse in your cross-border country in order to expedite shipping to those regions. If not, then you’ll need to be very clear about shipping timelines and tax to your international customers, so they don’t get frustrated with unexpectedly long shipping and fulfillment times.
What are the taxes associated with your target regions? what are the costs for shipping cross-border to various regions, and are there tools that can help alleviate this from you or your team and not charge the end customer?
What will customer service look like for international customers? Will you need country-specific customer service resources? Think through language barriers and time zones to help you make this decision.
The way that you communicate with your customers may be the most important part of your journey to international expansion. While a localized approach takes more time, it has proven to be a beneficial approach for many brands.
“Localization is the key to attract and engage new audiences. You should optimize your product content to make it relevant for customers in each of your target countries.” — Shane Barker, Digital Strategist, Brand and Influencer Consultant, Shane Barker Consulting
As more and more consumers start shifting their purchases online, there will be a continuous demand for growing innovation in digital experiences. When it comes to expanding internationally, that same notion applies — but with the added complexities associated with different cultures, spending habits, and buyer expectations.
The decision to localize or single-site is one that will set you on the path to growing international ecommerce success.
Corinne is a writer and researcher at BigCommerce, where she works directly with agency and technology partners to bring their tools, services and ideas to the commerce industry at large. Before BigCommerce, she was an education specialist at Skills Fund, where she built resources and ran trainings to give students access to life-changing skills. Corinne holds degrees in graphic design and psychology. After college, she transitioned into the marketing and research space through a self-taught mindset – and works to bring the value of that skill and mindset to others. When she’s not writing, she’s volunteering with nonprofit organizations, traveling the world, or digging into a new book.