5 Core Principles of Launching an International Ecommerce Store

by Timi Garai March 10, 2016
March 10, 2016

You decided to go global with your beloved products. (It’s awesome.)


But you’re suddenly faced with so many unanswered questions: Will I have a good product market-fit? Will my expenses pay off in a foreign country? Have I prepared everything to conduct legal sales?


Asking the right questions is the first step to ensure success when launching an international ecommerce store. To further aid your progress on this journey, I’ve summed up the 5 crucial foundations of launching a successful international ecommerce store for you.


The 5 principles in this post are based on Grow Global‘s best practices, whose master class I attended in London, March 2016. Grow Global is a renowned digital adviser company for internationalization.


Are you ready? Ok, here we go.


#1. Avoid lackluster failures as Wal-Mart in South-Korea

Did you know that Wal-Mart lost 7.4 billion dollars in South-Korea? Wal-Mart failed, because they didn’t adapt their western marketing strategy to the tastes of Korean housewives, the main household consumers in the country. Here are the 3 main mistakes that led to this avoidable result:


– Wal-Mart wanted to sell material goods such as clothes and electronics, but Korean consumer culture favors hypermarkets that sell food and beverages.


– Wal-Mart wanted to sell products by the box, but in Korea, the best-selling products are dressed up in eye-catching displays with locals promoting the products with megaphones or similar ostentatious tactics.


– Wal-Mart didn’t make an effort to participate in the local competition. Even when they started falling behind others, they didn’t change their strategy.


So what’s the takeaway?


Learn everything about your target country’s consumer culture and shape your marketing and sales strategy accordingly.


Here is a basic must-know list, including tips from Wal-Mart’s and Grow Global’s examples. If you want to sell to a foreign audience these are the things you absolutely need to learn about:



– shopping habits of local customers
– local competitors
– how your sector works in the target country
– the preferences of local shoppers:


– devices (e.g. desktop, mobile)
– channels (e.g. online, offline, social)
– payment options (e.g. bank transfer, prepay, e-wallet, cash on delivery)
– delivery methods (e.g. DHL, UPS, FedEx, DPD)


It’s worth your while to investigate how local shoppers use their mobile devices, as 0.75 billion people globally are m-commerce buyers. (Source: Internet Live Stats via Grow Global) Besides a mobile responsive design, supporting mobile checkout options also counts here.


02_tesco-virtual-store-korea-best-localization

Compared to Wal-Mart, Tesco is the un-crowned king of localization. They succeeded in South-Korea by allowing customers to use QR codes to order online with mobiles devices. (Image source: Shopping Cart and Shopper)


#2. Ensure that your ecommerce system can adapt to an international market

You can save yourself the technical hassle of internationalization, if you have the right ecommerce system for it. According to Sarah Caroll, founder of Grow Global, Magento is the perfect choice for going global, for the following reasons:



– it supports multilingual product details
– it’s capable of showing multiple currencies
– it provides seamless stock management
– it integrates easily with third party tools.


What about the most popular ecommerce platform Shopify?


According to Sarah, the main problem with Shopify is that it does not support localized language and content by default. You should create different stores for each of the languages that you want to target. But there is a workaround for it: plugins like Langify helps you to overcome this struggle. It allows you to translate any content on your Shopify store, use multiple domains for different languages, and it offers an automatic language detection besides many others.


Of course changing an ecommerce system is a big step, and Magento can feel too robust for some.


But for those who don’t want to take the leap to Magento yet, it’s not the only way to get sales started. Here are some alternative marketplaces to sell your products:



E-marketplaces: Amazon, ebay, Alibaba and Snapdeal are among the most popular online marketplaces to try.


Social media marketplaces: Social shopping is the easiest to introduce, and what’s more, it’s becoming increasingly popular with potential.buyers. The data speaks for itself: “Pinterest has the highest average order value (AOV) of $ 179.36 compared to Facebook ($ 80.22) and Twitter ($ 68.78).” (Source: Social Media Today)


If you’re not using Magento or Shopify, and you’re not interested in the mentioned marketplace alternatives, plugins can be a great final solution. For example, WooCommerce for WordPress and Drupal Commerce are flexible and functional options.


03_presta-shop-multicurrency-fashion

PrestaShop is another great ecommerce platform alternative to Magento to build an international store. They support multilingual currency and content, too. (Image Source: LeoThemes for PrestaShop)


#3. Take every measure to reduce cart abandonment

Even the most popular payment systems can make customers leave, so be cautious. For example, our platform at Antavo integrates with PayPal, so users can checkout via all of the PayPal supported payment methods.


But we experienced many unexpected headaches:



Long validating hours: PayPal needs 6 hours to validate a transaction. While the customer sees that he paid successfully, PayPal can still unexpectedly cancel the order within the next 6 hours.


Timezone problems: If it’s March 2nd in our customer’s country, and March 3rd at Antavo’s HQ, then PayPal rejects the checkout attempt because we are “not on the same day”.


Unsupported countries: PayPal is not available everywhere. For example, our customers from Nigeria are unable to pay with Paypal.


See? No matter how stable or supported a tool is, unforeseen, nonsense problems can and will arise.


In 2015 the average cart abandonment rate was 68.63% globally, partly thanks to such technical issues. (Source: baymard.com) So an important step here is to have a stable payment solution that works in your target countries.


Here are some suggested options you can consider using:



Payment systems e.g. PayPal, Amazon Payments, Master Card, Visa, American Express


Payment gateaways e.g. AliPay, ProPay, Carte Bleue, MercadoPago, 2Checkout


Payment aggregators e.g. Stripe, Braintree, BlueSnap, Borderfree, Global-e


Payment isn’t the only factor that leads to cart abandonment. Learn more about these issues in our infographic or from Hazel Bolton‘s post, who detailed the 5 best steps to optimize your checkout form.


04_tokyo-otaku-mode-payment-options

Display all the available payment options in your international ecommerce store to help customers choose the best checkout option. (Image source: Tokyo Otaku Mode)


#4. Localize your content, marketing and sales strategy – when the time is right!

Back in 2013 and ’14, Antavo’s sites and platform were running on multiple languages. Now we know that our product was not yet ready for it (it was a typical case of premature scaling). As always, with every mistake there are important learnings, and we gained valuable experience about localization.



Using the help of country managers: Partnering up with local companies to sell products seems to be the best way to convert customers. BUT! We just couldn’t do it right.


– We couldn’t find the right people for sales and marketing.
– Our margins in the targeted countries were very thin.
– We failed to motivate the local teams to work enthusiastically with us.


Using our customers’ languages: It was time-consuming to translate our platform and website to 4 different languages when we didn’t even have the right product-market fit.


(Learn more about our past failures and learnings in this blog post.)


Here is a quick localization checklist, AFTER you have found product-market fit:



Local language: Translate all product details, checkout forms, terms, privacy/cookie policy, and website content.


Local currency & payment methods: Increase trust by showing customers your prices in local currencies.


Local delivery methods: Enhance your credibility, by letting customers see services that they are already familiar with.


Local laws: Adapt your terms, privacy/cookie policy, guarantees, and return policy to your targeted country’s rules.


Local tone: Find a common language with your customers that will attract them and build trust.


Local contact details & support: Maximize your credibility by providing local support. You can achieve this by setting up local phone numbers and providing customer support in their languages.


05_pepe-jeans

Pepe Jeans got localization right. They let you choose your shipping country and currency, and also automatically display their site in your language.


#5. Adapt your marketing strategy to the local customs and environment

Wal-Mart stands as a learning example here. Remember, my first point based on their South-Korean failure? They failed because they didn’t shifted from their western marketing strategy to local norms.


Here are Grow Global’s top recommendations for international ecommerce marketing:



Keyword analyses: As marketers, we all know how important this step is – especially, when we are about to launch Google Ads. We should know which keywords local shoppers use for searching for similar (or the same) products as ours.


Localize content: I can’t stress this enough. Creating posts, product videos, and product details in your target audience’s language is a must. As an added plus, include images that reflect the local culture.


Launch campaigns: Facebook ads, Google ads, and working with local industry influencers (bloggers or vloggers) are all necessary tools to have in your marketing arsenal.


Hire a copywriter: It’s not enough to simply translate your original website copy or product details. You should write original copy that reflects local preferences. This greatly supports credibility and conversion rates.


Work with local language speakers: Your sales and support should be able to communicate in your customers’ local languages. From Wal-Mart’s example we saw, that in South-Korea people like representatives who promote products through megaphones. You would never expect that with a western mindset.


What works in one country will not necessarily work in another, so modify your marketing strategy accordingly. The goal is to succeed in your chosen countries, not just to appear there.


06_samsung-marketing-localization

A great example of a successful localized marketing strategy is Samsung in France. They launched a campaign in which they displayed famous French art on their 3D TV sets. They received 600.000 visitors during the first month of the exhibition.


Just remember, it’s not rocket science

I listed many points above that you should pay attention to, and at first glance, going global can certainly be intimidating. But don’t worry; it’s nothing you haven’t done before. We know this, because you’ve already done it in your local market!


At the end of the day, ecommerce globalization consists of basically 3 steps.



1. Researching the foreign market.


2. Adjusting sales and marketing.


3. Taking care of the technical details.


Finally, going global opens up huge potential opportunities for your ecommerce store. So if you’re ready, I can’t encourage you enough to go ahead with it. I’m rooting for you from the blogosphere!


07_ecommerce-master-class-eventbrite-growglobal

On March 3rd, 2016 I attended a masterclass on E-commerce for International Trade.


Now it’s your turn

What experiences have you gained so far by selling your products globally? Did you miss something from your international strategy that we included here? Is there anything you would add from your own experience?


Just reply in the comment section or contact me at timi[at]antavo[dot]com. I would love to help and talk about your experiences!

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