The World Is Your Oyster — Are You Reaching It?
The World Is Your Oyster -- Are You Reaching It?
One of the greatest advantages of e-commerce is that physical location is completely irrelevant when it comes to shopping. The only technical barrier to obtaining web visitors (from anywhere in the world) is their ability to find your store online. Though many retailers have used this advantage to expand their businesses across the United States, it is much less common to find those who have been able to mimic that success globally.
The reason for that can be found in barriers that are correlated with geography. Even though there is no technical reason a shopper in Japan with an internet connection couldn’t access a U.S. e-commerce site, it wouldn’t do her much good if she doesn’t speak English or accept Yen. Roadblocks like this keep many e-commerce sites from penetrating outside U.S. and North American borders, but should they be suppressing reach like this?
If you sell a product that could find a viability in international markets, it’s worth exploring how to overcome these barriers. With a little research and work, it may not be as difficult as you think. And since the global e-commerce market is expanding, with the Chinese market now worth more than the U.S., establishing overseas market share now could pay dividends well into the future.
These are the biggest barriers to overseas expansion to e-commerce and what you can do about them:
- Language. The most obvious difficulty in reaching international markets is communicating with them effectively. There are many free translation services available, but these rely on machine translation and are far from perfect. This imperfection introduces enough ambiguity to make automated translation ineffective in reaching native speakers, just as you can easily tell when something is translated poorly into English.
It is much better to use a professional translating service where context is preserved. If you have many pages and translating them all is cost prohibitive, you can start by translating static content first. Think about setting sales thresholds on individual product pages and translating the most popular ones first.
- Currency exchange. Shoppers hate having to calculate exchange rates. It is important to display prices to every consumer who visits your site in the currency that they use. The most reliable way to do this is to partner with a company that specializes in global electronic business; that way, you know that the exchange rates are always up to date.
Many of these companies will bill customers in their local currencies and automatically convert the transaction into dollars for you so the exchange is seamless on your end and you do not have to deal with foreign exchange management. This makes accounting and reporting much easier on the back-end and opens your offerings to a truly global market. Once you have engaged with a currency exchange partner, you are typically able to accept every major currency from around the world.
- International fulfillment. There are many choices for international shipping companies, and it may make sense to use several of them. Look for partners that have expertise in the regions you are shipping to in order to avoid costly issues with customs. A simple, but effective, test is to look for companies that have physical offices in the destinations they serve.
It is also wise to invest in international address verification to avoid having to pay delivery both ways on undeliverable packages. Make sure that each label prints out legibly and that your packaging materials comply with the guidelines of the country you are shipping to.
Selling to international markets definitely brings a set of additional considerations and costs, but they are often offset by the increased revenues that can be realized from expanding your customer base. Whether you target native populations or expatriates living overseas, consider what going global could do for your bottom line.