E-commerce is growing rapidly. In 2017, an estimated $455 billion was spent domestically for American online retailers, and growth in this field continues to be strong. Yet for those who really want to see increases in their online sales, breaking into international markets is where this growth can really take off.
Cross border commerce expands an online retailer’s addressable market tremendously. In fact, just by reaching into Canada, retailers can significantly expand their customer base. In a recent survey, 84 percent of Canadians indicated they shopped online with US-based retailers. By the end of 2018, sales from Canada are estimated to reach $43 billion.
Yet reaching international markets is not without its challenges. In fact, the hurdles that businesses must overcome often limit their willingness or ability to enter the international market. Here is a closer look at the common challenges modern businesses face when starting to sell cross border, and some solutions to help overcome them.
Every single country has its own regulations for importing and exporting products. This can range from standards for the quality of goods sold to citizens of a particular country, to regulations for quantity of product that can be imported. Failing to adhere to international regulations can land your e-commerce business in serious legal trouble.
The only solution to this problem is ensuring that you properly research the trade regulations of the different countries you target. Working with legal experts who know these regulations well, at least through consultation, will ensure that you are not making a costly mistake.
- Increased Shipping Costs
It costs more to ship internationally than it does to ship locally. Unfortunately, all too often online shoppers are looking for a better deal, not necessarily a better-quality product. When shipping costs are passed on to the consumer, either through high shipping charges or through higher product prices, the shopper may choose to shop locally to get a better price.
One way to overcome this is by ensuring that your product is a quality one that people would be willing to pay a premium price to receive. Educate yourself on the available and most affordable international shipping options as you craft your shipping strategy. In some cases you may decide to absorb the cost of shipping into your margins so that your shipping rates and product prices are more competitive with that of domestic retailers. In other cases you might decide to offer a cost-friendly international shipping rate that customers would be willing to pay, as long as you clearly communicate the longer estimated delivery time. Once you decide what works for your business, remember to offer your customers options according to cost and delivery time so that they can choose what fits their needs.
- The Challenge of Returns
Taking returns when shipping internationally is not easy, yet customers need clear and fair return procedures if they are going to trust your company for their next purchase.
Before launching your e-commerce site internationally, determine what would be a fair return policy. Make it clear on the website, then have backend procedures in place that ensure customers get their money quickly in the event of a return or exchange. When customers can trust you to handle returns well, they will be more likely to buy with you in the future.
- Localized Customer Experience
When customers from an international market land on your website, does it feel local to that market, or is it obvious they’re shopping internationally? There are several factors to consider here. If there are language barriers on your website and checkout flow, then international customers may struggle to complete their purchase. Beyond language, localizing an e-commerce site also means displaying prices in the local currency and providing local payment methods at checkout. Also, providing address forms that accommodate local shipping address formats is key. Address formats vary by country and providing a localized input form will give the customer confidence that the e-commerce business can fulfill the order, while also helping to ease the fulfillment process on the merchant’s side by ensuring shipping information is captured and formatted correctly for shipping.
- Increasing Brand Awareness
A popular brand in the United States may be unknown in an international market. In order to build an international customer base, you must do some basic level of marketing and brand awareness. Even if your e-commerce site is localized and provides a top-notch global experience for international shoppers, that isn’t enough to drive global growth. Learning what works for marketing in a new global market, and then working those channels diligently, will help create demand for a product when launching an international e-commerce business.
Branching into international markets is a smart move for e-commerce businesses with global aspirations. By overcoming these hurdles, your business can reach a larger untapped market and grow business on a global scale.