Passport to Selling Internationally Online in 2019

"There comes a time in every ecommerce company's life when it's time to talk about international sales."

That's a line I wrote about three years ago when introducing an article on how to determine whether an organization needs to consider cross-border commerce. While the tips for doing so (included and updated below) remain true, the pressure to sell globally has intensified.

Voice Norge AS, for example, is a leading Norwegian fashion and textile trade company with 11 brands that launched its first of many web stores leveraging Episerver Commerce, with a keen understanding that local consumers bring global expectations. 

“Voice recognizes that our new and future web shops are not compared to local competitors, but rather to the world. While digital commerce affords brands a global audience, it also forces organizations to compete with the best out there. Episerver is helping Voice make our ideas a reality, and we couldn’t be happier with Episerver Commerce as we make our adored brands not just accessible on the web but enjoyable and effortless to shop for as well, proven by our growing percentage of return visitors," said Atle Egenes E-commerce Manager at Voice.no.

Let's address some of the key items that need to be checked off before selling internationally.

Identify Target Markets

There's no sense in taking all the steps to sell to a country where there just isn't demand. Before any decisions are made or actions are taken, site owners should identify target markets by looking at who is already actively engaged with the company, across channels. One way to spot which populations are going to a site is by reviewing audience location reports within a web analytics system. Marketers can filter these reports by the metrics that indicate the greatest demand for their products including new users, average session duration, number of total sessions, pages per sessions, etc.

Retail brands may be surprised by the findings. For instance, the United Kingdom could bring the most sessions outside the U.S., but Spain could have the highest time on site. For simplicity's sake (since the UK and the U.S. share a common first language), the marketer in this case may decide to only sell to the UK and U.S. Before deciding on adding additional countries, however, brands should look at other data sources as well.

As the number one social network in the world, Facebook can be used to evaluate international audiences and their interactions with U.S. companies. By going to Facebook>Insights>People, brands will get an overview of where fans live and the languages they speak (see image). Companies that haven't looked at this data in the past, or even recently, may be surprised yet again by the number of international fans they have and where they are located.

It should be noted, that some countries ban both Facebook and Google for various reasons and have their own popular social networks and search engines, so other data sources will be needed if selling to China, for instance, is a consideration.

From there, brands will need to research a country's revenue potential, audience propensity toward international purchases and even local product laws.

Plan (Legal) Product Use

Once target markets have been selected, brands will need to consider how products will actually work in other countries. Will it need an adapter to charge? If so, will that be included in the price or added on as an upsell? Will it need to connect to Wi-Fi and will that be compatible elsewhere? Similarly, are there any local laws preventing this product from being used in the target market?

For instance, baby walkers are illegal in Canada. Believing they cause developmental delays and injuries, the country banned them. Possession of a baby walker could lead to fines up to $100,000 or six months in jail. Who knew? Anyone selling baby walkers has to.

Investing in product law research in the beginning will save retailers plenty of time and money later.

Set Return Policies

Even with all the work that has gone into localizing a website for global audiences and shipping products around the world, customers may not be satisfied with their order. It's a mistake not to establish a returns protocol and process, according to Charles Dimov, VP of Marketing at OrderDynamics, an Episerver partner

"In retail, returns management is a differentiator for both domestic and global commerce," said Dimov. "Even though no retailer likes returns, it is a part of doing business. If you do it well, it won’t be a return, it can become an exchange…or even a further sales opportunity."

Both Episerver (Reimagining Commerce) and OrderDynamics (The Rise of the Click and Collect Superconsumer) data on the subject proves that nearly half of shoppers deem returns info as a must-have item in order to purchase from a retailer.

Regardless of location, Dimov advises retailers to make their return policy clear, easy and convenient. 

"Shockingly, globally we found that 12.4 percent of retailers still do not provide a clear returns policy online," said Dimov. "These retailers are losing almost half of their sales, just because their customers are not sure about returns policy. This is especially the case, when considering international sales. Consumers often feel apprehensive about buying across borders. They could be subject to tariffs, duties, additional taxes, high shipping fees, and the inconvenience of a return shipping process and charge. So, make sure an unclear returns policy is not among the ambiguities that push customers away.

"On the other hand, a great policy that is clear and makes customers comfortable with their purchase – can make the world of difference. Returns are definitely a differentiator, especially when selling internationally. Smart retailers will make it their advantage!"

Consider Compliance

One major element of selling internationally that has changed in the past few years is that of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As many are aware, it is legislation that requires companies - in the European Union (EU) or not - that process EU resident data to comply to a strict set of rules, such as an individual's right to be forgotten by that company. When choosing a digital commerce platform, select one that supports data privacy processes to avoid hefty fines. Episerver prioritizes the transparency of the data it collects to fuel relevant experiences and has taken many steps to safeguard personal information. Here are a few resources: 

Ready to Go Global?

The above checklist is certainly a good place to start when weighing the benefits and drawbacks of selling internationally online. With so many moving parts, however, there's a lot more to consider including payments, U.S. and international taxes, customer support and translations. For help, check out Episerver's Add-On Store of verified technology partners that can help or book a demo to see Episerver in action for your global enterprise.