Ready for international expansion? Here’s how to succeed

Get more digital commerce tips

Tactics to help you streamline and grow your business.

Expanding your business internationally is a momentous step. Before you can tackle new overseas markets, however, it is important to assess your current business model – including operations and infrastructure – to ensure you have the scalability for global growth.

This insights in this article will help you to:

  • Research and identify target markets
  • Consider your legal and regulatory obligations
  • Localize your ecommerce offering
  • Tackle international shipping and logistics challenges
  • Leverage online marketplaces
  • And learn from successful global brands

Market research and selection for international expansion

Thorough market research is essential if your business is to successfully expand across borders. 

How to identify potential markets

 Here are six top tips to ensure your market research generates powerful insights:

  1. Research your target customers: This can include primary sources of information, such as focus groups, questionnaires, and surveys, as well as secondary sources of customer insight, such as studies conducted by analysts, market research firms and even governments.
  2. Create customer personas: Once you have researched your target customers it is possible to create detailed personas for each key customer type. Companies that do this have been shown to be 71% more likely to exceed their initial revenue targets.
  3. Research your competitors: Fast-track your market research by keeping a close eye on the competition. What markets are they targeting? How successful have they been? What steps have they taken to achieve success? 
  4. Pinpoint products with the greatest growth potential: ecommerce product research tools can provide powerful insight into which products are selling well, based on current best seller data from marketplaces such as Amazon.
  1. Don’t stop! Market research and selection is not a ‘one-and-done’ exercise. Successful firms will continuously gather and analyse data, using the insights generated to refine their global expansion strategies on an on-going basis. 

How to navigate the cultural nuances of your target market

How well does your value proposition translate across international borders? 

Did you know that when KFC initially expanded into the Chinese market its slogan “Finger-licking good” was translated to “Eat your fingers off”?

Meanwhile, Pepsi’s tagline “Come alive with Pepsi” was translated to “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”? 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking all markets are essentially the same. Aside from language, shopping habits, customer behavior and peak trading periods vary considerably from country to country. Certain products may also be less well known, frowned upon or even illegal for a whole range of cultural, religious or legal reasons. The key take-home here is that careful consideration of cultural nuances within your target market can avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes.

Make sure you comply with local laws and regulations 

International expansion gives you access to a whole world of exciting new markets, but it also exposes your business to new levels of compliance complexity. That’s because you’re no longer dealing with just one country’s legal and regulatory landscape, but many. 

Here are seven key ways to remain compliant as you expand your business globally.

Update your terms and conditions

Your terms and conditions are an essential document that tells your customers how your business operates and their rights and obligations in certain circumstances. When you’re expanding your business internationally it is essential you update your Ts & Cs so they cover every aspect of international sales in order to avoid legal disputes.

Ensure your firm is data privacy and protection compliant:

The data laws and regulations vary considerably from country to country. Ensure you understand how they differ in your target markets and adjust your internal policies to achieve compliance. 

Comply with consumer protection laws

The same rule applies to consumer protection laws across your target markets.

Obtain the necessary permits and licenses

Depending on where your business is based and which countries you sell into, you may need documentation such as sales permits and export licenses. This requirement will increase if you start to build a physical presence in a country, such as setting up an office or fulfillment center.

Protect your intellectual property (IP)

Your brand and product IP are at the core of what makes your company special. You can only protect your IP if you fully understand and comply with the local IP laws in your target markets. 

Transportation and shipping

Fast and efficient delivery is a critical step towards expanding your business internationally. To win customers, earn top reviews, and secure repeat sales you need to build partnerships with expert delivery firms in your target market and integrate their services into your ecommerce platform.

It’s so easy to overlook shipping taxes, customs duties and the impact of cross-border currency conversions. But all of these so-called “hidden costs” need to be paid and budgeted for if your international expansion is to remain profitable.

How to localize your ecommerce offering

Each of the markets you target during your international expansion are unique, and so your ecommerce offering should be individually tailored for each country. 

How to localize your website and content – “Dos and Don’ts”

Do be careful translating your website

Resist the urge to cut-and-paste your website into an online translation tool. Native speakers may be more expensive, but they can ensure your website content is culturally sensitive, grammatically correct and uses your brand’s unique tone of voice. Local phrases and even slang are great at communicating authenticity. Also bear in mind that many markets feature multiple languages, so you’ll need to determine the best language to use for your target customers.

Don’t mix languages

Ensure you only use one language per website page and only link to pages using that same language. This will avoid customer confusion and it will help search engines index your content correctly.

Do keep an eye on the competition

Competitor research will give you some great tips on how to localize website content, including product listings.

Don’t mix country offerings 

It’s best to have one single website domain with individual pages for each of your target markets to maximize SEO ranking.

Do consider using a content delivery network (CDN)

CDNs are a series of servers situated in different locations. They are especially useful if you are tailoring ecommerce assets for different markets – for example region-specific HTML pages, JavaScript files, stylesheets, images and videos.

Don’t redirect your customers to region specific web pages based on IP address or cookies

This method is often inaccurate and can confuse customers. A better approach is to use the language preference settings of the user’s browser. However, sending customers a pop-up message asking them to select their preferred language tends to be fool proof!

Do encourage local customer feedback 

Great reviews from people within your target markets will go a long way towards increasing the credibility and trustworthiness of your brand.

Take these five steps to streamline local payment methods and currency conversion

Unnecessary friction caused by payment processes is a major cause of cart abandonment, no matter where you’re doing business. With international orders, however, the complexity increases dramatically. These five steps will help you deliver slick payment experiences:

  1. Sign up to a payment gateway: Firms such as Amazon Pay, Alipay, PayPal and Stripe not only handle international payments securely, they also make great efforts to be user friendly. 
  2. Provide a careful selection of payment options: Find out how consumers prefer to pay online in your target market. This is likely to include debit and credit cards, bank transfers and payment gateways. There are also country-specific payment solutions such as BLIK (a mobile payment method specific to Poland), EPS (an Austrian transfer system) and a Dutch digital wallet called iDEAL.
  3. Factor in currency conversions: This is key to achieving an effective pricing strategy within your target markets. Don’t forget that currency rates fluctuate daily – sometimes quite dramatically – and currency conversion fees are charged by gateways, banks and other financial institutions.
  4. Consider dynamic currency conversion (DCC): This service uses real-time exchange rates to allow consumers to pay overseas ecommerce businesses in their native currency. 
  5. Don’t forget international transaction fees: Banks and payment gateways charge for accepting international payments. Limit your exposure by comparing providers and negotiating preferential rates. 

The importance of providing local customer support

Let’s face it, by the time most people contact customer support they’re already likely to be stressed. Maybe an order has gone wrong, perhaps they can’t find a product, or a payment hasn’t gone through properly.

By this stage customer support may be your last roll of the dice before an angry customer leaves a negative review. That’s why local customer support agents can be so effective.

Living in the same time zone, fluent in the local language and customs, empathetic and keyed into regional customer behavior and expectations, in-country customer support is significantly more likely to deliver on shopper expectations. 

Establishing an international shipping and logistics network

International shipping can seem like a logistical nightmare for the uninitiated, but have no fear there are readily available shipping management systems out there that can help your deliveries run like a dream.

When searching for your ideal shipping management systems be sure to choose a partner that can:

  • Calculate the most effective cross-border shipping service based on price, the nature of the order and customer expectations.
  • Integrate seamlessly with shipping carriers such as UPS, FedEx and DHL. 
  • Automate order routing. This includes generating international shipping labels and providing customers with all-important order tracking information. 
  • Ensure exports comply with international laws and regulations, for example by monitoring and overseeing customs declarations, fees and payments.
  • Validate international addresses to ensure every order is dispatched to the correct location.

The best shipping management system can streamline the delivery and logistics challenges associated with global expansion making your operation more efficient, cost effective and customer focused.

Leveraging online marketplaces can be a powerful solution

Many businesses decide to harness the powerful tools developed by marketplaces to aid their international expansion. 

Trading overseas through a marketplace is not free (commission rates can range from around 5% to 10), but platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy already have a well-established customer base in multiple countries, deliver a slick customer experience and provide key customer data. Here are some lesser-known marketplaces which are helping SMB ecommerce firms to expand internationally: 

  • Fruugo enables companies to sell to customers across the world using the customer’s language and currency. It also facilitates recognised payment methods without needing to calculate exchange rates and shipping costs.
  • Fashion marketplace Zalando is present in 15 European countries. Its sellers benefit from diverse payment options, personalized customer experiences, and access to new and emerging trends such as metaverse and live streaming.
  • French marketplace Cdiscount operates in nine European countries. It can also help sellers reach other European platforms via the International Marketplace Network. Cdiscount sellers also benefit from a wide range of partnerships including customer service providers, returns processing, foreign exchange and translation.

Top tips from ecommerce firms that have already gone global

San Francisco-based footwear firm Allbirds pivoted from local ecommerce firm to international phenomenon thanks to a carefully considered series of strategic steps. Allbirds now sells in 40 countries. It achieved its global growth transition by:

  • Launching localized websites in each target market. Its websites are in a total of nine different languages.
  • Sticking with its direct-to-consumer model as it grew
  • Building a rich partnership network, including in-country ecommerce partners for hard-to-crack markets like China.

ASOS is another international expansion success story. The UK online fashion retailer, which turned over £3.5bn in 2023, achieve its transition by: 

  • Establishing a worldwide delivery and returns service
  • Setting up localized websites for each target market
  • Offering prices in local currencies
  • Tailoring product offerings to local tastes and seasons
  • Launching a customer service chatbot fluent in multiple languages. 

Final thoughts

Launching your ecommerce brand into new and exciting international markets may seem like a daunting challenge, but with the right preparation profitable international expansion is possible.

The key is to ensure that you can seamlessly scale mission-critical business operations and infrastructure without dramatically increasing complexity, workload, cost or errors.

Customers in every market may have their own unique needs and behaviors, which should be reflected in your offering. But they also have shared expectations around excellence in areas such as shipping, payments, friction-free experiences and customer service. 

Investing in the tools offered by a dedicated ecommerce platform like Linnworks is the best way to prime your business for international expansion. 

To learn more about how Linnworks can help you break into exciting new overseas markets, book a live demo. Good luck with your global expansion!

Ready to see Linnworks in action?

  • Unrivaled ecommerce data accuracy
  • 100+ integrations with global sales channels
  • Up and running in 40 days on average