International eCommerce Platform – How to Expand Internationally & Platform Selection
May 7, 2019
Online retailers based in the most established eCommerce territories – the US, UK, Germany, and France for instance – have a natural share of these extremely lucrative markets. However, these countries are also the most saturated, with various local and overseas competitors wanting a piece of the pie. So, the potential for growth here is limited.
Thus, one of the greatest opportunities for small-medium eCommerce businesses is internationalisation. And this is still a relatively untapped opportunity. With the status, infrastructure, and budgets that retailers in these established markets have, many are in an excellent position to explore international sales as part of their eCommerce strategy.
But expanding internationally in eCommerce can be daunting. Which countries do you target, and how many do you start with? How will your orders be fulfilled and distributed? Will you be online only, or open retail stores? Does your current eCommerce technology support international expansion?
Consumer research, marketing strategies, human resources, real estate, legal issues, financial and currency considerations, and distribution processes are all vital considerations.
In addition, the digital solutions that support international growth cannot be ignored. Businesses must invest in eCommerce technology that is robust, versatile, and scalable to support overseas expansion.
Choosing the right eCommerce platform is a vital ingredient. Brands must determine whether their platform can adequately support international expansion. Here are a few things to consider.
Capacity to support multiple sites
A single eCommerce platform that can be leveraged as a base for multiple sites is a vital requirement. Running multiple sites from one instance is far more efficient and sustainable than trying to manage multiple platforms, catalogs, and databases.
The platform should enable a modular front-end, so UX design, content, and backend data and systems integration can sync easily across all sites. This way, different language versions, campaigns and other localised alterations can be easily rolled out, without a full site build. Athleisure brand Champion is a great example.
The product catalogue and inventory form the cornerstone of the online store. The platform should be agile and easy to update with inventory information and new products. It should also have the front-end capabilities for specific applications. For example, fashion and apparel brands should have a product catalogue that allows customers to select certain sizes or colours of products.
And these should be easy to customise for specific territories. For fashion brands, the winter clothing that sells strongly in Scandinavian countries probably isn’t worth listing for customers in Southern Europe.
In terms of inventory, stock levels may differ from territory to territory, if local warehousing is used. So, the platform should enable stock visibility, or create buying urgency with actual inventory volumes – ‘3 left in your size, buy now!’. Product cross-linking and creating bundles may also be means of driving further sales.
Product catalogues and payment in local currency are now widely expected by online consumers, so the platform should automatically display local currencies. Also, prices of products may differ from country to country. And retailers will likely want to run different promotions, sales and discounts, in each of their territories, targeted around certain holidays, celebrations, and trends that differ by country. These are further reasons to invest in a versatile platform that can support multiple sites.
Payment methods vary hugely between different countries. For example, iDEAL is used by over 60% of Dutch customers to pay for products online. PostFinance is similarly popular in Switzerland. It’s barely worth entering these markets without an eCommerce platform that supports these payment methods.
Having multiple payment options which include PayPal, credit card, and debit card is proven to increase conversion. These, plus the additions of local payment gateways, will help gain the trust and custom of local markets.
Global eCommerce businesses must meet the various tax laws of different countries. Failure to comply can be very costly. Some enterprise integrations can enable automatic tax calculation.
As part of your research into consumer behaviour in your target market, you should understand through which devices people are buying. The chances are, you’ll need a platform that allows you to build your localised sites mobile-first, for a frictionless mobile purchasing experience. SAP recently launched SAP Upscale Commerce (currently on available in the US but soon to be available in Europe), which is a rapid deploy solution for mobile first commerce. Shopify is also known for its user-friendly mobile eCommerce solutions.
Fulfilment and delivery
Thanks to the likes of Amazon prime, delivery expectations have dramatically increased. Expectations may differ by territory, and different sites may need to integrate with different warehouses, or distribution and logistics companies. The platform should have the ability to integrate with other systems to enable automated order processing for each territory, displaying zone-based shipping rules to the customer’s front end. Most major platforms have out-of-the-box offerings that have built-in integrations, or possibilities to integrate with OMS, CRM, ERP, PIM and POS systems.
Analysing eCommerce performance is vital, particularly when first expanding into a new territory. Most eCommerce platforms have their own analytics solution, so you can gain insight on key metrics such as conversion rates, average order values, cart abandonments, and return on ad spend. This data needs to be easy to segregate and export by territory.
Google Shopping integration
Google Merchant allows businesses to upload store and product data so it can be displayed in the relevant Google Shopping results. So, users in specific countries will see shopping ads on Google in their language and currency. This is a proven way of driving traffic and reaching customers beyond the borders of a brand’s website. The eCommerce platform needs to integrate with Google Merchant Centre to submit products, with respective languages, pricing, and shipping information.
Social media provides another channel to extend a brand’s reach beyond its site. And some eCommerce channels have plugins that support these integrations better than others. For example, Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce are known to offer products that integrate well with Instagram and Facebook. Shopify has also recently struck a partnership with Snapchat which will allow merchants to create and manage Snapchat Ads directly from their eCommerce platform.
Retailers need to consider the usage of social media channels in each target market and ensure their eCommerce platform integrates with the relevant channels.
The platform should offer a built-in customer review option, or third-party integrations that allow for customer reviews. Reviews are known to greatly impact conversion rates, with one study revealing that positive reviews increase trust for 72 percent of consumers. This could be particularly vital when targeting new territories, as reviews in a customer’s own language from a fellow customer in their country, is likely to be more persuasive.
Elliott Jacobs, Director of Commerce Consulting at LiveArea EMEA
Elliott is an experienced global commerce and multi-channel retail professional, specialising in helping B2C and B2B companies achieve measurable success by reviewing current strategies and processes, and identifying and capitalising upon international eCommerce opportunities.