In a time of incredible global connectivity & International Sales, why wouldn’t an ambitious business owner want to take their company to the international stage? More markets means more partnership options, more supply opportunities, more revenue, and more brand recognition. Sure, that kind of expansion takes work, but the operational efficiency of modern ecommerce makes things much easier.
You’ve likely heard this expression before: “can’t see the wood for the trees”. It refers to someone who looks so intently at the details that they can’t see the big picture, which typically leads to big mistakes. But we need an opposite expression to refer to someone who thinks only of the big picture, ignoring the details. Perhaps “can’t see the trees for the wood” can work.
This is because it’s easy to get so caught up in the dream of being a worldwide sales sensation that you overlook just how hard it is to succeed in unfamiliar markets. You don’t conquer the global market in one fell swoop — you tackle one region at a time, and for that you need regional knowledge. Why? Allow me to explain, and offer you some tips:
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You must know your audience
If you’ve grown your business enough that international expansion is a realistic possibility, then you must already know the importance of understanding your audience — and this problem only gets harder when you start operating in new countries. Even if there’s a shared language and culture, the shopper preferences will inevitably be different from those you’re used to.
Just think about all the ingredients that affect consumer habits. TV shows, sporting events, food habits, local industry, national celebrities, political parties, and particularly daily motivators such as the weather. For instance, it isn’t enough to reason that you can sell a lot of electric fans in a hot area, because people may simply be used to the heat. You need to do your research.
Regional mistakes can be costly
I mentioned the prospect of shared language, but even then there will be major differences at the dialect level: unshared slang terms with the potential to prove significant. This ties into matters of cultural identity. You can mean well, and get your language technically correct, but it can still have connotations that hugely hurt your brand reputation.
Indeed, cultural sensitivity is a massive concern, as can be gleaned from the more dramatic historical failures such as these: and then there are these failures that are utterly comical, such as the American Dairy Association turning “Got Milk?” to “Are You Lactating?” in Spanish. If you don’t guard against such basic errors, you can end up making your brand an embarrassment.
Your regional selling checklist
All that established, let’s say you’re eager to start selling internationally: your ecommerce business is doing well, and it’s time to see how far you can take it. That’s good, but how do you manage it? You’ll need to figure out shipping and fulfillment, of course, though you can have a dedicated service handle it for you — but then there’s the matter of knowing your targeted regions. Here’s a checklist to help you ensure you have what you need:
- High-quality translation. You need your website to be fully translated and viable for the region. Don’t settle for automated translation, because it won’t come close to the quality you need — hire professional translators.
- Localized performance. That means using a good CDN, or even using local hosting. If you use a host-agnostic platform to maintain your site, you can take a multi-cloud approach and have different versions running in different regions.
- Custom pricing. Don’t just convert your prices using the exchange rate and account for your raised costs. Depending on what other retailers charge, you may be able to raise prices on some products, even as you cut prices on others.
- A regional advisor. To learn all that you need to know, you must have support from someone with an expert understanding of the region. The easiest way may be to consult a company that specializes in helping foreign businesses enter the market. Alternatively, you can hire someone in your desired area. Using an EOR (employer of record) service, it’s relatively simple to hire and pay remote workers from overseas. They’ll take care of all the administrative work associated with hiring and managing your recruits, allowing you to focus on the expansion of your business.
- Dedicated support. If you’re using chatbots and other automation tools to save time, that’s fine, but ensure that your entire support structure is localized — complete with escalation options. If one of your international customers is unhappy with their order, for instance, they should be able to speak to someone who can actually understand them.
Wrapping up, regional knowledge is absolutely mission-critical if you want to be as successful internationally as you were before the expansion. Don’t think of the global market as a single entity. Treat each new region as a fresh challenge, and overcome it.