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Expanding Your Store Internationally

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Your business has been playing to hometown crowds and getting great reviews. Now you’re looking to expand your repertoire by hitting the international stage.

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COVID-19 sparked a huge increase in consumers purchasing from brands based outside their home country. Between 80 and 90 percent of shoppers worldwide bought from an international seller in the past year.

And the global eCommerce market is expected to total $4.89 trillion in 2021. Who wouldn’t want to tap into that?

But international audiences can be a tough crowd.

Are you ready to take your show on the road?

Going Borderless

Running and growing a business is tough. When you’re doing it internationally, the challenges increase exponentially - augmented by factors like language, distance, cultural norms, and legal systems.

You’ll be looking at high marketing and shipping costs, and you’ll face logistical challenges like customs and long-distance return issues.

So be realistic in assessing what it’ll take to meet your business objectives. Play it safe with conservative expectations: give yourself a generous timeline, and keep your short-term forecast modest.

Questions to consider:

  • Is there a need for your product within your target area?
  • Are shoppers in that area likely to buy from you?
  • Do you have a firm grasp of your target area’s unique consumption patterns, marketing practices, and business laws?
  • Can you put enough boots on the ground to ensure a smooth operation?
  • Will international expansion genuinely benefit your business – or will it detract from your core operations at home?

If you answer “yes” to all the above – pack your bags.

Hit The Road

But first, do your homework.

Use tools like Google Analytics’ location report to see if you’re on the right track. Scrutinize international traffic by continent, country, region, or city.

Test the waters in potential markets by prioritizing your online advertising or social media presence abroad. Invest in a social media management tool to promote your online presence in other countries – even if all you’re doing is tracking engagement. It’s a great way to assess whether your business is likely to flop or fly.

If you conclude that you’ve got a solid product-market fit, get down to the nuts and bolts. You’ll need to define:

  1. Market segment.
  2. Geographic boundaries.
  3. Local competition.
  4. Market’s monetary size.
  5. Realistic market share.
  6. Average annual consumption.
  7. Estimated average selling price.

Research your potential customer base and the current market conditions in which you’ll be operating. Use that information to develop your go-to-market (GTM) strategy, a comprehensive action plan outlining specific steps you’ll take to win customers in your new market.

You’ve got three GTM options:

  • Partner with local vendors, and connect with supply chain companies in the destination country so that you can handle returns at a lower cost.
  • Build an on-the-ground team that can cover marketing, logistics, sales, customer support, engineering, etc.
  • Establish an online presence through third-party marketplaces or a branded eCommerce site, which offers more data and better customer connections.

Going The Distance

If you go international, your time will be at a premium. You can’t clone yourself, but you can take steps to ensure operations stay smooth both at home and abroad. Use automation tools to automate manual tasks, analyze data, find new opportunities to optimize, and send alerts when you’re needed. This lets you stay focused on scaling your business.

Effective and timely consumer contact is important for any type of business. For international marketers, it’s crucial. But it’s tricky, given that international customers live in different time zones.

Send the right message at the right time by segmenting your audience and sending emails or posting on social media at specific times of the day based on geographic location. You want your potential customers to keep your business top of mind – so use email sequencing to connect with potential customers at different stages as they move through the sales funnel.

Once those browsers become buyers, you want to give them a smooth finish. Connect with parcel-forwarding companies that allow customers to buy from online retailers that don’t ship internationally. From a buyer’s perspective, they pay a nominal fee based on the volumetric weight. However, the additional costs are more than made up by the ease of getting products delivered in their home country.

Location, Location, Location

Learn about your target audience’s community and interests – and meet them there.

  • Shoppers are naturally drawn to marketplaces where they can have a comfortable, familiar shopping experience – so prioritize localized features, including currencies and payment options.
  • Get advice from your local employees to help refine your marketing strategies and gain insight into cultural differences that will inform how you approach the market - and through which medium.
  • Zero in on potential customers both geographically and psychologically. If you run a store in India, for example, expand to migration hubs like Canada, the U.S., or Australia. You’ll have a ready-made audience. Target special interests: if you’re a sporting store - then expand to countries where a particular sport is popular.
  • If you already have a strong organic presence in your domestic market, then consider moving your paid acquisition efforts to the international market, since you don’t (yet) have an organic presence there.
  • Familiarize yourself with compliance and regulatory issues in your new market. Learn about business regulations and packaging standards. Hire a local tax consultant to help you with tax-related matters
  • Be sure that Google can “find” you in the local language. You won’t get traction if you don’t show up in searches, so choose appropriate HREflang tags and URLs to get noticed.

When you get noticed in the highly competitive international market, you know you’re on the right track. Cross-border scaling definitely has its challenges -  but they’re outweighed by the potential rewards.

An effective borderless business strategy introduces you to a new audience that can grow your business in ways that wouldn’t be possible if you just played to the home crowd.

Do your research to figure out what your target audience wants - and whether you can supply it.

If you can – prepare for your international debut.  And take a bow.