Are you keen to expand the global reach of your brand and start selling to an international audience?

But there is something stopping you. You are intimidated on how to get started and what you need to consider.

With the power of technology, reaching a new customer base is certainly easier. But it’s not easy. I know. I have been involved in expanding eCommerce websites globally.

Before expanding globally, you should first assess whether there is sufficient demand for your product or service in global markets, and if the product or service translates well into other cultures. If the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes’ “your next step is to plan how you’ll roll out eCommerce operations worldwide” (Scott Heimes, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Digital River).

In this article, I’ll guide you through the key factors you need to consider when setting up a global eCommerce website and show you how you can optimize your website for a worldwide audience.


Defining a global eCommerce strategy that meets customer needs

Properly understanding your target audience is a key factor determining the success or failure of your site. If you don’t understand who you are trying to reach, how can you create a site relevant to their needs?

The first step then should be to create clear buyer personas for your core target markets. For this, you should consider demographic and behavioral characteristics as well as motivations, goals and challenges. Mary Shaw has some great tips on how to create effective buyer personas for your website.

Let’s jump ahead by considering some of the key questions you should consider to create an eCommerce website geared to the needs of your target market:

  • Does your target audience make most of their purchases online? Or, do they only use the website to research the product options and buy in store?
  • Does your target audience access your website via a mobile device? Or, are the majority of your buyers desktop users?
  • What type of information do visitors need to purchase? Does this information need to be localized or is it relevant to a global audience?
  • Does the user journey and buying process differ hugely between different countries that you are operating in? Do you need a dedicated site for each of the countries? Or should websites be localized by language?

 
Top tip: Before answering these questions, you need to know what type of visitors your site is currently attracting. Google Analytics is a crucial resource for finding out about existing user behavior.

Balancing the competing needs of your customers and your business

Developing an eCommerce site that perfectly meets customer needs globally can be expensive. Consider the following points to help you strike the right balance for a website that meets customer needs whilst staying within your budget.

Think “glocally”. To successfully sell in foreign markets, you need to adapt your global marketing strategy to target each local market. Ideally, you should “rethink the marketing strategy and shopping experience for each local market your business plans to enter, and adapt the approach to accommodate regional expectations” (Business News Daily). However, executing a comprehensive localization strategy for every country can be extremely expensive and time consuming, as it requires every section of your website to be country specific (Practical eCommerce).

So, consider the degree of adaptation required. If your product is culturally embedded, strong adaptation may be needed. However, if the customer needs and product benefits are almost homogenous, your product could be successfully marketed with little or no adaptation. Therefore, define the level of localization required for your market by assessing competitor websites and consumer research.

Assess your own resources. If you do not have the human or financial resources to create localized content for your whole site, consider which parts of your site will be adapted. Inform users when they are moving out of the local language site to the global site to minimize confusion and discontent. www.abbott.com have a pop-up that warns customers if they are moving to a site outside of their country.

Abbott Global website popup

Abbott uses a pop-up to warn users if they are moving to a different country website.

 

Nevertheless, design a scalable eCommerce infrastructure and use global templates so you will not have to reinvent the website each time you want to expand into a new country. “Find a cloud-based infrastructure and secure off-site technology resources that are designed to make expansion quick and easy” (Business News Daily).

Creating a global eCommerce website that nurtures buying behavior

A negative experience with your website will quickly diminish trust and any motivation to purchase. So, ensure you consider that following points in order to create a global eCommerce site that nurtures (rather than crushes) their decision to purchase.

Clear navigation

Consider how you will organize your website content globally. For an eCommerce website, it would be wiser to segment by country to take into account currency, shipping requirements and legal implications. In any case, make it easy to navigate the different country sites with a country top level domain. Flags provide an easily recognizable visual representation.

Ensure your site incorporates the key content areas that users expect to find on an eCommerce website. Exploring competitor websites is a useful process to define these core areas. Convince and Convert offers a useful summary of the key areas you should consider:

  • Homepage: navigation, footer, newsletter sign up
  • Product page: product name, description, color options, price
  • About: Tell your brand story, the purpose of your site, how it will benefit users, and your key points of differentiation
  • Stores/locations
  • Contact page: Consider the format (e.g. phone vs email), location (e.g. national number vs store numbers), contact details for different query types or product areas
  • FAQs: This can help reduce pressure on customer service teams
  • Legal pages:
    Shipping and Returns (important for alleviating customer service issues)
    Privacy policy
    Terms and conditions

 

A strong visual brand

Ensure consistent branding across different sites. All sites should have a similar look and feel. Your brand should be instantly recognizable.

Nonetheless, you also need to take account of local culture in your website design. Certain colors could have undesirable connotations in some cultures. You may choose to focus on white as the principal color for your website to convey a minimalistic and clean look. Whilst this approach may work in Europe where white is associated with neutrality, it would fail in the Asia Pacific where white is associated with death. Read this article for further guidance on how to incorporate research on color psychology into your website design.

A clear brand voice

Adopt a clear brand voice. “A clear brand voice is absolutely crucial in determining how all copy and imagery should look and feel across the site” (Convince and Convert). Once you have found your brand voice, establish a writing style and imagery that fits.

Consider what your brand would say if someone wanted to buy or return a product: would your brand be professional and formal or casual and colloquial? For every piece of content that you write, pass it through the “does that fit our brand voice” filter. If your brand were a person, would they say that? Now consider whether you need to edit the copy on your site to fit your brand voice (Convince and Convert). Maintaining a clear brand voice can be very challenging if you are operating in countries that do not speak your native language; that’s why professional translation is important.

Translate your website into the local languages where you are operating. 72% of consumers are willing to pay more if they are given information in their own language (Harvard Business Review). If you are pressured for resources, consider translating content for your most important target audiences first. If you are targeting a truly global audience, prioritize translating your website into the most important world languages.

Helpful content

Support your product information with locally targeted content. Whilst you might adopt a global template for your website, it is worthwhile leaving specific sections open for local content. Your in-country marketing team can manage these sections to ensure the most relevant information and images for the local audience. Best Western includes images of local cities on its homepage to create a familiar environment that puts users at ease.

Best Western UK and Spain websites

Comparing the homepages for Best Western’s websites in the UK and Spain: using images of local cities creates a familiar environment that puts users at ease.

 

Other key content areas to consider are blogs, newsletters, and social media channels. Caution: Don’t invite users to a tempting offer that doesn’t deliver what they signed up for. Be transparent and honest to avoid disillusioned customers. For example, if you have a newsletter sign up on your Chinese specific website, ensure the newsletter content follows through and is relevant to them in terms of language and culture.

Ensuring satisfied buyers through a hassle-free purchase process

Users might want to buy your product, but there are many things that can prevent them from pressing the ‘buy’ button and proceeding to purchase. Read on to learn what you should do to deliver a smooth purchase process for satisfied buyers.

Pre-purchase considerations

Provide 24/7 customer service for multiple languages and countries. This should extend to all areas of customer service, including orders, returns, FAQs, email, live chat, and telephone (Practical eCommerce). Ensure customer-service representatives have an advanced level in the local language and are well acquainted with cultural norms in order to ensure customers have a positive experience with your brand (Business News Daily).

Make sure people can access customer service at a suitable hour in their local time zone. Support your global eCommerce website with contact details and a click to call option for your local offices.

Ensure your pricing is in the correct currency and reflects local market realities. Confirm your pricing falls in line with local market expectations and local competitors. It is also crucial to have a tax-compliance strategy that observes local tax-collection regulations.

Consider whether the sales promotions tactics you are planning to adopt are accepted in your target market. Although sales promotion tactics such as coupons and temporary price reductions generally translate well across international markets, they should still be assessed within the legal and cultural context of each country.

At the shopping basket

Make it easy for consumers to buy. Avoid lengthy forms that interrupt the buying process. Only request the necessary details, such as name, email and delivery address. Avoid asking for usernames, security questions, birth date, and gender. By not forcing users to sign up before they purchase, Proflowers remove obstacles to the purchasing process. First-time buyers are not required to create an account, though they are free to do so afterwards (Kissmetrics).

Proflowers sign up form

Proflowers make it easy to purchase by only asking users to create an account after they have completed the purchase process.

 

Accommodate different address formats on your global eCommerce website. For example, not all countries have provinces and states; some countries have numeric postcodes whilst others comprise of both numbers and letters. The format should be adapted once the delivery country is selected. This will prevent incorrect data, mismatched codes, and inaccurate shipping estimates.

Ensure the payment methods you offer align with local payment habits and expectations. Credit cards are the principal payment method in most counties. Still, as payment habits differ by country, it is important to gauge expectations in your target markets. Whilst 60% of payments are made by direct debit in the Netherlands, 50% of transactions are cash upon delivery in the Czech Republic (Actinic).

Product receipt and delivery

Consider post-purchase information that is received by customers. This includes automated transaction emails that are triggered following the purchase of a product and automated emails sent when the shopping cart is abandoned. Are they relevant to a global audience? Do they need to be adapted for different markets?

Confront logistical challenges to ensure your product is safely delivered at the anticipated time. Carefully assess the practicality and cost of transporting your products to your target country. Also take into consideration how you will manage delivery delays and stock control. Develop a detailed logistics plan based on information from local teams. This will enable you to build a robust network to handle logistics at the local level.


A study by 7thingsmedia found that only 23% of the French and 21% of Germans will buy from foreign sites. It is therefore critical that your online store looks and feels authentically local. Still, setting up a successful global eCommerce website goes beyond translation; it requires a broader outlook and nuanced adaptation to the local culture (Actinic).

A global eCommerce website is not static. Being open to constant review and adaptation is crucial for creating a powerful website. The best way of judging the effectiveness of your website is to test it with the target market. Local consumers are best placed to identify the cultural nuances and language subtleties that are often overlooked by non-natives. It is also critical to frequently monitor the local competition and customer base as well as local laws and the wider economic and political context (Practical eCommerce).

From continuously reviewing your website in light of customer feedback and the global environment, you will be well-placed to create a global eCommerce website that truly meets the needs of your target market.

Do you have a global eCommerce website? How are you optimizing your website for shoppers in different countries? What tactics are you using to create a remarkable experience for your target audience? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Sources – Cover image: Photo by andyk at Morguefile.com. Flag icons in second image made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY