5 ways to prepare your brand for international ecommerce

Someone typing at a keyboard, with an ecommerce shopping cart symbol floating in the air.
(Image credit: Song_About_Summer / Shutterstoc)

Even if you primarily think of yourself as a domestic ecommerce brand, you have an international presence. Channels like Google, Facebook, and Instagram make it possible for anyone in the world to find brands that they like, including yours.

Even if this hasn't happened yet, it will. With cross-border ecommerce rising at a rapid rate, it's not a question of if but when. 

There are shoppers in other countries who are ready and eager to purchase from you. The question is whether your ecommerce website is ready for them.

International web traffic is surging 

The rise in cross-border ecommerce traffic is unmistakable. Research and Markets forecasted a 30% increase of cross-border ecommerce market value from 2019 to 2026. It also reported that in 2020, the majority of online consumers actually preferred international ecommerce shopping over local websites, citing greater variety and better value. In addition, a market study by Facts & Factors indicates cross-border ecommerce will grow to an estimated $4.8 billion by 2026 with an annual growth rate of 27% through 2027.

Cross-border ecommerce presents an enormous opportunity for retailers to expand their reach into new markets. However, expanding to accommodate customers across borders can bring some unique challenges requiring careful planning.

For example, dynamic fashion brand MZ Wallace had shipped its designer handbags and accessories internationally for some time. However, its global website experience did not calculate or display duties and taxes prior to shipping, which resulted in customer confusion, significantly higher costs, lower conversion rates, and excessive international customer service issues. To continue growing its global sales, the MZ Wallace team knew it had to optimize its website to eliminate these barriers for international shoppers and reduce cross-border shipping costs.

Inclusive fashion brand Universal Standard is another example of a brand that needed to prepare for the challenges that come with international expansion. When the brand decided to expand from the United States into Canada, the team thought that utilizing a consultant on the ground in Canada was an adequate solution. However, as demand for size-inclusive fashion began to surge globally, Universal Standard realized that using local consultants was insufficient and needed an ecommerce solution that could effectively support and grow its international presence.

The reality is that cross-border ecommerce brings both enormous opportunities and unique challenges. Successful expansion results from anticipating what challenges you may encounter and preparing in advance for how you will handle them.

5 elements of a successful cross-border ecommerce strategy 

During any global expansion, you'll undoubtedly encounter hurdles unique to both your business and the market into which you're expanding. However, common friction points accompany almost every cross-border expansion, and your strategy needs to account for them. 

1. Localized experience 

A hyper-localized ecommerce experience from start to finish is essential for cross-border success. Hyper-localized experiences mean:

● Transparent pricing in the local currency. If customers have trouble determining how much they will pay for a product or are unable to have their transactions settled in the local currency, they're much less likely to complete the purchase.
● Reasonable shipping prices. High shipping costs compared to local ecommerce retailers are a significant barrier to purchasing and will result in lower conversion rates.
● Translating content into the local language. This is particularly important for the checkout process.

2. Logistics options 

Cross-border shoppers want multiple low-cost and fast delivery options when it comes to international shipping. Both high shipping prices and long delivery times are significant deterrents for shoppers, and offering various shipping tiers allows customers to balance cost versus delivery speed.

Behind the scenes for brands with multiple distributions centers, your ecommerce website needs to be inventory-aware across different countries in order to ship most efficiently from the nearest warehouse. 

This is yet another way to reduce the speed and cost of delivery, though it does present challenges that require a cross-border solution to support.

 3. Seamless checkout experience 

Checkout is a critical point for customer purchase, and it is even more critical when the transaction is cross-border. All the usual hesitations and concerns are magnified when someone is purchasing from an international site. Addressing this challenge requires a seamless, dynamic, localized checkout process, which includes:

● Highlighting the data security measures in place (McAfee trust seal, etc.)
● Offering a variety of payment methods, including those popular in specific countries
● Clearly displaying the total cost in the local currency with accurately calculated duties and taxes
● Making it easy to connect with customer service

The more friendly and familiar the checkout experience feels, the lower the cart abandonment rate will be.

4. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) 

CRO is essential in cross-border ecommerce due to cultural differences between countries. The way you present a product to U.S. shoppers might not resonate with buyers in other countries. 

Through systematic A/B testing, you can determine how best to adjust the customer experience to maximize conversion for the local audience.

5. International product syndication 

To show up alongside local retailers in online searches or social media ads, you need to syndicate your products via localized product feeds. This includes providing key product data like title, description, images, and prices, ensuring your products are displayed with localized information.

Creating and updating localized feeds with the most recent information is often a manual process, making it arduous and increasingly difficult with each additional market you enter. 

A crucial part of any cross-border expansion strategy is implementing technology easily to automate the syndication process across multiple markets.

Are you ready to go global?

Cross-border ecommerce will only continue to grow as people become more comfortable with the idea of making online purchases from brands in other countries. 

The COVID-19 pandemic drove many people to purchase from online brands they had no previous interactions with, including international brands.

To capture your slice of the cross-border ecommerce revenue, you need to prepare your brand. Be prepared to understand the unique challenges of expansion and have both a strategy and the necessary tools for overcoming those hurdles.

Rob Keve is co-founder & CEO of Flow Commerce, a cross-border solution for ecommerce brands.