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Essential International Ecommerce Tips: Mobile

mobile globeMobile ecommerce is in the news again, thanks to a recent Google algorithm update that boosts the search rankings of those sites that are considered “mobile friendly.”  But did you know that mobile readiness is even more important for international ecommerce than it is for the US?  It’s true.  E-businesses with hopes to expand beyond their native territory should be prepared for the widespread usage and significant growth rates of mobile in international markets.

International Ecommerce is International M-commerce.

Let’s take a look at how mobile stacks up in the US.  A study by Havas Worldwide shows that 16% of the US population has made a purchase on their smartphone.  That’s no small number, and it doesn’t even account for tablet shopping or “couch commerce.”

You certainly wouldn’t want to lose out on a potential 16% or more of your business by neglecting mobile.  Now compare the US figure to the 50% in China, 48% in Singapore, and 42% in India that have made purchases on their phones.  You have serious problems if your international ecommerce plan doesn’t include a great mobile experience for these customers.

Mobile growth isn’t stopping either.  According to Forrester Research, three regions represent major growth in the smartphone market – Asia/Pacific, the Middle East, and Latin America.  These regions house 84% of the world’s population and are subscribing to mobile plans with the fastest rates of growth on the planet.  When expanding your business with international ecommerce, mobile is the way to plan for the future.

Developing Countries

Developing economies, specifically, see high rates of growth in mobile commerce and mobile internet access in general.  At first this seems counterintuitive.  You just spent way too much money to upgrade your phone and sign up for your new data plan…  How could developing countries keep up with that?

In actuality, the infrastructure for widespread fast broadband internet simply doesn’t exist in many developing countries.  It’s just not feasible.  In countries and regions like these, mobile penetration booms.  A personal mobile device is, instead, the easiest way to access the web.  And this includes shopping at your website for international ecommerce.

Responsive Design

“Ready for mobile” isn’t a catchphrase.  It’s not even a state of mind.  Being ready for mobile is an actual trait for your website and your online presence.  To appeal to online shoppers on smartphones and tablets, you want responsive design.

Responsive design means that the content on your web pages (the images, the text, the video, etc.) scales and conforms to the users’ specific screen size, no matter what device they use.  Rather than having cropped images or cut-off text, your website looks great and gives the same brand experience across platforms.  Before you dive into the deep waters of international ecommerce, make sure your CMS and ecommerce solutions are responsive to the customers’ needs and their devices.

International and Mobile

International ecommerce and mobile are two peas in a pod.  Just as you want to do business all over, regardless of borders or barriers, so too do your customers.  Your customers’ barriers, though, could be devices, screen sizes, or connections.  That’s why Dynamicweb breaks down barriers with responsive design.  After all, when you grow your business with international ecommerce, you aim to break down barriers.

Essential International Ecommerce Tips: Shipping

shipping flightWhen your customer clicks that “Order Now” button in their shopping cart, that’s a successful conversion, but it’s not the end of the road.  The next step for e-businesses is to actually get the product to the customer.  Shipping is a crucial part of online selling, and for international ecommerce, there are special considerations to be aware of.

Landed Costs and Your International Catalog

First, it’s important for businesses to know the landed cost of each product.  The landed cost is the total sum of all costs for sending an order internationally.  This includes freight, insurance, and potentially custom duties and other taxes.

With international ecommerce, you don’t have to offer your entire product catalog to all regions.  The choice of what to sell is up to you.  Some products may not make sense to ship across borders, and that’s okay.

Knowledge of the landed costs for your products helps you weigh the costs and benefits to make that decision.  SMEs especially may choose to only offer internationally items that are small, light, and easy to handle.

International Warehouses: Pros and Cons

Some e-businesses that want to seriously expand in international territories opt to establish local warehouses to house inventory.  Local warehouses empower companies to offer fast delivery once an order is placed.  For example, Amazon, an international ecommerce giant, has warehouses all over the globe with the objective to leverage their sheer size as a competitive advantage.

In addition to raw speed and agility, the other advantages of establishing an international warehouse include a reduction of transportation costs and a shortened order cycle.  Also, a larger local presence with faster delivery results in better customer retention.

The immediate disadvantage is obvious.  Building a warehouse is a huge upfront cost.  For those with recent expansion with international ecommerce, the cost could be prohibitive.  The reduced cash flow from keeping stock in multiple warehouses also represents a drawback to establishing an international warehouse.

USPS, UPS, FedEx

Of course, international warehouses aren’t a necessity to ship internationally.  Fortunately, there are plenty of shipping options right here in the United States.  From the US Postal Service to UPS to FedEx, it’s best to learn the nuances and variations in policy and price among the different services.

When shipping your international ecommerce goods via USPS, the postal service does ship outside the country, but the host country eventually handles the product’s delivery to its destination.  Also, if you get insurance through USPS, the host country’s mail system once again must be the one to make the agreement with USPS regarding handling and security.  If the host country doesn’t agree to USPS’s terms, USPS will not offer the insurance.  While USPS may be your least expensive option, keep these details in mind.

UPS and FedEx, on the other hand, may be more expensive as private carriers, but they deliver the product to its destination, rather than relying on the host country’s mail delivery.  As for insurance, UPS and FedEx do offer insurance as well, but their coverage does not extend to all countries.  Make sure to check before promising FedEx insurance to a customer in a country that FedEx does not cover.

Returns and the Customer Experience

An important and overlooked aspect of international ecommerce is shipping in reverse.  What about when the customer has to ship to you?  It’s very important to establish your return policy for international customers.

The costs for international products often run very high for the end customer.  If the product is not satisfactory, customers get very angry when they have no recourse.  Of course, there is a notable cost to you if they end up returning their purchase.

When it comes to international ecommerce returns, the classic dilemma of hassle and cost versus customer experience rears its ugly head.  We recommend accommodating your customers as much as possible.  Word-of-mouth, good reviews, and customer retention are all very important in all ecommerce, no matter what location.

Shipping, Overlooked

Although we’ve covered landed costs, product catalogs, three different mailing services, and return policy, we’ve only scratched the surface of shipping for international ecommerce.  Shipping is an overlooked aspect of e-business, but it’s one that offers you a competitive edge in customer experience when you give the topic serious consideration.

When expanding your business across borders, it’s important to analyze the ways that you get your products to the end consumer.  What shipping options to offer are up to you.  Dynamicweb offers integration with a number of different services.  And in our next blog as part of the Essential International Ecommerce Tips series, we cover the importance of how you get your website to the customer, wherever they are.

Essential International Ecommerce Tips: Culture, Content, and Commerce

CultureIn our previous blog, we stress the importance of user experience to your international ecommerce customers.  Specifically, we cover the great benefits of delivering product and shipping information directly to your customers to facilitate their own self-service.

Customer experience, though, goes beyond the data that you share with your website guests.  The quality of their web experience also extends to the content you deliver and how you deliver it.  In order to grow your business with international ecommerce, language and local culture should be taken into consideration for your customers. 

Language

A multilingual Content Management System empowers you to have multiple sites with a variety of languages on the same solution.  This CMS functionality makes transferring information as well as copying pages and templates much easier.  Your different templates should also accommodate foreign languages, especially because some foreign words and characters take up more page space than their English counterparts.

Content Marketing

How you communicate with your customers, particularly for a textual medium such as a website, you want to go beyond mere translation.  Google and automated translations are wonderful tools, but they’re inadequate for the content on your international ecommerce site.  A mistranslated word immediately stands out to consumers who want assurances of legitimacy and security from their online merchants.

A crucial beginning to the online sales cycle happens the moment your visitors arrive at your website to do their own research.  This step is when they read about your solution, discover your company, and consume your content.  Embracing content marketing is a smart tactic to increase conversion rates, but not any content will do.  Localize your content to fit the customers you are targeting.

Yes, you do repurpose much of your content when entering a new market, but don’t simply translate your content and throw in a few cultural clichés.  Perform the necessary market research to identify the specific pain points for residents of a given region as well as how your solutions help resolve these issues.  Then alter your content to reflect these needs.  Engaging and relevant content is still the goal, but your targets may shift.

Cultural Concerns

With international ecommerce, you also want to avoid coming across as an arrogant or ignorant brand.  Some designs and images are offensive to different cultures and using them is a fast way to lose customers.  For example, look at the “Victory” or “Peace” hand symbol.  Holding your hand out with your pointer and middle fingers extended to create a “V” may seem like a very nice gesture of peace.

If you simply turn your hand around with the palm facing inward, however, that’s considered an offensive gesture in the United Kingdom and other countries.  Famously, President George H.W. Bush inadvertently offended residents of Australia by reversing his gesture for peace during a trip.  Leave the international incidents to the politicians.

SEO

To ensure that your potential customers find your website in the first place, optimize each version of your site for search engines.  Additional SEO is important for international ecommerce because keywords do not automatically translate over perfectly.  A top keyword for your product may not be a direct, literal equivalent of the keyword for your English-language site.

Also keep in mind that not every market uses the same search engine.  For example, China’s primary search engine is Baidu.

eCommunication

Your website visitors don’t use all the same words, but they do speak the same language.  Your international ecommerce customers want a great web experience with engaging, relevant, educational content that conveys the knowledge, experience, and vision of your brand.  They don’t want broken sentences, culturally offensive material, and pages that are impossible to search for.

It all sounds so simple, except too many international pages neglect their content and fail in their communication.  Get ahead of your competitors by taking the extra care necessary when introducing yourself to a new market.  And further improve the customer experience by checking out our next blog post on Essential International Ecommerce Tips for shipping and handling across borders.

Essential International Ecommerce Tips: Integration

IntegrationInternational ecommerce has the potential to be extremely lucrative, but cross-border business growth is not without risks.  If your customers end up confused about your products, prices, and shipping, your international endeavor will go south very quickly (and we don’t mean geographically.)

Self-Service

Online customers want self-service, which means instantly available information at the tip of their fingers.  While these international ecommerce customers require additional considerations for your business, they still compare your website to the best user experiences they get elsewhere.  Because, for them, going elsewhere is always a click away.

Delivering an excellent self-service customer experience is paramount.  As an example, when a customer tries to order a product, only to later find out it’s not available to their country, that’s a failure on the part of the ecommerce business.  Incorrect or missing information is a quick way to burn an online customer.

The Power of Data

As part of the online sales cycle, visitors often begin with simple research.  They look up product data, shipping options, and more as they decide to make a purchase.  When critical information isn’t available, your visitors quickly move on to your competitors.

That’s why we recommend an ecommerce solution that integrates with your existing ERP.  Your ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning solution, is where your data is stored.  ERPs are very useful tools for handling business logic, including the processing of bulk discounts, personalized pricing, inventory, order info and various freight options.

Integrate your ERP with your international ecommerce solution to manage your data from a single source and have that information updated in real-time on your website.  Seamless integration simplifies your data management while delivering the self-service that your customers want on the frontend.

ERP integration is doubly important when you also have to juggle products that are exclusive to certain territories, different local regulations, specific shipping concerns, and other challenges unique to international ecommerce.

Sales Tax and Regulations

Doing business right and not getting yourself into trouble are also important considerations when doing business outside of the country.  Trade regulations and tax compliance legislation changes often, and you don’t want to be left trying to figure it out on your own.  Especially as ecommerce expands its reach across the globe, local jurisdictions are trying to get their piece of the sales tax pie.  Many governments are also trying to expand the collection of the Value Added Tax (VAT) that is levied on digital goods.

To protect your business from this complexity, you want your international ecommerce solution to integrate with a system that is proven to automate the sales tax (and VAT) processes for foreign territories.  For instance, Dynamicweb integrates with Avalara, who aims to make business (and life) much easier with their tax software.

Into Greatness

Integration between your ecommerce solution and your ERP gives your customers the self-service they’re looking for.  That cooperation between systems helps you deliver a great customer experience and become a great ecommerce vendor.  Meanwhile, integration for tax purposes protects you as you grow with international ecommerce.

Of course, as you expand across borders, it’s important to consider the content and the marketing tactics you deploy for each region.  To further assist your step into ecommerce greatness, check out our next blog post covering language, culture, content, commerce and more in this series for Essential International Ecommerce Tips.

Essential International Ecommerce Tips: Payments

PaymentsSome economists say the world is flat.  Other economists say the world is curved.  But the one thing we should all agree on is that the world is buying and selling online.  It’s not just America.  Customers from countries all around the globe want to order the products they want from the comfort of their own offices, homes, and train rides.

The Lay of the Lands

Fortunately for global customers, international ecommerce is on the rise.  While global ecommerce sales passed the $1.3 trillion mark last year, research from eMarketer forecasts that all the major markets will continue that growth into the future.

China tops the list for ecommerce market share, with the US as second place, and the UK as a distant third.  But markets as diverse as Japan, France, Russia, South Korea, Brazil, and more are expected to grow.  Also, as the access to fast internet speeds grows in the developing world, so does ecommerce.

Before you go diving into international waters (or even if you’ve already dipped your toe in,) it’s important to understand customer expectations.  Here are a few tips for your cross-border ecommerce adventure.

Listing Prices

The most noticeable difference when shopping on an international ecommerce site, aside from a language barrier perhaps, is that the currency is completely different.  Online shoppers are easily turned away if they believe they don’t have the ability to make a purchase.  If you want to appeal to international customers, label each price in the local currency to assure customers that you are ready to accept their business.

Another tip when listing prices is to round your numbers.  32.86 units of the local currency immediately identifies you as a foreign entity, and it just doesn’t make for an aesthetically-pleasing price (even if it’s the accurate conversion.)  Rounding that number to 35 units looks like you put thought and consideration into pricing for the local market.

Accepting Payments

Once the customer wants to make a payment in a foreign currency, your business needs a way to receive that payment.  An International Merchant Account is a helpful option for international ecommerce.  This account type, offered by both banks and payment-processing companies, includes automatic processing, tracking, and protection from fraud.  These accounts work for a variety of credit cards and currencies.  Direct wire transfers and letters of credit are also popular with B2B companies for international ecommerce.

Payment Methods

Because high quality web experiences determine whether or not you make the sale, it’s also important to consider how your international ecommerce customers prefer to make their payments.  Research from Forrester reveals a wide variety of preferences.  China favors their own Alipay system.  German shoppers primarily want to use Paypal with online bank transfers as a close second.  The UK prefers debit cards.  The US and Japan both favor credit card payments.  And while Brazil also prefers credit cards, their own Boleto Bancario payment method takes a close second.

When selling in African countries, many have their own unique payment methods as well.  For example, Kenya uses mobile money accounts called M-Pesa while Nigeria uses the Interswitch Verve card.  Regardless of which countries you expand into, you want to make your cross-border customers comfortable with handing over their hard-earned money.

Payments and More

In some ways, international ecommerce is no different than national ecommerce.  Pricing and payment options should be clear and concise while a great customer experience remains paramount.  That’s why Dynamicweb integrates with a number of international payment gateways.

Of course, juggling multiple markets with multiple products (some exclusive, of course) raises the complexity of your operation.  For this, a little integration goes a long way.  Get help from other systems and read our next blog post for more Essential International Ecommerce Tips on integration.