Ask any retail expert and they will tell you that online is the place to be. Old-school bricks and mortar shops still have their place, but the explosive growth and market expansion is all happening on the internet. Outfits like Alibaba, Shopify and Wish have led the way, but there are countless other niche stores, smaller operations and of course online presences for traditional retailers. The reality is that online increases the size of the shopper base exponentially while at the same time lowering costs – you need fewer staff, cheaper premises and you don’t need to hold such large amounts of stock. It is a retailer’s dream. But in an already competitive market, how do you end up with clients? Here are a few tips and ideas that you might want to consider.
Drive traffic smartly
A site with no traffic is never going to manage any sales, so make sure that you know what you are doing in terms of acquiring traffic. Either through paid search or organic search, or both, you want to ensure that when people look for items that you stock, that you are positioned at the top of the Google results page. This is something that can be achieved through a national SEO campaign, something strategic that is run and managed for you by an agency that specialises in this type of work. You could look to hire your own internal expert to take care of this important process, but the reality is that when starting out it might be too expensive to hire a fulltime SEO expert.
Know your market
You are doomed to fail if you think that just because you have a potential base the size of the world’s population that you are going to get rich. The truth is that there are a lot of companies out there who are a lot more established than you are and who have a significantly greater budget for advertising and acquisition. So, you need to be very good at what you do, and you need to have something that sets you apart from the rest. Do one thing and do it well. Don’t try to be the next Alibaba, rather set yourself up to cater for a niche audience. Be the best place to buy socks, or be a lip-gloss specialist, or a kitchenware site. Whatever it is, know the market and the product and don’t try to be all things to all people.
Make payment easy
Paying for online purchases is the biggest failure point for transactions, so make sure that once you have landed a client that you are able to finish the deal. Credit card payments from as many types of card are essential. Being able to accept online wallets and payment systems like PayPal, is also important. If you are able to process Crypto-currencies even better. In short, the easier it is to pay, without login details and passwords and other verifications, the more likely you are going to be to have successful transactions.
Your domestic e-commerce business is doing well, and you’re ready to look at international markets. Expanding globally is a large project that takes great planning, but it’s also an exciting opportunity to grow your business, make new connections, and reach people around the world with your products.
Discover Your Target International Markets
If you run an online store, you probably already have customers, or at least website visitors, from other countries. Check your sales data to see if any patterns exist; maybe one of your products is doing great in the London market, and another is popular in South Africa. You don’t have to have customers from a specific market to look into it. Expand your search into other markets to see if you have a product line that might do well.
Focus On a Few Initial Test Markets
Once you’ve researched potential international markets, begin your global expansion by focusing on the one or two markets that have the most potential. Research your test markets extremely rigorously, from the local economy to labor costs to taxes, to decide whether it’s a suitable place to focus your global business expansion. You should also do market research so you know which products to make available, and which ones to push.
Use Online Software for Money Matters
Expanding globally means taking other currencies as payment. Accept as many forms of payment as you can through your website. Having the right software is immensely helpful when it comes to taking payments; when you automate the process online, tracking payments from other countries becomes easier. The best payment software directly connects with accounting software, which is what Sage’s intuitive electronic payment systems do. Electronic payment software helps protect you from fraud, too, for which the business can now be held liable.
Image via Flickr by ganderssen1
Get a Feel For the Country
The best way to explore an international market is to visit in person. If business travel is possible for you, then visit your target markets with the intention of making business connections and finding out more about how the local population makes purchasing decisions. When an in-person visit isn’t possible, use professional social media sites to connect with business people from those regions. Connect with potential customers, too. A few tweets or blog comments can go a long way.
Learn the laws and regulations about importing to the countries you want to reach. Think about whether you’re going to manufacture goods overseas, or ship them to the destinations. In either case, you need a plan in place. Customers want to know how long they must wait before their orders arrive. Think about local taxes in the regions you’ll be reaching, and get the right information about exporting from the U.S.
The advertisements you use for domestic audiences aren’t going to work internationally, sometimes for reasons as simple as language barriers, and sometimes for complicated cultural reasons. Research how your industry does its marketing. Learn from other industries’ marketing, too. Both your advertisements and your web presence should change based on who is on the other end of the connection. Take, for example, makeup trends in the U.S. versus Japan. Ads for something as simple as a black eyeliner crayon will differ drastically based on each country’s fashion trends.
Create an Infrastructure
You’ll be starting small, but that doesn’t mean you want to stay small. As you’re doing your research and planning your entry into a new market, create a plan for expansion, complete with growth stages. Make it as general as possible, so you can do it again in other markets by filling in the required data. If you have the steps laid out, and a basic infrastructure set up for entering into and expanding within a new international market, you’ll be able to repeat the process much more quickly next time.
Remember that research and planning is key. You’ll need more research than you did when you started selling locally, because these markets and cultures are unfamiliar to you. Though the process is time-consuming, by following these tips you can absolutely expand your e-commerce business globally.