5 Critical Tips to Launch Your eCommerce Business Internationally

I’m bullish on launching your brand internationally.

I couldn’t say that in 2021, and I was staunchly bearish in 2017. But now? And for the foreseeable future? There is a significant opportunity for eCommerce brands to go international.

Just how big is that opportunity? Let’s find out.

Global eCommerce sales are forecasted to grow by 56% through 2026, eventually reaching about 8.1 trillion dollars.

Recent Global eCommerce Trends: How Big is International eCommerce?

While it’s generally agreed that the recent COVID-19 pandemic drove the initial uptick in eCommerce sales, as global marketplaces cool, eCommerce isn’t slowing down.

There are a few key reasons why.

  • Mobile devices: Smartphones will increasingly drive future mCommerce sales around the globe. Statista forecasted that over 6.5 billion individuals had smartphone subscriptions in 2022.

  • Increased internet access: It may already seem like our world is hyper-connected thanks to social media. But as the internet and internet-enabled devices (like smartphones) become more and more accessible, so too will global markets grow and expand. So far, we have seen a considerable uptick in demand for imported products. People living abroad are starting to buy from brands that were, at one time, inaccessible in their market.

  • Rising salaries: Around APAC countries, wages are rising and trending towards continued growth. More and more, people living in APAC countries are spending their money online.

  • Buy Now Pay Later payment options: Thanks to the increase of BNPL options offered by eCommerce brands, price is less of an objection than in the past. Items and goods that were once unaffordable due to an intimidating price tag can now be bought with more flexibility. And the BNPL model has been well-received by both U.S. and international buyers. The global BNPL market was valued at $5.1 billion in 2021.

All this to say, the future of global eCommerce will grow steadily over the next few years and, at least, the next decade.

Eventually, choosing to only sell in the U.S. market could be the equivalent of what only offering products in a brick-and-mortar store would be today. You won’t just miss out on sales — you’ll be missing out on serious, long-term brand growth.

Here are a few more statistics on the global market that are helpful to consider.

In 2020, every national market covered by eMarketer experienced double-digit eCommerce growth.

Right now, the growth continues:

  • According to Business Wire, global eCommerce is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 26.55% from 2022 to 2027.

  • The Indian eCommerce market is expected to grow to $111 billion by 2024. Some of this growth can be attributed to Indian eCommerce businesses like Flipkart and Myntra.

  • The Chinese market is shifting towards online purchases — reaching more than 2 trillion in online sales for 2022.

Needless to say, these figures alone are quite the incentive to expand internationally. And today, eCommerce retailers have fewer logistical roadblocks to an international target market than ever before.

The growth of global eCommerce.
The growth of global eCommerce.

The Time to Expand Globally is Now

The opportunity to launch internationally is here, and the time is now. Especially since so much has recently changed in the ecosystem and availability of tech stack.

If you were going to launch an international eCommerce business prior to 2022, you needed:

  1. Multiple Shopify storefronts
  2. Your own legal team to do compliance audits
  3. Taxes & duties per product/category to be manually calculated
  4. 3rd party warehousing

You also had to make some significant compromises on things you probably wouldn’t do domestically:

  1. Move from returns to just refunding
  2. Use payment gateways that take way too much
  3. Offer subpar customer service to international customers

But following 2022, the ecosystem has changed. And most of these points are moot now or could be soon.

This is thanks largely to Shopify Markets, international shipping solutions like Passport, and new compliance standards for privacy and ADA that were standard in other countries.

Shopify itself says, “It’s not a luxury… And it’s not just one among many growth strategies. Global eCommerce is a necessity.”

So, without the added roadblocks that used to surround global commerce, the question isn’t: “Should I launch my eCommerce business internationally?” But instead: “What can I do to ensure international brand success?”

5 Critical Steps for a Successful International Launch of Your eCommerce Brand

The opportunity for international e-commerce is enormous. But taking the first step into international markets is understandably daunting.

You’ll need a solid international eCommerce strategy.

Your brand will need to be more agile. You’ll need to operate differently than you’re used to in your local market. And perhaps most important of all, you should be willing to accept an imperfect or “lean” start to get your foot in the door.

The Advantage of a Lean Startup Approach When Expanding Globally

The lean startup strategy was conceptualized by Eric Ries. The methodology centers on growing your business via smaller, more manageable segments and acting based on feedback and data rather than allocating ample time to planning.

You may have utilized a lean startup methodology or your own unique variation before, especially in your early startup days when you initially tried to validate your product.

While lean startup methodology is often applied to startups, the lean startup can be a practical approach for expanding internationally and a great mindset to adapt to the undertaking.

A lean startup mindset encourages agility and adaptation over perfectionism the exact mindset you need to be successful in international eCommerce.

Try to focus on these main components of lean startup methodology: Build, Measure, and Learn.

  • Build: Even though you have a significant brand presence in your current market with a large community of consumers, don’t let your current scale be a measurement of what you should immediately build in an international market. Build smaller so you can quickly pivot as needed. If you think you’re building too small, you may actually be building at just the right scale.

  • Measure: This may go without saying, but you’ll want to place an even bigger emphasis on measuring your data with international eCommerce. Are your localization efforts working? How are new users moving through your website’s funnel? Where are they bouncing? How are you showing up in search?

  • Learn: After you analyze results and begin to understand your international customers, use your findings to inform expansion efforts. Then, repeat the Build, Measure, Learn cycle again.

My main point is that international markets vary from the U.S. or the ones you’re most familiar with. Consumer needs and desires are going to change between different countries. So everything that’s worked for you in your native market isn’t necessarily going to have the same impact with international customers.

Essentially, you’re starting over again from point zero. A lean startup approach will help you align with a market faster and cost you fewer resources.

If you can shift to a lean mindset, executing the practical steps for international success becomes much more manageable.

1. Launch Fast, Not Perfect

First and foremost, venturing into foreign markets should be treated like you’re launching for the first time. You don’t need every logistical detail dialed in. In the same vein, you shouldn’t get too stuck on the decisions that you do make. In short, launch fast, not perfect.

That’s how you got to product-market fit in the early days, and that’s how you’ll get your foundation in international e-commerce. You must be nimble when you’re taking on international expansion. Watch what’s working and not working, and pivot quickly.

The sooner you have data, the sooner you can find alignment between your products and customers abroad. Focusing too heavily on a “perfect launch” will hinder your opportunities to gather the information you need to establish yourself in new markets.

It’s still wise to have preliminary research in place that indicates there would be a desire for your product — but in the beginning, your focus should be on acquiring a customer base over retaining every single one of your new customers.

Thankfully, with eCommerce platforms like Shopify, you can get your site built and launched quickly.

2. Test the Waters

Test the waters with a subset of your products, not all of your products. Just because you’ve grown to 50+ SKUs by now, you didn’t start that way. So instead, start with your most popular products and the ones researched for the market you’re entering.

Additionally, analyze the market’s existing competitors. Is there a demand for products in your industry?

Your goal is to be confident that your offering will resonate with a new customer base. Because, again, the target customers of your current market may differ from those you want to target in another market.

Leaning on SEO research for this part can be especially helpful. Look into search trends for your products or your competitors’ products. Are there any commonalities between customer searches? Do you find any gaps between customer expectations and what a customer actually receives?

Once you’ve gathered preliminary data, go for the soft launch and analyze the results.

3. Don’t Build a New Tech Stack

Account for required tech, not a complete stack. Trying to get everything that works domestically into an international storefront is laborious and likely not needed to satisfy your market in the early days.

Prioritize core features that impact customer experience, such as:

  • Payment options
  • International shipping options or local shipping
  • Returns
  • Customer support ticket creation

It’s all too easy to go down the rabbit hole of tech stack, especially when you want to be as prepared as possible for other markets. But Shopify Plus’s eCommerce platform has a variety of international solutions already accessible.

4. Focus on Content, Not Features

In 2020, CSA Research found that 76% of consumers prefer to purchase products with informative content in their own language. Moreover, 40% stated that they would only buy from an eCommerce business if the website were in their native language. Therefore, it should be a top priority for your brand to translate your site’s content so that it’s localized for an international marketplace.

Invest in accurate translations of the marketing copy that works the best. If it’s a word-for-word replacement by artificial intelligence or a bot, it won’t sound natural or human. It may not even be the correct translation. And if a mistranslation is the first impression you leave on international consumers, it may be the only impression your brand leaves.

Not making an effort to produce marketing copy or informative content for international markets isn’t just lazy — it’s a statement about your brand to new customers.

Think about it like this: If you genuinely cared about receiving someone’s business, you would make an effort to speak their language.

Assuming that customers abroad would speak English or that your English-based copy can be translated word-for-word doesn’t just leave room for costly mistakes. It can seriously impact the long-term reputation of your brand in different countries.

Working with a real translator can mean the difference between compelling copy that helps generate customers, and copy that transforms all of your international eCommerce efforts into a costly blunder.

Moreover, correctly translating your site to the local language could help you appear more frequently on local search engines. When you invest in proper translation, your brand only stands to gain.

Additional tips:

  • Try partnering with local brand influencers: If you have room in the budget, consider partnering up with a local influencer or collaborating with other local brands. This kind of partnership can be an excellent avenue for offering promotions or spreading the word that your products are now available in a new, local market. Just be sure that the influencer or brands you team up with share your values!

  • Localize currency as well: If you’re localizing the content of your eCommerce site for a new market, you’ll also want to localize the currency. When users visit any online store, they’ll expect to see prices in their local currencies. Failing to localize the cost of your products will encourage users to bounce.

  • Accommodate different payment methods: If you know what payment options are preferred in your target country, strive to make these options available on your site. The more personalized and accommodating a customer experience you can provide, the better.

5. Leverage a Separate eCommerce Manager

Your current eCommerce manager best understands the demographics of your current online shoppers, not necessarily those of your future international shoppers. So, leverage a separate eCommerce manager for the international side of your business.

You’ll want to find an individual who understands international strategy, has experience expanding into different markets, and can act as a guide through the process.

If you think about it, the reason you want a separate eComm manager for your international side is the same reason you wouldn’t have your L.A. store manager also work your Portland store. Different audiences, and way too much work.

Final Thoughts: Should You Launch Your eCommerce Business Internationally?

Although international expansion is a huge project, the opportunity for long-term growth will likely outweigh any logistical drawbacks when you’re first starting out. While factors like international shipping and returns, warehousing, and the need for multiple Shopify stores were once dealbreakers, more solutions exist today.

Now, when eCommerce businesses choose to expand into other countries — they aren’t just rewarded with international sales; their brand scales to entirely new heights.

To recap: At the beginning of your expansion, you want to go for as many early wins as possible.

Aim to act intentionally. Listen to all the customer feedback you receive. And follow the steps above to ensure the best results. And if you need help or advice on launching your brand internationally, don’t hesitate to contact us at Anatta.

We worked closely alongside brands like Four SigmaticCaldera + LabCariuma, and more, to launch their online store into new markets and help them get a foothold in a rapidly growing opportunity.

  • avatar
    Nirav Sheth
  • Nirav is the CEO and founder of Anatta. Nirav received his engineering degree in 2006 from George Washington University. Prior to Anatta, he served as founder of Dharmaboost, a software company working with Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, and New Leaf Paper. He is also cofounder of Upscribe, a next-level subscription software for fast growing eCommerce brands.