One advantage of digitalisation is undoubtedly that expanding to an international business is much easier. If you take a closer look at the topic, there are of course a few challenges that await you before the big launch on international territory, but they can be mastered with strategic thought and the right implementation. And this can be quite lucrative, because products and brands “Made in Germany” enjoy great popularity worldwide. A study from 2019 showed that German goods enjoy a particularly high status worldwide and rank first in an international comparison.
The potential is great and so in this article we want to look at what to consider when an online shop wants to sell internationally. What are the special features? Which countries are suitable? What about technological implementation and online marketing?
Things to keep in mind in International E-Commerce
E-commerce is currently experiencing a growth spurt worldwide. The figures have already been climbing continuously for several years, but have picked up again due to the current situation. By 2023, a global turnover of €2.37 trillion is expected in the B2C e-commerce market. The sector with the highest turnover is fashion. The number of online shoppers will increase to almost 4.6 billion by 2024. So there is great potential in an international online shop and those who want to expand their efforts to other countries currently have the best conditions. However, anyone who really wants to be successful in the long term with an international online shop needs an internationalisation strategy in advance, because there are a number of things to consider when trading across borders. The online shop must adapt to the linguistic, cultural, economic and legal conditions of the respective target countries.
Designing An International Online Shop
- Have the website translated, ideally by a native speaker.
- Adapt the design to the preferences of international users
- Optimise the offer to the demands of the country-specific target group (market analysis with key figures from the respective consumer research, but also from social media)
- Adapt media such as images and videos
- Define country-specific URL
Important Legal Information and Local Regulations
- Enter local contact details
- Observe imprint, general terms and conditions, cancellation policy
- Comply with data protection regulations (standardised in the EU according to DSGVO, but different in other countries)
International vs. National Customer Benefits
- Adjust product descriptions and units of measurement and currency
- Inform about payment and delivery conditions
- Indicate delivery times
- Select and offer the most popular payment methods in the target market
- Set up order and contact forms according to the preferences of international customers (first or last name first, place after or before postcode).
National Online Marketing Measures for an International Online Shop
- Plan, prepare and operate international marketing/ search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEA) in the respective market of the international online shop.
- Implement country-specific trust seals to create trust.
In many countries, the credit card is a preferred means of payment when shopping online. Other countries, such as China, prefer special providers like Alipay or UnionPay. In Germany, PayPal is currently growing strongly, but so far the purchase on account remains the strongest in terms of sales. We report on this in detail in our article “Payment methods in e-commerce: standard payment vs. quick payment”. Payment by credit card and via e-wallets such as PayPal or Amazon Pay should therefore be standard in an international online shop. In addition, the country-specific payment methods must be taken into account.
Beforehand, it is important to check whether the product in question can be sold internationally at all or whether it is subject to a special labelling obligation in the country of destination. Of course, import regulations, laws such as youth and consumer protection and licensing regulations should also be taken into account. In this case, it is helpful to work with a lawyer who is familiar with international trade laws and can provide legal certainty on these points. Once everything is settled, logistics should also be ensured (possible approaches: centralised or regional warehouse).
Most Promising Markets for International Expansion
If you want to move from a national online shop to an international online shop, the first step is to determine which countries you want to expand your sales to. It is important to analyse which country offers the most sales for the respective product or where saturation has already been reached. The potential analysis is the foundation of the internationalisation strategy. At the same time, it should be checked whether the online shop and the retailer are able to implement all legal framework conditions and cultural specifications.
A study shows that Austria is one of the most popular countries for German retailers to expand their international efforts, with around 64%. This is based primarily on the fact that 44% of respondents rate the neighbouring country as having the highest turnover. But Switzerland, France and the Netherlands also rank high. Risk markets due to, for example, high payment defaults are identified primarily in Eastern Europe and are thus served little or not at all.
Technical Implementation Measures for an International Online Shop
If an online shop wants to appear on the international stage, the technical implementation must also be taken into account. It is important to ensure a good network connection. When choosing a hosting provider, it should be ensured that the hosted international online shop performs just as quickly and centrally when connecting and querying from other countries as it does from Germany. It is important to create a constant internet network structure.
Two Hints For Local Online Marketing Measures
Just like nationally, it is important to make the international online shop known in the respective target country through an online marketing strategy. The basis here is, among other things, search engine optimization as well as search engine marketing with corresponding ad management. Even if the instruments are the same, an online strategy set up for the German-speaking region cannot be adopted 1 to 1 internationally. It is necessary to start from scratch. In order to use the customer potential in the sale of products on the international market, it is necessary to determine target groups, to define a target group-specific approach and to plan, set up and implement appropriate campaigns.
Search Engine Optimisation
In order to list an international online shop for the country on Google, a completely new keyword research must be done, because it is by no means sufficient to translate the German keywords. Often there are completely different words for terms in the different regions. For example, “strawberries” are known as “pineapples” in Austria, while a car is called a “Karre” in Switzerland or a bicycle is called a “Velo”.
Certainly, Google is one of the search engines used internationally, but country-specific models should not be disregarded. In Russia, for example, the Yandex.ru platform plays a major role in search queries, while Baidu is preferred in China, Yahoo Japan in Japan and Naver in South Korea.
With the right strategy, the international online shop is an interesting way to tap into new target groups and increase sales in the long term. The current upswing in e-commerce seems to be a good time. Nevertheless, the following applies: internationalisation will only be successful with comprehensive planning.
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