Over numerous conversations with online retailers, entrepreneurs and e-commerce managers, I’ve come up against certain obstacles that these people give as reasons for not expanding their online retail internationally.
Now, for the first time, I’ve gathered these challenges in one place and will try to draw on my experience to respond to these commonly encountered obstacles. Often, the strong suspicions and the truth do not correspond.
1. “What could we sell them? Our products don’t interest them…”
Just go for it and get consumers outside your country interested in your store. A little mysteriousness and humour will get you a long way. When your tools for customer acquisition are the likes of Facebook and Instagram, considered, well-made content plays an important role.
Your story is the best possible one! However, by using your strengths appropriately in your communication you can emphasize your story and message. That way, you can underline your company’s style and stand out even better than before. For example, many consumers will be surprisingly appreciative of your product being made by hand or ecologically, or if your warehouse employs young people.
Forget self-deprecation and caution for a moment. Speak positively about the products you offer and their features. You shouldn’t lie, but you can and should be proud of yourself.
When you start selling in a new country, make bold use of sales psychology tricks such as new releases, limited availability and good reviews. When you go to a new market, your products are always new there.
2. “I don’t speak the language! What about prices? And I don’t even have an office there! Taxes? Returns?”
Every business that expands to a neighbouring country, or one further afield, has had the same problem: thought paralysis. Having an office in the target country is far from imperative these days – just ask the likes of Amazon or Zalando. You can pilot selling in a new market more lightly, and there’s no need to start looking for office space in a foreign country straight away. Once you find your actual market, you can start making more serious investments, and they usually begin with customer service.
Language, taxes, pricing and those returns: there are answers and helping hands for all of these questions. For example, selling inside the EU is not difficult, so piloting a new market in Europe is a relatively easy first step. Returns, on the other hand, depend on your product, and you can influence the proportion of returns in many ways. A well-illustrated and described product is a surer purchase for the customer.
In the end, creating demand is the biggest challenge. To achieve that, you’ll probably have to do considerably more work than you thought. On the other hand, hard work pays off, and international e-commerce has a future.
3. “First you have to succeed better at home. Let’s think about going international later, OK?”
The most common error is to stand still. You should get out of your comfort zone before it’s too late. If you try to pilot selling in a certain market as a last resort, your chances of succeeding will be lower, because testing and analysis take time. Months and years will fly by in an instant if you don’t take action now. And taking action on the level of thought is not enough: you have to do it in practice, too.
If you don’t act now, your competitors will probably do so before you. Ask yourself: why am I aiming for perfection here? Why can’t I just go and develop internationally, too?
4. “I’m scared! I’m simply scared of expanding internationally.”
Fear is a natural and very common emotion when faced with something new. But what is also true is that information and help are available. Very many successful online stores have successfully found international customers. There is no shortage of examples from abroad.
However, don’t brush off your fear without a second thought. Analyse the precise things you are afraid of. How can we fix them? What can we do to stop the fear from materializing?
Online merchants who have expanded their market internationally alongside their home countries are often happier and more hopeful about the future. They have not placed all their eggs in one basket and generally smile accordingly!
5. “And what if I succeed?”
A local speciality. Only available from us! And what if I really do succeed in finding customers and demand abroad? Don’t be afraid of success!
Being nervous about success is often connected to having pointlessly put off trying out international markets. Be bold and accept the success! If you suddenly face tens of orders a day, you can face the logistics and volume problems one at a time.
As a process, international customer acquisition is for many people the best lesson they have received as online merchants.