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Cross-border eCommerce is no longer just for big brands. Digital commerce has made it much easier to reach customers in other territories and made it feasible to even small businesses to do so. But not every website is ready to meet the needs of international customers that have particular shipping needs.
If you’re offering international shipping on your website or building a dedicated online store for overseas customers, you must ensure your site is ready. Apart from ensuring that it is localised for the target market, you’ll also need to be sensitive to their payment preferences, know the best carriers for getting deliveries to them safely and to understand how tariffs work and to reflect that in your operations.
When it comes to international eCommerce it’s vital that you really understand your market. Understanding local regulations and import rules is a big part of that.
Some of these are pretty obvious – it’s tricky to import live animals to many parts of the world. Others are less obvious – such as import bans on radio equipment or musical greeting cards. Be aware that regions within countries can have their own import rules.
There are also restrictions on what you can export. You can’t ship PlayStations from the US without a license, for example. If you’re exporting from the UK, the GOV.UK website has plentiful resources explaining the rules. If there are certain products you can’t or won’t export to particular territories, make sure that’s reflected on your site.
If you’re already selling online, you’ll be aware of what an important issue shipping is for customers. They overwhelmingly want it free and fast. When you’re shipping to overseas customers, both these things are difficult to offer.
In some markets, customers have particularly high expectations for fast delivery. You must update your website to give international buyers a fair expectation for shipping times and make sure the costs of international shipping are really clear.
Whatever carrier method you choose, be aware that they need your help complying with the rules. If you’re shipping products that need batteries and you supply the batteries with them, they’ll need to be inserted into your product before shipping. This may change the way you prepare your items for shipping.
You may also want to rethink your packaging when you’re shipping internationally. When you ship overseas, it tends to be tougher on packaging than a domestic sale. You may need to add extra padding and more robust external cladding to your parcel. But avoid making the parcel impossible to open. This tends to annoy customers whether they’re at home or abroad.
Third-party order fulfilment services and returns management companies can really help reduce the logistical headaches associated with getting items to international buyers.
Clever returns management solutions can help reduce the cost of returns and also your company’s carbon footprint. They’ll do this by offering local warehousing so items can be returned to you in bulk rather than individually, helping to manage returns more efficiently.
It’s vital to offer your customers payment options that not only work for them but also ones they feel comfortable using. Preferred payment options vary around the globe so it’s important to understand the markets you’re reaching and how people there prefer to pay. Some of these may be less familiar to you than others. Pre-paid credit cards are popular in some markets, others favour digital wallets and even the dreaded cash on delivery.
It’s been conclusively proven that people prefer to buy in their own language. A study conducted in ten major markets by Common Sense Advisory found that customers strongly preferred to shop on sites that were in their own native language. It seems obvious to point out that customers spent less time on sites that weren’t in their own language and made far fewer purchases from them.
Some nationalities were more tolerant of buying in a language that wasn’t their own – Chinese and Egyptian consumers were especially tolerant of buying in English. But that doesn’t mean your localisation strategy should fall short in these markets.
You don’t have to fully translate every part of your site – although there’s a strong argument for having a dedicated language site for particular language audiences. But it’s highly advisable to translate content that’s particularly important to customers. This includes the navigation, product description, support and shipping information and checkout process. As a bare minimum, these things should be translated for key language users.
Check the numbers
Although you can and should prepare your site as much as possible for customers from abroad, it’s also important to monitor your analytics. You may be able to identify trends that suggest ways you can improve your site for foreign users. If you’re seeing a large international traffic flow but few sales to these visitors, clearly you’re doing something wrong.