Identifying and Overcoming Barriers in Cross-border Commerce

Identifying and Overcoming Barriers in Cross-border Commerce


It’s never been so easy to sell globally. Since the first online retail transaction in the mid-nineties, international brands have had unprecedented access to consumers all around the world but they also face a set of new challenges encompassing taxation, shipping, technology, language, and culture. The average retail firm in 1990 could only have dreamt of the level of access to global consumers, but they would have very little idea how to overcome the obstacles to reach them.

Sometimes it feels as if modern firms are also at a loss how to overcome some of these difficulties. We’ve seen even highly successful firms flounder as they try to establish themselves in new markets such as China, often exiting with their tail between their legs. What hope then for smaller players with fewer resources behind them?

Whilst there’s no denying that cross-border eCommerce remains challenging, the framework for identifying and overcoming the biggest barriers is accessible to retailers of any size. Get to grips with your data analytics and you’re well on your way to understanding your brand’s strengths and weaknesses and your eCommerce challenges and opportunities. Once you understand these, you’re already on the way to start addressing them.

Break it down

Approach your analytics by asking these five questions:

Where are my customers?
What languages do they speak?
What’s their cultural background?
What are their challenges?
How do I support them through the sales funnel?

You can find answers to some of these questions in your web analytics platform. For instance, Google Analytics provides two valuable tools to address this; your audience’s language and location. To find these, go to the ‘Audience’ section and then to the section called ‘Geo’. You can then analyze the behavior of visitors to your site to see how effectively you are serving them based on their language and location.

This should uncover a wealth of information that can help you understand where you are failing them and how you can improve. It will help you decide which areas of the world you should focus on for maximum impact on your business.

Where are my customers

The first question seems like the easiest one to answer – it’s just a question of using the location tracking functionality in your web analytics package. But this is really the key to understanding your audience’s barriers and start smashing down the obstacles to selling to customers in that particular geography.

Most businesses that use Google analytics are barely scratching the surface of what’s possible using this tool. One of the simplest things you can do is set up views for specific regions so you understand how one particular market audience is interacting with your website. There are a couple of ways to do this, one of them is to set up additional profiles and views of your web analytics based on the content for that market.

If you have a version of your website set up for a specific country domain (eg .de for Germany) you can set up a subfolder so you only see the information on that specific national domain. Alternatively, you can set up advanced segments based on geographic location so that you only see information about visitors from a particular location.

To really nail down what your barriers are for particular audiences, you should set up goal tracking so you can analyse conversion rates by geography. Perhaps you’re seeing huge volumes of traffic from location A but the conversion rate is tiny.

You may actually be better off focusing on your visitors from location B, which brings a much smaller stream of traffic but at high conversion rates. You may be better off trying to focus on acquiring more traffic from location B, perhaps using targeted SEO, than trying to improve conversions for traffic from location A.

Understanding where your customers are should help you identify which parts of the world are perhaps worth focusing on in particular to maximize growth. As a rule of thumb, areas that are currently sending you a relatively small amount of traffic but with a high conversion rate are usually worth spending more time on.

For larger markets, in particular, it may be worthwhile analyzing not just by country but by smaller regional areas within it. For the sake of sanity, most brands approach massive markets such as China by taking a regional approach. For instance, many start by tackling only sophisticated urban consumers in China’s bigger cities. You may find conversion rates are very different between different regions within the same market.

Cityscape of Shanghai

Brands that market their products to consumers in larger markets like China often build their strategy with a regional approach.

As a next step, you should set up location-based funnels to analyze at what point your overseas visitors are dropping out of the conversion funnel. If you see a strong pattern of international users leaving the site during the checkout process, then there may be a problem with the payment methods you’re offering or perhaps issues with shipping and tax that might be putting users off.

This is the type of thing you can address in order to improve your conversion rates. Many vendors assume that doing cross-border eCommerce always requires you to offer other languages but sometimes it’s the payment methods that are just as important, particularly in countries with high levels of English language fluency.

Other clues you should look for include the bounce rate for visitors from particular locations. First, identify some of the bigger geographic populations that are visiting your site. Then segment the bounce rate for each location. If visitors from particular areas are bouncing at a high rate, it’s often a clue that they wanted to see content in their own language. It can also be a technological issue affecting some regions such as slow page load times.

What language do my customers speak?

Most web analytics software assumes a user’s language based on the language settings for their browser and whatever operating system they are using. There are a number of flaws in this approach – a user might be using someone else’s device that’s not geared to their preferred language, or if their language is a very obscure one they may have to use a technology setup in a different language because theirs isn’t supported.

But there are also advantages to this approach. For instance, if I take my own device on holiday to a country where I don’t speak the language Google won’t assume my language based on my location.

You’ll probably see a pattern emerge that shows web visitors that don’t normally favor your website’s language have a higher bounce rate on your site. When they don’t immediately bounce, they may stay longer on your website compared to the average user but they visit fewer pages.

That’s a sign that they are giving up immediately, or if they persevere they are struggling to use the site. You’ll need to use your judgment to decide what to do about the pattern you see. One option is to provide the content in their native language. You might decide to do this if you see a strong enough pattern of users from that language group struggling to use your website.

Remember though that offering another language for your business is a big commitment – you’ll also need to think about offering things such as customer support in that language too, as well as multilingual SEO. You’ll need to study your analytics carefully to decide what’s the best language approach for your business.

READ MORE: How to Plan an Effective International SEO Strategy

What’s their cultural background?

One feature of Google Analytics that probably isn’t being used enough is the behavioral analytics capabilities, which help you understand your audience on a deeper level. Google Analytics already offers you the demographic tools to understand your audience’s age, gender, location, and language. From this information and using your own research, you can start to understand their challenges and concerns, such as estimating their household income based on local economic information.

You can also use custom segments to gain more insights. In the Audience section, you can create custom segments to explore what broader interests your visitors have. For example, if your brand specializes in sportswear you can use custom audiences to understand whether your visitors are interested in endurance-type events or perhaps in health and wellbeing.

Google Analytics is geared particularly towards targeting custom audiences with display advertising but this tool will also help you understand your visitors and their broader interests and world view.

By identifying and defining a particular audience – perhaps Chinese rural women aged 25-34 who are interested in wellness – you can track how this segment is behaving on your website. You may find it helpful to combine this type of analysis with creating user personas for your website that will support you in creating content aimed at this segment. Creating user personas for key behavioral segments really helps you to keep these types of visitors in mind as your site evolves, so you ensure their needs are always being met.

What are their technical challenges?

Your analytics package should be able to provide the technical information you need to serve your international web visitors to a high standard. Some of the most useful pieces of information are the mobile bounce rate and the conversion rate on mobile. All your global audiences will be well-represented on mobile so this is important for every visitor. It’s also highly important in some emerging markets where mobile users take a bigger share of traffic than other device users.

If you’re trying to move the focus from the developed world to emerging markets, exploring your technical analytics is a particularly important exercise. Most developed nations have a reliable broadband infrastructure but this is not always the case in emerging markets. You can’t assume that a single server solution will suit all your visitors to the same standard and that all your visitors will receive the same load speeds as users in your own developed market.

The kind of information you want to explore is found in the page timings report area and includes things such as the average page load time and average server response time.

You should use the information to identify pages that are taking a particularly long time to load on certain browsers and see how you can improve speed. If you are noticing slow load times from particular geographies, it’s likely that users from this area have a general bandwidth challenge. You might want to consider offering an alternative, lightweight, page speed-optimized version of your pages, for instance, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), to users struggling with bandwidth.

woman using a smartphone

Accelerated Mobile Pages are an effective way to reach consumers in markets with regional bandwidth challenges.

Some brands respond to slow server response times by using servers that are located closer to users. You could explore using local-market servers if this is a particular challenge for your site. There are also other technical solutions that can improve web performance for your global visitors and you should probably get the right technical advice to find out what’s the best approach for your needs.

How do I support them through the sales funnel?

Perhaps the most valuable thing you can learn about your overseas customer from your analytics is where they get into trouble on your site. You should explore their drop-off points with particular care. Look out in particular for drop-offs during the purchase process, these often indicate there’s a barrier with the payment method, currency, or shipping. If you have any help pages, see which topics users are visiting.

You should also take a look at your search data as this will show what people are looking for – and you need to see whether they will be able to find what they are looking for.

By understanding what the frictions are you can try to address some sticking points that might really improve conversions. Quick wins might include explaining your shipping policy more clearly, or articulate shipping policies for each geography you sell to. Making small changes like this might help improve conversions by removing some barriers for particular audiences.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is to treat each audience differently when you explore your analytics. Creating segments and analyzing behavior based on language or geographical background really helps you understand your visitors in different markets a lot better and helps you start tackling the barriers they have to engage with your brand and to convert visitors to customers on your eCommerce site.

Written by Demetrius Williams
Demetrius Williams
Demetrius Williams is a Digital Marketing Specialist at TranslateMedia and has previous eCommerce experience working with a number of luxury brands in the fashion and beauty industry. He enjoys photography, binge-watching Netflix and can often be found roaming around London with a camera in his hand.

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