The internet has allowed worldwide trade at levels never thought possible in human history. With a global audience available for anyone to tap into, many businesses have begun offering their products and services in foreign markets for the first time. Consequently, companies have to carefully evaluate and sometimes reshape their global ecommerce policies. Here are five things brands must consider when expanding their reach.
1. Adapt Branding for Unique Audiences
Estée Lauder learned a hard lesson in global ecommerce policies when it first released its Country Mist perfume in Germany. After disappointing sales, the beauty company realized that “mist” was slang for “manure,” leading customers to steer clear — no pun intended — of the fragrance.
Companies expanding to a global market may need to switch up their messaging, product names, logo symbolism or packaging colors to appeal to different consumers. Researching the market isn’t just good for sales — it can mean the difference between a product being well received and causing offense.
In 2019, Nike’s Air Max line of shoes led to considerable upset in the Muslim community. The capitalized word “AIRMAX,” which was printed on the sole, looked like Arabic word for Allah when turned upside down. Many customers were angry at the printed word being on the bottom of a shoe where people could step on it, leading Nike to issue an apology.
While it’s impossible to predict every potential translation error or cultural faux pas, businesses delving into global ecommerce need strong policies in place that outline the brand research process. It helps to have a diverse staff from different religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to help guide product branding for different markets.
2. Understand Taxes and Fees
Companies that want to expand into a global market must gain a solid understanding of international taxes and duty compliances. They need to consider customs, tariffs, value-added tax and shipping tax. Import and export fees also vary by country.
Companies that familiarize themselves with international tax laws can better predict when their products will reach a customer, how much shipping will cost and how to price products accordingly. It’s crucial for fulfilling orders on time and keeping customers satisfied.
3. Make Content Accessible
Another thing to consider when going global is website readability. A survey of customers from 29 countries found that a whopping 40% of people won’t shop on sites in a non-native language, with 73% at least wanting product reviews written in their native tongue. It’s understandable — if customers can’t read the text, how will they know what a product is made from or what it does?
Therefore, one of the most important global ecommerce policies is to translate product information into different languages so customers can read it.
Businesses can use geolocation tools to determine where a website visitor is located. For example, someone browsing from Ireland will see the site in English, while the content will be displayed in Spanish for Mexican users.
Another strategy is to give site visitors the option to select their preferred language when first accessing the site. Cookies can save a person’s selection so the website looks the same the next time they visit.
Automatic translation tools are better than nothing, and they can be a helpful stopgap measure when first expanding into global markets. However, businesses can take their sites to the next level by hiring writers to produce marketing copy in different languages. Natively written copy will almost always sound better than auto-generated translations, and customers will definitely appreciate it.
4. Consider Different Payment Options
Most people prefer to shop or make a purchase in their own currency. Businesses can use software to automatically display prices in a site visitor’s preferred currency based on location. It’s much easier for customers than having to manually calculate a price based on current exchange rates, and this feature can drive sales.
In addition to currency varying by country, customer payment methods are also regionally specific. For example, Asia-Pacific customers used digital wallets for 69% of ecommerce transactions in 2022, while just 21% of shoppers in Latin America used the payment method. Five times more European transactions involved a buy-now-pay-later method than did those in Africa or the Middle East.
One of the best global ecommerce policies a business can implement is to give customers multiple ways to check out. For example, PayPal, WeChat, debit cards, credit cards and digital wallets all appeal to different audiences, and letting people use their preferred payment method can encourage people to complete a transaction.
5. Calculate Shipping and Logistics
Getting products to customers on time is an important part of running a successful ecommerce operation, and businesses must carefully consider how they’ll ship their goods to people around the world. For example, will they use intermodal transportation? This method is gaining popularity in an increasingly complex economy, with intermodal shipping volumes growing 2.6% in 2021 compared to 2020. Which carriers will a company use? How will they price products when shipping to other countries?
Customers today are used to fast, hassle-free shipping — in some cases, people can order items and have them delivered the same day. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever to fulfill orders quickly and ensure products don’t get lost on the way.
Companies must find a reliable carrier that offers shipping insurance to keep customers happy. One way to do that is to use a third-party logistics company to handle global shipments, taking the sting out of navigating costs, delivery times and border crossings.
Another way to simplify logistics is for a company to build warehouses and fulfillment centers in the countries where it wants to operate. This strategy becomes especially important if a business gains a large international customer base, since it may be faster and cheaper to ship locally rather than overseas.
Creating Strong Global eCommerce Policies
There has never been a better time to reach customers around the world. Thanks to geolocation software, translation tools and the prevalence of online shopping, global ecommerce is easier than ever, and businesses would be remiss not to take advantage of it.
Companies should familiarize themselves with international tax and shipping laws, diverse payment methods and cultural expectations to create the best possible experience for their customers. In doing so, they will stand out from the crowd and earn a reputation as a culturally savvy brand.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in science and technology.