Last updated: International expansion in 8 steps: A guide to cross-border sales

International expansion in 8 steps: A guide to cross-border sales


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With 70% of European online shoppers buying products from international retailers, cross-border sales seems a compelling proposition. And there is further good news: Selling to an international audience has never been more straightforward.

What might once have been a daunting and complex challenge requiring significant investment has turned into an opportunity, which is much easier to manage and too lucrative to be missed.

🎼 If I had a million dollars 🎼 : Cross-border sales by the numbers

Worldwide e-commerce sales are growing year over year. Estimates forecast that they’ll equal $4.479 trillion by 2021, with Asian companies currently at the forefront – China was responsible for 67.1% of all e-commerce sales worldwide in 2017.

In Europe, the UK (EUR178 billion), France (EUR 93.2 billion), and Germany (EUR 93 billion) represent the three biggest e-commerce markets in Europe, accounting for over two-thirds of the total European turnover.

Cross-border sales in e-commerce turnover in Europe increased by 11% in 2017, making it worth EUR 534 billion, with early indicators suggesting turnover reached over EUR 600 billion last year.

Preparing for cross-border sales: 8 key steps

  1. Consider a shortcut: A UPS study showed that 96% of global online shoppers have purchased from marketplaces at least once, making global online-stores like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, or Etsy an obvious choice and a money saving shortcut to kick off cross-border sales. Apart from offering retailers access to a high volume of potential customers, they also give newcomers a taste of what selling to a particular market is like without needing to invest time and money.
  2. Invest in market research: Determining whether people in other countries will buy your product is the first step in deciding whether a cross-border expansion will be financially worthwhile. With a plethora of market and consumer data available online, it’s not difficult to assess market relevance and demand for a product using search engines and key word research. A helpful, free online tool is Google Trends, which lists trending topics, shoppers’ e-commerce searches, and other data for geographic regions or for individual countries.
  3. Speak your customers language: Language is a deal breaker or maker. UK companies need to acknowledge that internet users in other countries generally do not feel comfortable using shopping sites in foreign languages. Help is at hand: For retailers planning to sell their products via their own website, platforms exist that make setting up online stores or extending existing online stores for other markets with different languages straightforward and cost a fraction of what companies had to spend in the early days of cross-border sales.
  4. Offer diverse payment methods and local currency payments: Often, businesses planning to expand internationally already have a website. However, the use of local currencies are key to winning customers abroad. Over 48% of retailers surveyed by Payvision (2014) reported that offering multi-currency options has boosted cross-border sales. Equally, retailers selling abroad will also need to take widely differing payment preferences into account. Offering customers a variety of payment options will put them at ease and appease their fears of fraud, helping boost sales. E-commerce websites should also show product prices in the local currency. This significantly increases shoppers’ trust by taking away the risk of unknown conversion rates and fees that might be charged by the customers’ issuing banks. Payment solutions can instantly price goods, services, and invoices in the customers’ and suppliers’ local currency – wherever they are in the world, and are agnostic to the payment method used.
  5. Check online databases for IPRs and patentability: Selling goods across borders could potentially infringe individual property rights (IPRs). While IPRs are largely protected at a national level on a country-by-country basis, there are some mechanisms for protection of rights across multiple jurisdictions. For example, in the EU it’s possible to obtain a EU-wide trademark (EUTM). There are a number of firms offering patentability and freedom to operate (FTO) searches for a fixed price. The European Patent Office provides a free service to check for published patent applications and registered patents via its platform Espacenet.
  6. Partner with shipping firms: E-commerce surveys emphasize the importance of competitive shipping rates and shipping options. Shipping costs in particular lead to high cart abandonment rates if consumers deem them too high. Businesses selling on global or local marketplaces can take advantage of their fulfillment services, including handling of import fees and customs-based clearance on behalf of the seller. Retailers selling independently should use third-party shipping services such as DHL, FedEx, or UPS, which equally take care of duties and tariffs and ensure smooth handling of product returns.
  7. Become social media savvy to reduce marketing costs: Much brand building and advertising now takes place via social media. Alongside global channels like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, plenty of local social media networks allow easy access to consumers abroad. Researching popular networks for each country helps identify the relevant product channels, while smart content tools like “Answer the Public” suggest content that resonates with particular consumer markets. Using influencers or bloggers extends the trust and popularity those influencers enjoy to your product. Influencer marketing platforms such as AspireIQ, TRIBE, or Speakr help to find influencers in foreign markets.
  8. Ensure financing for your cross-border sales: While international expansion can be very profitable, you must ensure you can manage your cash flow effectively. Partnering with a bank can provide the right financing for your expansion and also help with international payment solutions.

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