With digitization, a whole new world of opportunities has opened up before marketers. With customers increasingly preferring omni-channel shopping, you can offer products to customers in virtually any part of the globe, anytime.
But along with this come challenges associated with marketing to a diversified audience, enabling payments across the globe, navigating complex legal and regulatory framework, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
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The digital economy has blurred traditional boundaries between countries, leading to the birth of a global marketplace worth trillions of dollars. As vast as the market is, so is the competition that an e-commerce company can face. If you are trying to sell in foreign markets, you have to fend off competition from both, local as well as foreign companies.
E-commerce companies also face the challenges associated with building brand loyalty. With a number of products to choose from, customer loyalty can be fickle where your audience is always on the lookout for the next big thing.
Here are a few marketing challenges you can expect if you are planning to explore the global marketplace with your e-commerce brand.
1. Research Well
Global outreach cannot be accomplished at once. If you have built a market for your product locally and have acquired experience and confidence in marketing and selling your product/ideas, then you can consider expanding to newer territories.
There is a strong global demand for US-made products. Customers expect the products to be genuine and high-quality. Despite this, it is important to check whether your specific product will be well-received in a particular foreign market. What works in the US may not excite a customer in Germany.
If your e-commerce site is built with Shopify or Magento, you can easily study traffic flow to your site and where it is coming from. These tools also provide scalable options to cater to international customers.
Even if you are able to convert a small portion of that traffic into sales, it will be worthwhile venturing into global ecommerce.
Google Trends also help you study search volume in specific regions for particular keywords associated with what you sell. Also, check where you get most queries about shipping from. This makes marketing to the audience easier.
The awareness level of established American brands is high and there is a strong aspirational value associated with several products produced in the West.
As a marketer, it becomes imperative to focus on how easy it is for global customers to get the same products and the excellent customer support irrespective of their location.
It is also important to note that companies cannot afford to dilute the customer experience they provide and have to strive to maintain the standards they provide to their home-based shoppers.
2. Focus on Smart Shipping Strategy
One of the biggest deterrents to building a good ecommerce customer base in foreign markets is exorbitant shipping charges. International delivery is not cheap. Added to that are country-specific duties and taxes, which end up making the shipping costs prohibitive.
You can streamline shipping and operation costs by partnering with a third-party logistics (3PL) company. 3PL companies can also act as fulfillment partners and reduce your operational burden to a great extent.
The logistics and fulfillment service providers have warehousing and distribution facilities all over the world. They store and manage your inventory at locations that allow for optimal delivery. Leading 3PL companies, like FedEx, have their own freight and parcel networks that ensure your products are shipped internationally in the least possible time. Shipments are also made via lowest-cost carriers – be it FedEx, UPS or DHL.
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Customs, country-specific trade regulations, taxes and duties can prove to be a maze impossible to navigate. Global 3PLs like UPS, Kuehne+Nagel and DB Schenker allow you to ship to customers no matter where they are. They also calculate taxes and duties, access custom forms and do all the paperwork for you. Opting for UPS Paperless Invoice tool will ensure that commercial invoices are electronically submitted to Customs offices without any effort from your end.
Easyship and Pitney Bowes are e-commerce shipping tools that integrate with your online store to show dynamic shipping rates at checkout, determine import duties, calculate taxes and fees for individual shipments, and pick, pack and ship your products in accordance with standardized international packaging, labeling and classification systems.
Since warehousing and inventory management costs are spread over multiple clients, you will be able to save on overheads. Flexible and discounted solutions can also be accessed by small e-commerce companies to make international e-commerce easier.
Most shippers allow tracking of shipments, which gives transparency and peace of mind to customers. According to Baymard Instiute, high shipping and related fees are the topmost reasons cited by 60% of customers to abandon online shopping carts. 23% cited the inability to get a consolidated total cost for the order as a main reason.
Your marketing strategy will need to take into consideration shipping and logistics strategies. ASOS gave foremost importance to shipping and warehousing solutions and ensured that their free worldwide shipping and returns policy built brand warmth along with a massive customer base. Free shipping is not a distant dream for your brand. Smart cost-control measures like opting for flat-rate shipping containers and consolidated shipping can allow you to pass on the savings to your customers.
3. Give the Local Touch
If you want to sell your products in a country that does not speak your language, it is extremely important to get the local dynamics on your website right. Your online store needs to be spruced up to welcome the new audience.
Almost all major websites now offer language/country options, which allow you to choose languages of your preference. These localized websites also match currency, regional shopping patterns, brand preferences and cultural influences. This ensures your online store makes customers feel at home and be comfortable shopping.
You also need to facilitate popular local payment gateways. For example, in Japan, Konbini is a preferred payment method, whereas in Africa mobile wallets like M-Pesa are popular. Cash-on-delivery is popular in India and China.
Geography and currency selectors are must-have features on your global website as they help provide an easy and expedited shopping experience to global customers. Product descriptions and checkout should be in the local language to provide a truly customized experience to your shopper.tre
In China, Singles Day celebrations present a massive marketing opportunity. Alibaba clocked sales over $25 billion during Singles Day extravaganza last year. So it is important to up the sales pitch during run-ups to local festivals that stir buying frenzy.
4. Do Not Ignore Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing through micro-influencers is very important. Identify social media influencers who have common values and who identify easily with your brand and customers. A study by Snap Inc. found that 31% users rely on influencers and celebrities to make a buying decision.
You need to find out the local influencers who rank high for the specific keywords in your business niche. Reach out to them and help them get to know your brand. If they are already brand advocates, reward them for their loyalty and try to make them a part of your customer outreach programs.
Micro-influencers have a small, but highly engaged and loyal following. You can use influencers to drive contests, promote free giveaways and other online initiatives. Testimonials, reviews, and feedback provided by influencers should be acknowledged and used to improve brand perception.
You can also collaborate to create unique content for potential customers. It is important to know that there are several towering rivals to Facebook and Twitter in many countries. So know the social milieu before investing in marketing channels.
5. Take Care of Reverse Logistics
Reverse logistics have the potential to make or break your global e-commerce company. Getting the products on time and in perfect condition at the doorstep of your customer is hard enough, but when it comes to refunding or replacing goods, the supply chain becomes all the more stretched.
To ensure that you provide a rich purchasing experience and a high level of customer satisfaction, it is important to have an effective return policy in place. The policies and procedures for returns should be clearly visible to the user on the website.
You will have to work out a viable method to take back returned goods. Some companies do not bring back the goods to the US and liquidate and reimburse customers in the foreign country itself. Others opt to receive the returned goods and reimburse the merchandise including the additional taxes and duties as well. The reimbursement is made in local currency at exchange rates prevailing at the time of placing the original order. Fluctuations are absorbed by the logistics provider or by the e-commerce company.
Going global with your e-commerce venture is no mean feat. It requires extensive planning and coordination between multiple stakeholders, ranging from the logistics company to the delivery staff.
But with the blurring of physical borders and the advent of online shopping, it would be foolish to tie your business down to geographical limitations. With the right planning, a winning attitude and the willingness to learn as you go, your growth potential is virtually limitless.
Manish Dudharejia is the President and Founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego Based Digital Agency that specializes in Website Design & Development and eCommerce SEO. With over 10 years of experience in the Technology and Digital Marketing industry, Manish is passionate about helping online businesses to take their branding to the next level.