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What It Really Takes to Expand Internationally: An A-to-Z Checklist

According to research, cross-border expansion presents a $1 trillion opportunity for e-commerce brands. As more marketplaces offer international options, expansion into foreign markets is becoming an increasingly attractive growth tactic for modern retailers.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Expanding your business internationally can be a complex undertaking — one that requires thorough planning and a healthy working knowledge of local customs, regulations, and more.

If you’re actively planning to take your business into a new market, this detailed checklist is the perfect place to start.

Preparing for International Expansion

  1. Research New Territories
  2. Localize Your Content
  3. Offer the Right Payment Options
  4. Update Your Fulfillment Network
  5. Localize Customer Acquisition And Support
  6. Prepare Your Financial Strategy

The Pros and Cons of Going International

Taking your e-commerce business across borders is a multi-step process that often requires local, on-the-ground connections with suppliers, warehouses, fulfillment centers, transportation companies, and more.

If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But for many sellers, the payoff is worth it. 

Expanding internationally can increase your market reach, boost your sales, and elevate your brand visibility. Before you dive in, it’s important to understand both the benefits and the potential drawbacks.

Some of the core benefits of foreign expansion include:

  • Access to untapped markets
  • Increased brand visibility
  • Sales and revenue growth

Some of the potential drawbacks include:

  • Complicated customs and regulations
  • Challenges marketing to new audiences
  • High startup costs

6 Steps For A Successful Expansion

When preparing for any new market, you’ll need an agile, incremental plan for securing more sales abroad. This straightforward checklist will help you get started.

1. Research New Territories

Different countries will have different trends and cultural expectations that can impact your success. The first thing you’ll need to do is decide where you want to sell, and which of your products are most likely to succeed in your new market.

✅ To-Dos

  • Choose Where To Sell: For US-based sellers, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Europe may be more accessible options when you first start expanding, since you’ll have fewer cultural differences to contend with. However, China, Japan, Latin America, South Korea, and South Africa also have large untapped e-commerce markets.
  • Investigate The Market: Study the key e-commerce and consumer interest trends in your new market to confirm that it’s the right choice. If you have the budget, consider developing a market research survey, or working with a research consultancy to gather deeper insights.
  • Conduct Keyword Research: Review the trending Google searches in your product category for each new country or market. Different markets utilize different words for the same thing (Ex. “cookie” in the US is a “biscuit” in the UK).
  • Analyze The Competition: Identify your competition and do a deep dive into their product catalog, pricing, reviews, and keyword strategy.
  • Select Your Sales Channels: Investigate the top channels and e-commerce marketplaces in your chosen market. Determine whether to take your own website overseas, expand into a new marketplace (like Temu or MercadoLibre), or add international channels on a marketplace where you already sell — such as, Amazon Canada, UK, Germany or Mexico.
  • Refine Your Product Offering: Based on your research, pinpoint which of your products are most likely to succeed abroad and make any necessary changes to your inventory planning.

2. Localize Your Content

To maximize your sales in foreign markets, your product, sales pages, branding, and marketing must be culturally appropriate. This means not just translating text, but localizing your product to make sure it’s appealing to shoppers.

✅ To-Dos

  • Translate Everything: Hire a professional translator and make sure all text, audio, imagery and videos are accurate and culturally appropriate. Locals will easily be able to tell if you just put your listings through Google Translate.
  • Localize Your Product: You may need to make certain changes for cultural sensitivity or relevance, or order more of particular sizes or colors depending on the cultural norms in each region. Work with experts whenever possible, rather than making assumptions.
  • Customize Your Inventory: Different colors, sizes, or styles might be more or less popular depending on local preferences. Use your market research findings to adjust your inventory levels, instead of just ordering the same quantities as usual.  Once you start selling, a customizable inventory platform can help you refine your numbers for each inventory location.

3. Offer the Right Payment Options

Preferred payment methods vary widely from country to country and culture to culture. Even within the US, different payment apps are favored by different demographics. To maximize your conversions, invest in offering the most convenient, frictionless options for your new target audience.

✅ To-Dos

  • Research Payment Methods: Scope out not just the most popular payment apps or platforms in a given country, but the ones most prevalent within your specific demographic or persona.
  • List Prices In Local Currencies: To boost sales, always make sure your customers can view prices and pay in their local currency. Tools like Shopify Markets make this easy, but be sure to test run the checkout process to ensure ease and accuracy.
  • Offer Buy Now, Pay Later: In many countries, it’s standard practice to pay in multiple installments. In Argentina, for example, over three quarters of households were paying e-commerce purchases in cuotas as of 2019 — even for items that cost $25-50 USD. Allowing your customers to split up payments can help you win more sales in new markets, even in a tough economy.
  • Consider Crypto: While interest in cryptocurrency seems to be on the decline in the US, it’s still gaining traction in the Global South. E-commerce businesses that decide to accept cryptocurrency payments may be able to win some additional customers by appealing to crypto investors and enthusiasts.
  • Try Group Buying Options: Group buying, a.k.a. collective buying, is a cost-saving solution where a number of customers buy together in bulk for a discount. Group buyers save more by recruiting friends and family, potentially bringing new customers with less marketing. Keep an eye on the latest startups in this space. Some options, like Jioukou, also integrate with platforms like Shopify.
  • Protect Against Fraud: Cross-border e-commerce transactions may be more vulnerable to fraud and cybercrime. Make sure you have a solid fraud prevention plan in place that aligns with the risks and regulations of your new market.

4. Update Your Fulfillment Network

From partnering with 3PLs and local warehouses to navigating a whole new set of customs regulations, you’ll need to update your inventory and supply chain strategy to keep your operations running smoothly.

✅ To-Dos

  • Partner With The Right 3PL: A global 3PL with presence in your new market can handle much of the legwork for you, such as negotiating the best freight costs and adapting your operations to customs changes.
  • Offer A Variety of Shipping and Delivery Options: Research expected delivery times in your new market and adjust your warehousing and logistics planning accordingly.
  • Consider Local Warehouses: Depending on your fulfillment network and product margins, it may make sense to outsource warehouse management to a local company. Look for one that is already on the ground and has experience dealing with local regulations.
  • Don’t Forget Returns: Make sure you have a plan for processing international returns. Consider partnering with companies like ClickPost and Happy Returns to automate this process for you.
  • Have A Plan For Customs And Taxes: Whether you outsource, work with a consultant, or handle it internally, you’ll need someone on your team who is well-versed in customs restrictions, trade policies, and taxes.

5. Localize Customer Acquisition And Support

What works for customers in one market doesn’t always work for another. To capture and retain new shoppers, be sure to adapt your marketing and customer service strategies to the language and cultural norms in your new territories.

✅ To-Dos

  • Upgrade Your Social Media: Consider opening new social media accounts in new countries so you can tailor your marketing efforts to your local customer base. Make sure you have a presence on the most popular platforms in the local market.
  • Use Targeted Ad Buys: Think strategically and use targeted ads to earn traffic while you grow your local following.
  • Partner With Local Influencers: Partnering with local influencers can help you earn trust with your new potential customer base.
  • Check Your Cultural Sensitivity: Work with localization experts and consultants to make sure your messaging resonates and doesn’t violate local taboos. Always double-check your ad translations so you don’t have a humiliating language fail on your hands.
  • Outsource Your Customer Service: Depending where you operate, you’ll need customer service staff familiar with local languages and available at the hours your customers are awake and making calls. A company like Onepilot can handle all the details for you, offering 24/7 localized customer service in all the languages and countries you need.

6. Prepare Your Financial Strategy

When you add it all up, expanding overseas can require a large capital investment. To avoid putting too much pressure on cash flow, find a funding partner with fair and flexible terms to help you make the leap.

✅ To-Dos

  • Integrated Analytics: Centralize your key performance analytics for a single view of  how your new channels are performing.
  • Secure Working Capital: Look for a funding partner that offers favorable terms with no restrictions on how you spend your capital.
  • Cross-Border Payment Solutions: A global payments solution can help you save money on foreign transactions and currency conversion fees. It will also give you a convenient way to pay suppliers in their local currency.
  • Fast Turn-Around Times: Traditional lenders may take weeks to make funding decisions. As you expand, you’ll need a partner who can offer a variety of financial solutions fast enough to help you capture local opportunities.

Go Worldwide With SellersFi

The more time you spend researching and adapting to each new territory, the more you can learn and strategize for future growth. Keep iterating as you go and remember that it’s not just about language. It’s about integrating and assimilating into the local e-commerce ecosystem to establish a real connection with shoppers.

When you’re ready to take the next big step across borders, the right funding partner can help. With low rates and flexible terms, SellersFi’s e-commerce funding solutions were purpose-built to help sellers scale.

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