When it comes to making a global e-commerce impact, no other platform compares to Shopify.
The e-commerce giant has ruled the e-commerce roost for a while now, but thanks to Covid it’s reached new heights — according to stats reported in late March 2021, Shopify is now home to over 1M businesses and raked in close to $1 billion in Q1.
So, what does this mean for your growing e-commerce store?
Shopify may just be the perfect platform to help you reach new cross-border audiences and position your store for a global takeover.
Of course, expanding to other countries isn’t without challenges. But that’s where we come in.
In this ultimate guide to Shopify international selling, we’ll dig into the details and dish out how to take your e-commerce store across borders in nine simple steps.
The scoop on going global with Shopify international
- Step 1. Do your Shopify international homework
- Step 2. Consider friendly local payment options for Shopify international shoppers
- Step 3. Get on the same page as the locals
- Step 4. Get crystal-clear about delivery times
- Step 5. Get to know your shipping costs
- Step 6. Set up your return plan
- Step 7. Consider customer service based on time zones
- Step 8. Dial in your international ads
- Step 9. Study the local culture
- Time to take action with your Shopify International business
Step 1. Do your Shopify international homework
As a growing ecommerce brand, you already understand the importance of targeted marketing. The same, customer-centric philosophy applies when you take your Shopify store international.
Simple, right? Well… not quite.
Every regional market has its own unique purchasing habits — for example the types of store layouts certain audiences expect or the online browsing patterns of different consumers in different cultures. So, before you leap into a new market, it’s essential to investigate your options and choose just one new market to dive into first. Get it right, then move on to conquer the next.
If you don’t have international sales yet, identify the markets that would ideally match your store. Start by thinking about markets that are relatively close to you, are easy to ship to, and have similar purchase habits.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there a demand for my products in this market?
- What’s the competition like in this market?
- Is English a primary language, or will I need to cater to a different language?
- What additional costs do I need to consider that are particular to this region?
Step 2. Consider friendly local payment options for Shopify international shoppers
If you’ve been selling in the US, you’ll be used to asking shoppers to pull out a credit or debit card to make an online purchase. But for many countries, that’s not how things are done. Often, international shoppers use secure banking transfer systems or other more common payment methods in their regions.
To make international payments simple, here’s what to do:
- Offer local payment methods. These methods are direct and secure and offer options for specific regions.
- If your store uses Shopify Payments, set up payments familiar to your target regions to provide a hyper-localized shopping feel for customers.
- Remember, Shopify offers more than 130 currencies, allowing customers to convert pricing to a currency of their choice. When they’re ready to check out, Shopify does the conversion for you but pays out in US dollars.
Step 3. Get on the same page as the locals
How likely are you to purchase from a Shopify international store in another language? Yeah, neither are your customers. In fact, 42% of Europeans never purchase from a store in a language other than their own.
To avoid customers running your sales pages through Google translate each time they shop, it’s important to support the local language.
But the buck doesn’t stop there — because Google isn’t fooled when it comes to countries that share your language either. When shoppers search for their favorite product, Google only shows them content most relevant to them — and that includes geographic proximity.
The answer? International domains.
By setting up domains specific to the region you’re targeting, you can provide a more personalized experience that includes content in local languages and pricing in local currencies. For example, let’s say your standard US domain is mystoreonline.com. You could set up shop in France by using mystoreonline.fr or fr.mystoreonline.com.
Step 4. Get crystal-clear about international delivery times
If you ship from the US to Canada, it probably takes a little longer than shipping locally. But shipping to the other side of the world? You’ve got a whole new set of standards to deal with.
Here’s how to ace international shipping:
- Update your shipping information frequently to be as accurate as possible.
- Find out what carriers you will use, what issues may arise with customs, and whether your customers will have to pay additional fees like VAT taxes when they pick up their merch.
- Set reasonable expectations with your customers to make sure you spend less time managing customer service complaints — and also gain the advantage of customers who purchase from you multiple times.
Step 5. Get to know your shipping costs
With great international selling, comes great additional shipping costs.
These costs are known as ‘landed costs’ — the total amount you pay to deliver a product to an international address.
Landed costs include shipping costs, taxes, insurance, and duties or customs fees. Get to know these inside-out because they’ll impact how much your customers pay and will affect your conversion rates.
For example, if you quote a manageable $13.50 shipping fee for an international sale, you may not account for the $20 duty fee added to the order. Your customer is in for a rude awakening if their package gets caught up in customs.
So, before you expand, get familiar with the rules and regulations of specific counties. These rules may help determine which countries to start selling in and will help prevent any future mishaps if you miscalculate the actual cost for your customer.
Step 6. Set up your return plan
Returns are stressful enough, but when you go global with Shopify, you’ll have a whole new set of requirements to think about.
To avoid missing the returns beat, home in on regional legislation around international returns, and do some digging around typical return behavior for the countries you target.
Despite the drawbacks, when you have a standard return policy that’s visible and easy to understand, you’re far more likely to capture sales. Though returns are inevitable, you’ll reduce the likelihood of having items sent back if you do the following:
- Create clear images with good lighting from multiple angles.
- For wearable items, use handy apps to provide virtual wardrobes and fitting tools.
- Double-check packaging to ensure everything is boxed and packaged well.
- Get a thorough grasp of third-party fulfillment policies.
- Stay in touch with customers about their satisfaction and experience.
Step 7. Consider customer service based on time zones
Believe it or not, if you start small, managing customer service in different time zones should be a cinch.
To offer solid customer service across all your selling markets, take time to:
- Get to know the local time zones in the regions you plan to expand. The last thing you want is frustrated customers who can’t get anyone to log onto chat for five more hours.
- Look into hiring a virtual assistant to handle customer care in your off hours — there’s no sense in working around the clock as a business owner. For larger companies, check out ways to partner with customer service agencies based on your size, budget, and needs.
Step 8. Dial in your international ads
Social media is a great way to connect with customers all over the world — and if you’re already running local ads on social, all you need to do is to get them segmented and dialed in for local markets.
Here’s how to run ads that will convert in any market:
- Create new custom audiences that match the regions you plan to target.
- Spend some upfront time researching audiences in your new markets. Chances are you’ll discover they have different interests, behavior, and shopping habits.
- Consider which language your new audience prefers to view ads in, what currency you need to use for your ads, and any cultural nuances that will increase your chance of connecting (think: images, styling, and messaging).
Step 9. Study the local culture
If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you know cultural differences are real — drilling down on these is everything when it comes to international sales.
To make sure you hit the local culture in the right way, follow these three tips:
- Make sure your brand messaging is culturally sensitive. Remember, things that are acceptable in the US could be taboo in other regions.
- Take time to study any significant social or political events that may affect the language you use.
- Learn about customs, traditions, and what’s acceptable culturally — especially when it comes to specific products, images, and messaging.
Time to take action with your Shopify International business
Congrats! Now that your plan’s in place, you’re ready for the upfront work it takes to get your Shopify store into new markets. 🎉
Remember it’s best to start with one new market at a time and stay close to home in the beginning — then, when you have your shipping, fulfillment, and fees nailed, you can start looking into broader markets.
Like any new business venture, you’ll face some challenges. But stay focused and before you know it, you’ll be sure to scale your global e-commerce store in no time.