Entering new markets can bring both great opportunity and unexpected challenges. And, even though the world has become more interconnected thanks to the internet, air travel, and other technological advancements, there are still many local cultural, economic, and geographic distinctions.
There are five key considerations for successfully going global: Language, infrastructure, payments, legal requirements, and cultural norms.
It may seem obvious, but communicating in different languages is one of the biggest difficulties companies face in new markets. While many parts of the world have at least a small English-speaking population, you’ll reach many more people if they can use your site in their native language. Google Translate can be helpful, but a better option is a tool like MultilingualPress, which creates localized experiences for your site.
No matter which tool you use, remember that languages are complicated! The last thing you want to do is offend your customers with awkward wording. You may want to A/B test important pages, ask customers for feedback on translated content, and focus on one language at a time.
Consider China: There are numerous languages spoken throughout the country, and many regions have individual dialects that can cause confusion even among native speakers. Estimates suggest that only about 10 million out of 1.3 billion people living in China speak English. This could mean a heavy investment in making your site friendly for speakers of Mandarin, Wu, Min, Yue, and other local dialects.
If you’re used to selling and shipping within the United States, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the issues that come with other countries. Internet penetration may not be as high, roads and air traffic may be more limited, and getting products to customers may be more difficult, especially in rural areas.
Knowing what areas of your new market are serviceable will be essential for customer satisfaction. If you’re unable to deliver a product after an order is placed, or experience significant delays, you may damage your company’s reputation.
WooCommerce Shipping, our recommended solution for eCommerce stores selling in the United States, now offers an efficient international shipping option with DHL. This can make a tricky process easier and much more cost effective.
Consider Argentina: Many Latin American countries lack the infrastructure found in North America and Europe, but Argentina has a lot to offer in other respects. With an internet penetration rate of almost 80% in 2018 and over 1,300 airports, the country is more prepared for eCommerce than some of its neighbors. However, only 142 of those airports have paved runways, and less than 30% of the roads throughout the country are paved. This can lead to delays and logistical problems in getting products to customers.
Money habits vary widely: Some countries run mostly on cash, others rely on credit, and some have moved to digital wallets. Money habits can even change between regions of a single country, and rural areas may require different payment options than cities. It’s essential to do your research and understand how people in your target country make purchases. The US Department of Commerce has a website with guides that provide a great place to start.
Luckily with WooCommerce, merchants are able to take payments from all around the world. Whether you want to accept credit cards, debit cards, or one of many alternative payment methods, all you need is the right WooCommerce-ready payment gateway.
Consider Australia: Payments in Australia are relatively straightforward. Nearly 70% of payments are made with credit or debit cards. However, the other 30% is made almost entirely with PayPal. To expand into Australia effectively, you may need to accept a variety of credit cards and have a PayPal option to reach the most customers.
Laws and regulations
Learning the applicable laws and regulations for each country or region can be complicated. Some countries bar the import and sale of fruits, vegetables, or plants due to agricultural or environmental concerns; others limit alcohol, weapons, or even books and toys.
Beyond rules around commodities, there can also be rules about business operations. While some legal information can be found online, a store looking to expand into a new country should hire a local lawyer to ensure they follow all regulations before starting to sell.
Consider India: To limit the power of foreign companies like Walmart and Amazon, India changed its regulations around inventory-driven models of eCommerce in 2018. While many smaller eCommerce businesses may be unaffected, the rules can complicate things for companies whose processes involve dropshipping, reselling, or bulk purchases.
Culture and marketing
Cultural norms are nuanced and complex. And like language, they’re incredibly important to get right. You can offend your customers if you use the wrong phrases, photos, or even marketing techniques — but marketing that resonates with local cultures can lead to significant inroads.
You can research business etiquette and best practices online, but hiring a local expert gives you the greatest chance of spotting mistakes before they go live. Detailed tracking of your ad campaigns can serve as a backup to identify which messages are working and which ones might be turning people away. Plus, you’ll be able to optimize your efforts to maximize conversion rates at the lowest cost.
This also helps you keep tabs on potential fraud, which can be rampant in some countries. Do campaigns in certain geographic areas, or that appear on particular sites, have a disproportionate volume of clicks to revenue generated? This should command your attention.
Consider Japan: Like the US, social media is a very important marketing tool in Japan. However, unlike the US, advertisements tend to be text-heavy and focused on providing a lot of information. Additionally, some reports suggest that Japan may have the highest rate of ad fraud globally while newspaper circulation is still very high. Because of this, digital advertising may be less critical here than in other markets.
The world awaits
If you’re looking to grow your business by venturing into new markets, be prepared for a lot of research, hard work, and unforgettable memories. The WooCommerce community is full of experts in every discipline around the world, as well as store owners, developers, and marketers who are facing the same things you are. Take the time to connect with new partners and get the right extensions to ensure a smooth transition and successful expansion.