Internationalizing your eCommerce:
A quick guide
In this short guide we help you understand the most important concepts and considerations for eCommerce internationalization. If you are planning to expand your business to a broader market, or if your current internationalization efforts are insufficient, this guide will help you find the correct approach to your solution.
The instant access to a global market is arguably the single most important thing about eCommerce. As long as a place has access to the internet, it is a potential market for countless product categories. In a survey from 2018, 65% of consumers reported purchasing products from outside of their own countries. We can only assume that the numbers have gone up since then, especially considering the current growth rate of eCommerce in general.
While providing shipping options and payment processing are the absolute basic necessities, they are far from being sufficient in running a global business. In another study, 23% of executives surveyed believe that cultural/linguistic issues are major barriers to global expansion. So how should you go around fixing these issues?
Before you start
Unless you have a clear roadmap and high demands, you may be deciding if you should start internationalizing your business or not. Some clear indications that you need to start are:
Receiving orders from places that you are not directly targeting
Increased search volume or traffic from places that you are not directly targeting
Direct demands through customer service, social media, etc.
However the reasons are not always as clear as those above. Sometimes there are more subtle hints that you should be thinking about going global. For example, you may notice a country where there is basically no competitor offering the same products/services that you do. In this case expanding seems to be the clear choice. In another case, you may notice a single business having a monopoly on the products you are offering. If your company can bear the initial costs of internationalization, then expanding to that country can reveal great potential, as monopolies tend to go down in quality with a lack of competition.
Like many other business decisions, the prerequisite to start with the process, is to conduct a market investigation. This is to make sure you are going to benefit from your decision, and your company is at the right place to expand globally. Maybe the reason why there is a monopoly in a country is because the costs are too much for outsiders to compete in the market. Maybe the potential market in your target country is so small that it doesn’t justify any meaningful effort.
Keep in mind that you are trying to carefully grow your customer base and not simply spike your revenue overnight. While in some cases you may see almost immediate profits, in other cases it may take some time to establish yourself. In any case, making sure your internationalization capabilities are on par with the demands can make the difference between growth and stagnation.
Start with the basics
The first thing you have to make sure of, is having proper shipping and payment processing. This is pretty self-explanatory so we would not go into detail. Suffice to say that at a minimum level, you have to be able to give your customers somewhat accurate shipping estimates and correct regional taxes. There is of course much more you can (and eventually should) do in these regards, which we will discuss later.
Depending on the services you use now, this process may be as simple as taking a few actions. If you are using best-of-breed solutions then you can immediately add whatever capabilities you need to get things running, but also most monolithic eCommerce suites offer these basic capabilities.
You can click here to read more about the differences between the “best-of-breed” and “monolithic” models.
Are the shipping and payment processing capabilities there? Good, now you can start with the actual internationalization.
Start thinking about proper translation solutions. Take a look at reliable studies such as Can’t Read, Won’t Buy to realize how crucial this can be. For example, 65% of consumers prefer content in their own language even if it’s in poor quality, and 40% would outright not buy anything in other languages!
When thinking about translation, remember that it should apply with the same quality to all your digital touchpoints, meaning the translation you provide on your website should match with the mobile app and every other case you may have. This can in fact be a little bit harder to implement on monolithic systems, as sometimes you are forced to internationalize each touchpoint separately. You can mitigate this problem by taking an API-first approach, but more on that later.
Depending on your content management system (CMS) you may have vastly different experiences concerning translation. If you are planning on internationalizing your eCommerce, then make sure you get the best possible option. For example, you should know that Storyblok doesn’t charge extra for internationalization of your content at all!
if you are wondering if a new CMS may be helpful, then keep in mind that many offer free trials where you can test out every capability you may want to use later. Storyblok has a free 14 day trial that doesn’t require credit cards.
Take the next step: Localize
While offering payment processing and shipment capabilities on a translated storefront are the absolute necessities, a successful entrance to a new market requires more than that. Translation alone does not mean you are offering the same customer journey in every language. Consider these examples:
Your company already gives reliable shipping estimates, however it only supports the Gregorian calendar, meaning for a large percentage of countries in Asia and some in Africa, customers should do the conversion to their local calendars on their own.
You offer payments exclusively through credit cards as it is very common in your country, however people in other countries have other preferred methods of payment.
While you took the local taxes in consideration, the prices are only showing in a few currencies, so many customers from different countries have to do a manual conversion to know the exact price.
Your company uses the imperial system to give the dimensions of the products, however many of your new customers live in countries where the metric system is the norm.
All these examples and thousands more point to the crucial role of localization. Simply put, localization means translating the context of the content, so it fits with the local culture.
Not all cases are as clear as the examples above. Sometimes the issues are in small cultural differences, maybe the way an emoji is interpreted, or even certain colors and images which carry different meanings in each culture.
Another case that links localization to translation are the regional spelling and wordings. While in some cases having a single English version of the store may be appropriate, in other cases localized Canadian, British, Australian , and US versions would be more suitable. Same is true with many other languages, such as Spanish and French.
How should you approach localization?
Just like translation, localization of your content can go one of two ways:
1. Monolithic: If you are using a monolithic eCommerce platform (where eCommerce and CMS tools are offered as a single package), then your localization capabilities are tied to the package that your provider offers. In some cases there are decent options for localization within the package, while in others it can be limited to smaller scale operations. If you are using a monolithic CMS, you should check out what solutions are included in your package. If there is no satisfying option, you can always switch to a more flexible option.
2. Agile: If you are running an agile eCommerce operation, then you have much greater freedom in choosing your localization strategy. By definition, agile eCommerce means every tool and solution can be handpicked by you based on your specific needs, and you are not constrained by the limitations of an already fixed package. In this case, you can take your choice of a specialized localization solution and integrate it with your CMS. The biggest advantage of an agile solution is the implementation of application programming interfaces (APIs).
Take advantage of API-first localization
- APIs make localization seamless: By choosing an API-driven eCommerce approach, you can take advantage of best-of-breed solutions. APIs can simultaneously link your eCommerce platform and CMS with other applications (including localization tools), which in turn means you can automate your localization process with complete control over its quality. Using APIs ensures that all of your different digital touchpoints (your website, phone app, etc.) are localized in the exact same way and updated at the exact same time.
- API-first means customizing the user experience without touching the back-end: API-first approach is also called “headless”, because the front-end and the back-end are completely separate from each other. For localization, this means you can go on with translations and localization strategies on all of your digital touchpoints, without having to worry about the back-end and possible conflicts.
Adapt as you move forward
Internationalization of your commerce is a long term commitment and requires constant revision. Even if you make the best decisions at the start, through time the market trends and consumer habits change in each country, and if you want to stay relevant you have to adapt your localization strategy to these new habits.
At one point, internationalization should become a fixed part of your marketing strategy, with its own roadmap and objectives. Check out Storyblok’s localization capabilities to see how we approach the issue.
Remember that if you go with an API-first approach, each revision and new direction can be immediately put into place. This is crucial when trying to stay ahead of the curve in a specially competitive foreign market. In a monolithic case, your flexibility is restricted by the suite provider’s decisions. This is why APIs are changing the way many think about marketing in general.
You can always learn more by checking out our other resources:
|Headless CMS||Headless CMS explained in 5 minutes|
|CMS for eCommerce||The new era of eCommerce CMS|
|Headless stack or monolithic package||Best-of-breed vs. all-in-one|
|A complete guide to eCommerce content management||Content management for eCommerce|
|eCommerce integrations||Storyblok’s eCommerce integrations|
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