Going glocal – Quick tips for expanding your businesses globally

The great thing about an ecommerce business is that if you have the right product, selling overseas can be a smart way to expand your business, allowing you to use what you’ve learned locally to leverage your growth.

Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart were inspired to set up Threadless, an online community of t-shirt designers, after entering a design competition. What began as a $1000 online start-up has evolved into a multimillion dollar international business. Part of the success of a business like Threadless is that they understand their customers and the markets they sell in.

If you are thinking about growing your ecommerce business globally, here’s some quick tips to think about first.  And who knows, you may even be the next Jake Nickell or Jacob DeHart!

We tend to regard moving our business interests over borders as the process of going global. If done properly, it is, in fact, a process of going ‘glocal’ in that you need to treat your global markets with as much care and attention as you do your local market.

Successful brands such as KFC, Starbucks and Coca-Cola have all gained market share in emerging markets because they know success means adapting to local tastes, attitudes and values. For example in Beijing Starbucks serve green and aromatic teas.

Choose where you expand carefully

Once you have your goals set, you need to consider what countries you want to sell to. Some countries have extremely high rates of credit card fraud and pose major security issues to your business. Also shipping costs can go through the roof in some markets, and if you ever want to offer free delivery at peak times then you’ll want to make sure you can absorb these costs. You may also want to monitor the exchange rate in your chosen countries, if it fluctuates a lot then ask yourself, is this a stable economy to trade in?

Test the waters

A great way to test whether you will be successful in foreign markets is to start by selling your product on eBay, Amazon or Etsy. All are trusted and established channels and provide a simple way to start selling abroad. You can learn a lot about the customer base without committing to a full foreign invasion.

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing

You need to make sure you fully understand the tax and selling laws of the country you intend to sell in, make sure your customers are aware of where your core business is based, and don’t forget import and export taxes which you may need to pay for shipping overseas.

If you don’t give the option to let customers pay for VAT/duties when ordering, they could be charged extra on their doorstep, meaning they would be very unlikely to shop with you again!

The obstacle course of foreign addressing

Did you know that there are over 130 different address formats in the world, 6,000 languages, 40 personal name formats and innumerable accents?

By making sure your data collection systems mirror the data formats of the country and language as closely as possible you can increase data accuracy. One way to do this is to use auto-complete or other address validation software at the data entry stage e.g. when your customer enters their address at the online checkout. There is no better way of collecting correct data than interacting with the source – your customer.

Is there anything we’ve missed? What challenges have you faced, and what lessons have you learnt when trading internationally?

Further reading

Trading in any international country comes with myriad of challenges and rewards. However, the businesses that will succeed will be the ones that look and feel like they have been built within the local market. To gain a greater understanding of expanding your business overseas we have some great documents you can download for free.




Understanding International Data Whitepaper

Going Global: 5 Top Tips for Trading Internationally

Delivering International Ecommerce Infographic