The beauty of an online business is that you can sell anywhere. You aren’t tied to a certain street corner or even a single continent. There’s an endless capacity for growth.
But what changes when you reach customers outside of your own community? Customers who (literally) speak another language?
Here are some tips for how to best position your business to shoppers overseas — and how to provide them with the best customer experience possible, despite any distances or differences.
1. Reach international customers
To reach foreign shoppers, you have to know where they’re shopping and how to get them to notice you. Here are some ways to be smart about what you put on the foreign market and how to position it to those local buyers.
- Do some market analysis to figure out which products are most popular and profitable in the new area. That way you can be more strategic about which products or services you promote (and how you promote them — more on that below!).
Look online to find surveys and statistics published by bigger companies, who have already done the research for you. Or you can undertake an investigation of your own, exploring online forums such as Facebook groups, Reddit, or Quora to understand what customers in the target market are asking or talking about online.
- Discover which channels are most popular in your target countries. Consumers around the world use different websites to do their online shopping. Shopify notes that in Germany, shoppers are more likely to use Amazon, Ebay, and Facebook, while in Japan they stick to Facebook Shop, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. Once you're on these platforms, you should track leads so you can capture your potential customers.
- And of course, one of the main barriers: language! An English version of your website or marketing content probably won’t be enough. Localized marketing campaigns — that is, marketing strategies that are not only translated into the local language but designed to appeal to local customs and attitudes — are much more successful. Try it yourself or find tools/apps that can help you.
2. Convert international customers
Converting customers is largely the same around the world, no matter where you’re selling. The trick is to tailor your tactics -- modify them just a little bit so they convince a shopper overseas as well as they do at home.
- Point out the benefits of your product, but know which benefits actually matter in that market. The selling point that attracts your home customers might not be as successful. Look at the local businesses in that country who are direct competitors. What are they selling, and how are they selling it?
- Simple, friendly copy. Well, this is just not the time for your Shakespearean wit. Keep it clean and concise. Avoid idioms, since they don’t translate easily into other languages.
- List the price in their local currency. Research shows that customers are more likely to purchase from a listing that is in their local language and currency.
- Offer information about shipping cost and delivery time upfront. Provide these details directly in the listing, if possible. Surprise fees at checkout will result in abandoned shopping carts. Unexpectedly long deliveries will result in unhappy customers, who are less likely to buy again and more likely to complain online.
- Smooth, secure international payment options. This might be obvious to you as an online business owner, but most people are concerned about the security of their payments and the privacy of their data. (Not to mention, some governments have legal standards around this!)
3. Tax international customers correctly
Knowing the local tax policies is a must. There’s a good chance you might not have to charge any consumption tax on the sale, but if you do, then it’s crucial that you charge the right tax rate. Apply a rate that’s too high, and the shopper will bounce away to a local business that knows what they’re doing. Charge too little, and you’ll be on the hook to pay the difference.
It’s not only about consumption taxes, though. With physical products entering the EU, for example, there might be an Import Duty, a fee for going through customs. If a buyer is surprised by an import tax or duty fees when your product finally reaches their front door, then that’s a terrible customer experience. The buyer might not return to your business, and worst case, they might discourage others, too.
Read on about how to handle sales tax for physical products around the world.
4. Send receipts and records in the customer’s language
Provide receipts, invoices, or any other information about the transaction in the buyer’s local language. This is another form of localization, but on the other side of the sale; this is follow-up rather than outreach.
Not only is this a thoughtful gesture which customers will appreciate, but it also makes their bookkeeping so much easier, especially for B2B. They can file these invoices directly in their records, without worry about translating any documents for their national tax authorities.
5. Give international customers a self-service option
A self-service billing portal is better for both your customers and your business. If your customers have a question about their payment, want to check their billing history, or change their credit card information, allow them to access and edit such records on their own.
That way, such small tasks are taken care of despite any time zone differences and regardless of any language barriers. Plus, you get a break from many customer service requests. :)
Go forth and conquer!
These are just a few best practices around finding and keeping international customers. We hope they inspire you to do further research and push the horizons of your online business! One last tip: if you use a platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, check to see what tools and services they offer to help you expand abroad.