Pack your bags, we're going multinational

For a successful business owner, there are still new frontiers to conquer, new customers to reach, and new profits to be made. Through multinational expansion, you can take your business beyond your existing market and surpass the boundaries you've reached domestically.

If you feel ready to expand your business beyond national borders, you've already gained a lot of business experience while growing to reach this point. You're going to need to learn some new things in order to break into international eCommerce, but much of your existing knowledge will still apply.

The key is adapting that knowledge to meet the needs of your new markets.

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International opportunities

Multinational expansion is the key to reaching new customers in markets that have previously been difficult to reach. You may discover new niches that will allow you to diversify your business far beyond what you're capable of in a domestic market — niches that are oversaturated at home can become prime business opportunities abroad, so a product with relatively weak domestic sales could become a bestseller internationally. Alternately, you could even add a new line of products to your offerings in a particular region to meet customer demand. Both scenarios mean more room for you to grow.

Like other forms of multichannel sales, international eCommerce can strongly improve your profit margins by allowing you to reach more customers than ever before. By expanding into international sales, you mitigate the risks of slowing demand by spreading your reach across a wider range. Going international can also help you reach markets before your competition does, or even position your business to remain profitable in the face of growing competition in the domestic market.

Consumers drive the economy by spending money, and cross-border eCommerce means the ability to reach more of the world's consumer class. Rising incomes in countries like China are expanding the narrow middle class, and in many regions of the world, the population has gained increased purchasing power. Likewise, decreasing technology costs have made eCommerce more accessible to everyone, with daily internet and smartphone usage rising globally.

The takeaway from this information is that the world is full of potential customers who are ready and willing to buy from you. Now, you just need to reach them.international eCommerce expansion

Successful multinational eCommerce starts with strong foundations

In the days before eCommerce, business infrastructure was still quite similar to how it is today. Supply chains, warehousing, distributors, storefronts — these will always be central to business. But in today's internet-driven world, you need to consider the software that drives your eCommerce website to be a crucial piece of your infrastructure on par with the rest of your business's moving parts. A website failure can be just as catastrophic to your bottom line as a warehouse fire. 

Using the right eCommerce software is the first step toward successful multinational sales because your website can already be seen internationally. You may already have visitors from other countries checking out your web presence. For some small businesses, this can even present a problem — for example, receiving orders from another country with prohibitive shipping costs. Going multinational helps solve these problems (e.g. holding warehousing space overseas), but your website must be equipped to handle international orders from the outset. 

Flexible, multinational ready eCommerce software providers, like 3dcart,  are positioned to help businesses expand internationally through a number of features built to increase the flexibility of your website. Automatic tax calculation is built-in, allowing you to set specific tax rates including VAT to apply to orders coming in from different regions.

The ideal software should also provide several methods for handling multiple warehouses and distributors, and robust shipping management that allows business owners to set up multiple carriers to cover both international and domestic eCommerce. Along with other powerful features that will help you focus on growth, including customer groups for market segmentation, versatile marketing and SEO tools, and integration with a wide variety of preferred business software for accounting, marketing, and more — including TradeGecko's omnichannel inventory management platform.

The ability to easily accept multicurrency transactions is also crucial for international success. Best in class eCommerce software will integrate with a multitude of payment providers, ensuring that you and your customers can always transact in a manner that is familiar and convenient.

In this, 3dcart is an ideal candidate. The software currently integrates with more payment providers than any other eCommerce software in the industry, which will enable you to build a multicurrency online storefront capable of taking payment from any region or country you want to target. With 3dcart, you can accept popular payment methods like credit cards and digital payments across a wide variety of providers. Global payment processors like Worldpay are represented as well as integrations with country- or region-specific payment methods like Australia's ZipPay. The wide selection of payment gateways makes 3dcart the leading eCommerce solution for accepting international payments.multicurrency payment transactions

Do I need multiple websites to sell internationally?

You may need to maintain multiple storefronts if you're planning to expand into a country that will require your business to alter its language and branding. Changing your brand name to do business in a different country might be necessary if there's already a well-established business using your name in a nation you've targeted for expansion.

In some cases, changing your branding can be beneficial as it allows you to completely tailor your approach to appeal to customers from a different culture. Customers in your new market may be very different from your existing customers, so you may find an advantage by changing your business's name, visual style, tone, and even your unique value proposition to better appeal to your new market.

For example, if your branding makes use of the number 4 and you want to expand into Asia, you should seriously consider rebranding. The number 4 is considered bad luck in China, Japan, Korea, and other East Asian countries because the words for "4" and "death" sound nearly identical in all these countries' languages. Asian businesses have gone as far as to remove the number 4 from product serial numbers to avoid the association. Think about the Western superstitions around "unlucky 13" and make it ten times more serious, and you'll understand how bad for business it would be to use the number 4 in your branding in Asia! 

For reasons like this, you'll want to expand beyond the usual market research and do cultural research before you take steps to establish your business in another country. Even if you share a common language, regional dialects can be enough to make things awkward — and for countries with cultures vastly different from your own, consider hiring a professional consultant. 

Language is another crucial deciding factor. Even if your brand name and imagery are the same, you may need to provide a storefront in the native language of any countries you want to expand into. This doesn't necessarily mean purchasing multiple domain names — you can use language-based subdomains like Wikipedia does, for example. With 3dcart, you can run multiple online stores each connected to a subdomain such as it.yourstore.com for Italian, es.yourstore.com for Spanish, jp.yourstore.com for Japanese, and similar. Running these multiple storefronts becomes much easier with TradeGecko omnichannel inventory management software.

If you're planning on expanding into nations with a common language, having a multilingual website and staff becomes less important. For example, a surprising number of countries use English as an official or majority language even alongside another local language. If you're targeting countries with a strong English usage, instead of needing to create multilingual versions of your website, you can simply do a pass over it to make sure you aren't using too much regional slang, jargon, or abbreviations which can confuse non-native speakers. This clarity becomes especially important for B2B eCommerce — the use of English as an international business language is well-established and growing, but regional differences still cause confusion. 

Do I need an office and warehouse in each country?

One of the greatest benefits of eCommerce is the fact that you don't need a physical presence in a particular country to do business there. However, while you may not need a corporate office in every country to which you want to expand, you may need a local warehouse and you may need customer support staff that speaks the local language and can be present during office hours in that time zone.

Depending on how your source your products, and where your manufacturers and distributors are located, expanding into a certain country can provide you with opportunities for increased profits. If your manufacturers are located in Germany, for example, expanding into Germany means you can warehouse and sell a portion of those products locally as opposed to shipping them to your home country first.

In other cases, a regional warehouse or 3PL provider will save you money by allowing you to ship to customers at a much lower cost. This doesn't mean you necessarily need to maintain warehousing space in every country in which you have customers — instead, a warehouse can often serve customers in surrounding countries as well as the country in which it's located.

To determine whether you need a warehouse in a certain country, consider your shipping costs from your existing fulfillment centers to hypothetical customers in the target country. Weigh those costs against the cost of warehouse space and the reduced shipping costs involved when shipping directly within that country's borders. Be sure to take customs fees, taxes, tariffs, and other costs into account that come into play when shipping cross-borders. Also consider your projected sales and profits in that country. By comparing this data, you may discover vast savings that far outweigh the costs of warehouse space and management in that country or region.

Online businesses that sell via dropshipping may not need to change much of their fulfillment operations at all, although if you're planning to expand to a country farther away from your suppliers, you should look into suppliers that can ship from nearby if at all possible. International Shipping containers-1

Preparing for multinational expansion

The easiest way to keep things organized as you expand into multinational sales is to keep business operations under the same umbrella wherever possible. Ideally, you can use the same software and management tools to run your business from a single, centralized location. 3dcart and TradeGecko provide the perfect combination to handle omnichannel sales across international boundaries. You can manage multiple online stores (if necessary), multiple currencies, distributors, and tax rates all from a single dashboard — ensuring consistent inventory and streamlined workflow.

Remember:

  • Research is by far the most crucial step. It will set you up for success from the beginning.
  • Consider the facts you already know. Do you already have customers trying to place orders from a certain country? Look into expanding there first.
  • Understand the language, culture, market, and consumer habits in your target country to determine whether you need to change your branding and marketing.
  • Compare the costs inherent in shipping, customs, taxes, and other variables to determine if and where you should procure warehouse space.
  • Use the preceding information to determine if you'll need a company presence in the country besides your warehouse, such as a local customer service staff.
  • This will allow you to create a plan of action to start doing business in any country you want to target.

Final thoughts

It's a common sentiment these days that the world is growing smaller. People can communicate across vast distances in the blink of an eye, we can travel thousands of miles in a few hours, and we can maintain friendships and relationships with people on the other side of the world — in both a personal and professional capacity.

While the world grows smaller, business grows bigger, full of opportunities made possible by the instantaneous multinational communications we enjoy today. As a business owner, it's up to you when to step into the wider world of international eCommerce, but as soon as you're ready, the possibilities are endless.


Author: Jimmy Rodriguez

COO & Co-founder of 3dcart, a leading shopping cart software. As an ecommerce authority, he’s focused on helping internet retailers succeed online by developing strategies, actionable plans and customer experiences that grow and improve performance.

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