By Greig Holbrook, Managing Director, Oban Digital

The world is rife with opportunities for international e-commerce. For example, China has more Internet users than any other country (more than 642 million, 22% of the world’s internet population); Nigeria has the fastest growing number of internet users (16% year on year); and Canada has the highest rate of internet penetration within the top 20 country rankings (92% of population). However, businesses looking to expand into these regions must assume that booming internet economies are where these countries’ similarities end.

They cannot assume any similarities with regions in which they already operate. The fast pace of technology means that the online world has become a smaller place with no barriers, and there is opportunity for smart businesses to reach and engage with this rapidly expanding universal audience.

My advice to businesses is: don’t rush it. Size isn’t everything. The right market to expand into is the one most relevant to your business – and your business should be relevant to the selected markets. To help you decide, review your own analytics and orders, examine what your international and domestic competitors are doing and consider market dynamics on a country level. Look for clues online.

This brings us to your own shop window: your website. This needs a considerable amount of time and investment to get it right, even – or especially – if you already have a template that works well in your existing market. Taking your brand global is not just about translating your original website and launching it in each country with the local internet domain suffix. To simply translate content is missing the point, so don’t take any short cuts.

It’s about having the necessary expertise and a solid understanding of what works in each region, from language through to cultural nuances. Different countries have widely varying practices regarding web page layout, to word definitions and cultural preferences.

For example, if targeting the Chinese market, font size needs to be significantly larger when transliterating Latin to Chinese script as Chinese characters have up to 44 individual brushstrokes. Chinese users prefer explicit text information rather than implicit clues provided by photography. More importantly, the Chinese writing system has some 80,000 characters so using a keyboard is cumbersome, especially for less tech-savvy users. Businesses need to design their websites for click-based navigation rather than typed search terms as Chinese internet users prefer to have the navigation and key product categories laid out in front of them.

Even colours make a difference. For instance, red means luck in China, beauty in Russia, danger in Germany and discounted prices in the US. Using a standardised template and failing to pay attention to detail will inevitably lead to a decline in sales and general interest in the brand online. The real secret to success comes down to understanding the linguistic and cultural differences that not only attract and convert new customers but also encourages them to continue returning.

Online users expect more from their retail providers in terms of personalisation. This could include anything from the number of drop downs on the homepage, the colours you use on your website, to the prevalent method of payment.

Businesses will only get the knowledge and insight into different markets they need by taking the time to carefully research what works in each market. Even the largest retailers have stumbled in their global moves by failing to consider style and cultural differences so make sure you’re not one of those who fail - know local when you go global and you won’t go wrong.