The Internet and the World Wide Web have revolutionised the way we shop, crashing through trade barriers and opening up a huge global online marketplace for buyers and sellers. The web poses fantastic opportunities for businesses to expand their global footprints in a cost-effective way. It’s great for consumers, too, who can shop across borders and benefit from a wider selection of brands, products and prices.

As a small business looking to expand its Ecommerce offering overseas, the opportunities look to be limitless, but there are distinctive cultural preferences of which your organisation needs to be aware. Familiarising yourself with these unique preferences will help make plain sailing of your overseas expansion.

Know – really know - where your prospects and customers are located

We’re in the midst of a data revolution, and can use the intelligence we have to draw valuable insights, and identify behaviours with accuracy and precision. Location analysis can remove risk and identify strategically important areas for your business – and it doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. Analysing and understanding the spatial intelligence your customers generate can help you better understand where your target customers are located, how they travel and what places they frequent – and ultimately, their propensity to buy from you. Location analytics removes the guesswork from overseas commerce and helps to provide a clear strategic picture. It also means you can plan your customer service strategy, making sure you can support your customers in their local language and time zone.

Think about how customers will find you – and make it easy for them to do so

Search engines remain the top means for consumers to find products online, whilst shoppers in some regions are happy to make purchases through social media sites. Research has found that shoppers in Germany (46%) had the highest percentage of online shoppers that said they would consider purchasing products they found on search engines, followed by Japan (4%) and South Korea (33%). The same research found the largest number of consumers who would consider buying products online from social media sites to be in India (27%), followed by Brazil (15%) and Russia (14%).

Familiarise yourself with Geoblocking restrictions

Geoblocking is the restriction of access to content, dependent on the user’s geographical location. In theory, the World Wide Web presents an open-access trading platform, but in practice, geoblocking is a very real issue. Think about how your browser directs you to your localised Google for your location – which can be useful. But if your customers are located in a region which restricts access to your website, perhaps due to some items being prohibited by national laws, your market is limited. Whilst you can’t remove these restrictions, you can source detailed intelligence specific to the markets you plan to target.

Generation X, Y or Z?

Different age groups have distinct preferences when it comes to online shopping, not just in terms of product choice but also how they shop. For example, more than a quarter of 18 to 24 year-olds (28%) and 21% of 25 to 34 year-olds visit social media sites for inspiration when searching for products. Compare this to only 16% of 35 to 44 year-olds, 12% of 45 to 54 year-olds and 7% of 55 year-olds and higher. Also, online shoppers in India (38%) ranked highest for searching for products on social media sites, followed by Brazil (21%) and China (20%).

Knowing this can help you direct your marketing investment to precisely the right channel for your key demographic.

Know your connected customer

Today’s connected customer shops on a variety of devices, from smartphones to tablets, desktops and via internet-connected TVs. Almost a quarter admit they make the most online purchases on mobile devices – including mobile/smart phones, tablets or other devices - or on a mix of devices, but this too varies across geographic region. Online shoppers in the UK (37%), India (36%), China (34%) and the US (29%), for example, have the highest rates for using a mobile device, or mix of devices. This, too, varies according to age, with 33% of consumers aged 18 to 34 using smart phones, tablets, other devices, or a mix of devices, compared to 24 percent of consumers overall.

Tailor your website

A localised website is expected - consumers expect to view items in their native language, with their local currencies. Designing your website to be intuitive and responsive so that shoppers can only view the products available in their geographies delivers a tailored, personalised customer experience. It also reduces the impact of geoblocking restrictions, as shoppers only view the products available to them.

Offer multiple delivery options and be transparent about shipping costs, taxes and duties

Shipping is a hugely important part of the decision-making process when it comes to consumer spending. In fact, 93% of consumers find shipping options to be an important factor in their overall shopping experience, with 88% of respondents in a recent survey finding free shipping with a 5-7 day delivery to be more attractive than paying a fee for a 1-2 day delivery. Duties and taxes can add a significant and often unexpected cost to a purchase from overseas, and ecommerce companies need to consider whether they will incorporate the cost in their prices, or pass the cost to the customer.

Smart shipping software platforms can help maintain control, manage costs and gain clear visibility, enabling you to calculate – and give your customers - clear, upfront information on shipping costs, taxes and duties with no hidden surprises at the doorstep.

Identify cultural payment preferences

Whilst some payment options seem universal, such as Visa, Barclaycard or American Express, some markets have very specific payment preferences. In China, there are 300 million registered Alipay users. For other regions, Paypal may be the most popular, and for some, payment on delivery is the preference.

Try global marketplaces – but know which regions prefer them

Online marketplaces can be a great springboard for small businesses to expand their global footprint, but not all shoppers in all geographies use them. Research has found that 78% of consumers in Russia, and 76% of consumers in both China and the US are likely to purchase products from online marketplaces. Consumers in Australia (81%), the UK (72%) and Canada (71%) are most likely to buy products directly from a retailer’s web site.

Know what’s stopping them

Whilst global online shopping habits are changing, there are still some shoppers who are yet to be convinced of its benefits. The biggest barriers to adoption of global online shopping are high shipping costs (64%), additional fees owed at time of delivery (48%) and product delivery taking too long (39 percent). As mentioned in point 7, being clear about shipping costs, taxes, duties and timings sets expectations. Product returns can also be a barrier, with 33% of global shoppers citing online return policies and processes as deterrents. Countries with the highest levels were India (46%), Germany (44%) and the US (39%). Outlining your returns policy can help to win over hesitant shoppers, and a local returns address demonstrates local commitment and credibility whilst helping you consolidate and manage returned items.

By Ryan Higginson, Vice President Global Inside Sales, SMB Solutions