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Optimize your website for international sales

Building a high-performance e-commerce website is a great way to start exporting

4-minute read

If you're an exporter or want to start selling abroad, a well-designed e-commerce site is a great foundation for your international business. It allows you to do exploratory research, gain customer insights, find new contacts and get exposure to new markets.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when selling online to international markets.

Translate and customize your website

It's always a good idea to customize your website to suit your target market. Translate at least a summary page for foreign-language searches, along with order pages and catalogues. For professional results, be sure to use experienced translators. Steer clear of online translation tools and native speakers with little translation experience.

There are also other ways of customizing websites to suit a foreign target market. Local content and country-specific references (with legal content, for example) all serve to increase user confidence and comfort. You’ll also want to tailor your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and online marketing campaigns to local markets.

Accept local currency

Retailers who display prices in local currency can give the website a more local flavour and help customers compare prices; it gives them one more reason to choose your business rather than the local competition.

Also, make sure you can accept payments in local and U.S. funds, and that your billing and ordering processes are as simple and easy to use as your competitors'.

Regulations and fulfillment services

One of the most difficult hurdles for small businesses is dealing with local taxes and regulations. Fortunately, most target countries have online resources to answer your basic questions. Still, you will most likely need to make contacts with local brokers or other export-import specialists.

Some businesses can benefit from the Internet's potential to eliminate middlemen such as brokers, wholesalers and distributors. Still, such companies can often help online businesses with local warehousing, drop-shipping and other order fulfillment services. Couriers such as UPS, FedEx or Purolator can also help with these types of logistics.

Online marketplaces

Multinational online marketplaces such as Amazon, Alibaba and eBay can simplify the process of selling abroad by offering a turnkey solution that includes everything from pre-sales support to shipping to post-sales surveys.

To succeed on Amazon and other online marketplaces, you should start with a solid marketing plan that covers how you’ll present your products and services to target customers and measure your progress. More than anywhere else, a proper pricing strategy is imperative because many consumers are looking for a perceived deal on these sites.

You’d be best to use online marketplaces strategically. Many successful companies on Amazon and eBay face the pain of commission rate hikes when they start making serious sales. Being forced to change strategy to drive more business to an e-commerce site can be very expensive and difficult if your customers are used to finding your products on an online marketplace.

We recommend you adapt your online sales strategy per channel. For example, you may want to sell returned goods on eBay because it’s known to work well for second-hand merchandise. Or you could decide to sell last year’s collection on Amazon at great prices to increase your score on the Best Sellers Ranking list.

Get the help your need

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service can help you navigate the complexities of international markets and Export Development Canada (EDC) offers many resources including economic reports on over 50  countries.

The Internet offers exciting potential but is just one route to take in order to become a successful exporter. Don't neglect traditional marketing efforts such as trade shows, advertising and networking—all of which can also help you raise your visibility and develop new business.

For more online marketing tips, download our guide Attracting and Selling Online: A Marketing Guide for Entrepreneurs. It’s free!

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