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Selling online can provide a direct route to your business or consumer market, extending your reach across the globe. Read our experts’ advice on how to make it over the potential obstacles.

eCommerce drawing of computers and country outlines.

An ecommerce platform can be an effective channel to deliver your products to an international market. 

22% of the world’s population* has bought something online, and this number is only set to grow in the future. 

Taking your business online is a demanding step. And using ecommerce to reach an international market is an even more significant leap. So we looked at some of the major challenges that businesses come up against and asked two leading experts to share their answers: Gori Yahayadirector of Upskill Digital, a Google delivery partner and digital skills trainer based in London and Stephen Whitelawan independent ecommerce consultant, based in Scotland.

1. Cost

Developing an ecommerce platform demands upfront investment. How can I limit risk and maximise ROI?

Stephen says: “Try out your international ecommerce using existing marketplaces such as Amazon and ebay. You can begin to develop your ecommerce this way without any major investment. You’ll gain market knowledge and business understanding that will ready you for expanding through your own ecommerce platform.”

Gori says: “When it comes  to choosing an ecommerce platform you need to select the one that is right for you and your business. It will depend on what you are selling as different platforms offer different product templates.” 

Gori’s tips:

  • Choose between ready hosted systems such as Shopify or self-hosted such as Magento
  • Understand the budget. This is a business decision about how much to invest.
  • Decide if you are developing in house or outsourcing
  • Choose the system that best suits your product
  • Limit risk by choosing a flexible package. Consider upfront how your needs might change over time.
  • Customer service is a vital element, so think about how to build this into your platform
  • Customer reviews can be huge for developing trust, so look at how the platform supports these

2. Technical know-how

How do I choose the right ecommerce system and engage the right developer? How do I understand enough to make the right choices?

Gori says: “We know there is a skills gap and that is why initiatives such as Google’s Digital Garage are so important. The idea is to open the door to anyone that wants to develop their digital skills. That might be a student, an individual or a small business.”  

3. Localisation

How can I understand a  particular foreign market? How can I connect with them? How can I look credible?

Stephen offers a list of things to do to look credible in a foreign market:

  • Develop  your ecommerce website and get it working  for your local market first. The rest will follow.
  • Translate your content, using a native speaker (don’t use Google translate – no translation tool is good enough!)
  • Buy a local domain name
  • Offer a local phone number
  • Provide prices in the local currency

4. Security

eCommerce tips on how retailers can expand their business overseas
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How can I manage online payments securely for international buyers?

Buyers look for sites that they feel they can trust. They pay attention to known and trusted payment systems. 

Stephen says: “Both PayPal and Worldpay are recognised in many countries around the globe and are therefore good choices for payment systems.

"Google has recently launched a trustmark known as “Certified Shop” in the UK (“Trusted Store” in the US) and this is expected to have a positive impact on sales for sellers who adopt it.”

5. Regulations

How do I keep up with export info and regulations about specific countries across the globe?

Gori says: “Make the most of the advice and information that’s out there. Scottish Enterprise's export advisers and the Department for International Trade's E-Exporting Programme are the best places to go for export support.”

6. Reaching the market

This one is massive. How can I get found in the search engines around the globe? How can I get people to visit my website, then click to buy?

Everything else builds towards this. Your website has to create an effective channel for your potential customers to find – and buy – your products.

Stephen says: “Get great relevant, fresh, up-to-date and unique content on your website. There are over 200 factors that influence Google’s placement of your company in a search engine, but up at the top of the list is content. Google will penalise you if your content is copied from another site, so write your own content. Add new content, such as blog content frequently and ensure it is relevant to your product or service.”

Gori says: “Google offers several tools that can help you understand your audience, use the right keywords and create the right content. Google Trends helps you to see what people are searching for in different places around the globe and the particular words and phrases they are using.Google Consumer Barometer is a tool to help you understand how people use the internet across the world.”

7. Fulfilment

I’m concerned about the time and costs involved in shipping products around the world. How can I manage this well?

Stephen says: “This takes us back to talking about the marketplace options. Exploring your international market in a small scale way by using marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay will allow you to identify issues and deal with them before investing heavily in an ecommerce platform.”

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Supported by the European Regional Development Fund

Getting started in ecommerce

If you're a business just starting out in building an online presence and you want to become more digital savvy, then Business Gateway's Digital Boost programme is a good place to start.

We also lead practical workshops across Scotland, to help you get started in ecommerce and boost your international reach. Quiz our digital experts on topics such as, how to optimise search rankings and social media channels, to getting your business up and running on online marketplaces, such as Amazon and Ebay.

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