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Taking your online business from local to global

The following is an edited version of the keynote speech delivered by our managing director, Fergus Weir, at the HelloDigital2017 event on 20th February 2017.

1. Introduction

teclan has been fortunate to have worked closely with many companies over many years, in some cases 15 years or more, and we have been able to witness first hand their growth from small internet startups to large, online, international retailers.

It is from experiences like these that I hope to share with you today.

2. Start small – but aim big

Online exporting success doesn’t happen overnight!

When it comes to expanding to other countries, you need to choose your targets carefully and strategically. Don’t try and break into every country immediately.

Aim to maximise your return on investment in each country with a focused approach.

Think global, act local.

3. Know your market

Simply, you need to really know your market. The culture, the people, their habits, the technologies they use and how they think about buying online.

Cultures vary across many countries where religious, political and mercantile views differ.

People’s buying habits vary. For example some countries don’t use credit cards for primary online transactions.

Trust and confidence in e-commerce can vary.

How will your brand be seen in another country? Do you need to rethink the brand name, the colours, the message?

Understanding the culture and the way your target market thinks and they words they use will give you a huge advantage when marketing to them.

4. Understand the language

If you want to connect with your new market in a new country you need to use their language, their terms, and their trends.

If you’re not fluent then look into hiring a translation service you can trust.

How many of you are like me, and hope that Google or Bing translate are better than they really are? Would you trust your business marketing on the strength of an overly-literal Google translation?

It’s really important that an e-commerce site accommodates local languages and customs. The first impression potential customer’s form of e-commerce companies likely comes from the copy and design found on the company’s website.

Straight translation isn’t enough. Language is subtle and complex, and context is everything. To adapt the content to a new market, expert help will be needed. It should be a local team capable of translating the message using excellent grammar and language that resonates with shoppers in that market.

Some examples of why straight translations are not a great idea:

  • Coors’ lager slogan “turn it loose” translated into “get loose bowels in Spanish”
  • Coca-cola (Ko – Ka – Ko – La) means “Bite the wax tadpole”
  • The “Got Milk” campaign translated in Mexico as “Are you lactating?”

Communicate to your customer in a way that is meaningful to them, not you!

5. Business is based on relationships

Trust is key. Any form of business is about the relationships you create with your customers, distributors, resellers and couriers.

Successfully selling a product or service globally requires all of these, as well as others, for example translators, local product ambassadors, local government customs departments and more.

Forming local partnerships to help guide and support local teams and partners will be vital.

You want to have eyes and ears on the ground in the territory you are retailing into.

This is especially important for getting feedback about the market, as it changes, feedback about your products and services and feedback about how your brand is perceived.

Reviews, in any market, are so important, and, where appropriate, should be used to help market your business further when positive.

You need to ensure there is trust at every stage, where ever you can, and that includes building trust in your products, services and brand with you customers to.

Social media can be a really great tool for gaining valuable feedback, for building trust and most importantly for building referrals to your business.

6. Getting things moving

One of the biggest challenges exporting retailers face is the logistics of sending their goods to their customers. It is a common source of complaint in e-commerce.

Retailers MUST be clear, transparent and proactive when it comes to shipping.

I’m sure we’ve all ordered something online only for it not to appear, show up late, or be delivered at the wrong time to the wrong place?

The logistics of getting products sent overseas, whilst ensuring your product proposition remains competitive, is incredibly difficult.

It’s not even overseas that can be a problem. I’m sure I don’t have to dwell on the “Highlands and Islands postcode penalty” system employed by the vast majority of couriers in the UK?

So you need to work with the right courier company: one you trust and one who affords your customers tracking features and other assurances to give confidence in the delivery service.

UPS and FedEx are two examples of global companies that we are familiar with, however many regions have their own local and regional courier companies, and it is always worth researching others that might benefit you. Also, don’t forget about your packaging for your target territory.

Promote your international shipping service, warts and all. Even if it can be expensive to ship things to certain places, make sure these costs are explained clearly; make it easy for overseas customers to know the price including delivery, and to know you believe in that part of the service.

Use it as a mark of a quality service that you are not afraid to promote the price of shipping.

7. Staying Legal (Regulations – customs and excise – compliance)

Okay, this is not fun stuff. But it’s important nonetheless.

Have you had to wrestle with the requirements surrounding PCI-DSS compliance? Have you had your bank pressurising you to comply? Not much fun, is it?

Seek help to make sure you are trading legally, within regulations and within the customs requirements of your chosen territory.

You don’t want to send out your packages to your overseas customer, only for the products to be returned to you, with you footing the cost, AND having to refund your customer. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the customs and excise rules for each territory so that your product gets through.

HIE provide excellent support services, help, support and advice on a wide range of exporting issues, with experts who can help you with this.

8. Show me the money

So you want customers to pay for your products and services online? Make sure you give the customer the payment methods they want.

In the UK there is an assumption that you use credit cards or PayPal to buy online.

That’s not the case in other countries.

  • In China, only 1% of shoppers pay with international credit cards.
  • In Brazil, only 30% of credit cards can make international payments.
  • And in Germany, three quarters of shoppers prefer not to use credit cards when making an online purchase.

For example, one of our clients retails in five different European countries. Europe, single market. Credit cards surely? Simple! Well no. For the Netherlands they had to implement IDEAL, the payment option that allows you to pay straight from your bank.

Make sure you offer payment methods that your customers want. Find out the ones that are most commonly used in your target market and see what you can do to offer them to your customers.

9. Stay focused

A simple reminder that building any new business channel requires focus, dedicated and a determination to succeed. Global expansion of your business is certainly no different.
There is no magic button you can press to achieve success.

  • You’ve got your product/service
  • You have a clearly identified where you are going to target
  • You know who your market is
  • You know what you have to say to them
  • You know who you need to work with in that market
  • You know how to get your products to your customers
  • You know you can meet required regulations and legislation
  • You know how to get your money from each sale
  • And, you’ve committed to making it a success

What do you do next?

10. Choose your channels

Market, market then market some more.

But where, and how?

OK, so now I’m going to focus on three main digital channels. These are the lowest hanging fruit in our experience, with regards to activities that generate direct revenue for your online business: online paid advertising, email marketing and search engine optimisation.

Online paid advertising
This includes text ads, shopping ads, remarketing, display advertising, video advertising and much more.
These advertising platforms enable you to place your product, service or message directly in front of the people you want to be looking at it. It must also be completely measurable. Every penny spent should be able to be tracked and demonstrate its return on investment.

Email Marketing

The most effective forms of email marketing are when the aim is to retain a customer relationship, rewarding customers for their purchase from you and their loyalty, by offering discounts, engaging content, new product information. Remarketing to customers by email remains incredibly effective and should not be overlooked. Also, identify your optimum send frequency. The rate where you maximise your return on email sends.

Search Engine Optimisation
The drive for search engine positioning is actually the drive for relevance. Search engines want to give their users the most relevant results to the queries submitted. That relevance is predicated explicitly on what words and phrases are searched for. Improving the relevance of your website to users directly improves your search engine positioning, as well as benefiting the customer.

11. Shoot for the moon

… even if you miss you’ll land among the stars!

I’ve covered some quite broad topics here, and there is no one-size fits all solution to exporting and retailing online. The UK is a mature e-commerce market. The consumers in the UK in many ways are leaders in the development of e-commerce.

We are living in a hugely exciting time with endless, changing possibilities offering us the technology and resources within our reach to expand and grow our businesses for the future.

I wish you all the best in that endeavour.

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