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Enabling Quick Global Growth

How to scale your ecommerce business globally

With a myriad of challenges over the past year – COVID-19, Brexit, capacity constraints, and the Suez blockage - growing your company can be a daunting reality that many businesses will need to face to survive. Believe it or not, there are opportunities for small and large business expansion, but accessing the right knowledge is the key to making this happen successfully.

Scaling internationally at speed – how to do it?

How do you grow a business in other regions? What partners are required? Is localization, niche knowledge and technology a necessity, or is it optional? 

David Emerson, Global Senior Vice President, Ecommerce at SEKO Logistics highlighted the ways in which SEKO has been able to assist merchants through their platform and Global network: “We’ve really found the best path to has been to give them [the clients] one seamless platform and a Global reach in the right market.

“But the big secret for us has been that we’ve always tried to manage these clients through their host country – giving them the right account management, the right consultancy, the right support, based on where they have started from; as opposed to trying to manage them diversely across the markets they’re trying to scale into.”

Other platforms such as Shopify empower merchants to scale internationally. By working with current technologies and as part of your company’s tech ecosystem, merchants are able to tap into other peoples’ experience and expertise.

Developing this integrated ecosystem with software and solutions suited to your business is a crucial step, as Dave Wiltshire of Patchworks highlighted: “The merchants we’ve seen scale most effectively have all searched for businesses and partners who have a similar mindset and platforms to support. It’s about making sure your ecosystem is well-connected and each component part is relevant for not just global presentation, but for serving customers on a local basis; so they have a global reach but local attention to detail.”

This brings us to localization, which is a vital aspect of targeting territories outside your usual operations.

Localization – knowing your regions and using local expertise

Wherever you are looking to expand your business, the importance of local knowledge and tailoring your offering to those who live within the targeted area cannot be emphasized enough. A good product will have a universal appeal, but how your audience finds and acquires the product is where many merchants struggle in their expansion.

Salvatore Notaro, MD of VIVO Life, spoke of his own experience on the value of a local focus when expanding internationally, saying: “Once we had our product and an ecommerce store, we started going to events where we would showcase our product at a place where our customers and community would be. We would make different partnerships and find ambassadors who believed in what we stood for and would share the product with their own community.

“That allowed us to grow our customer base to a certain level which meant we could hire a third-party logistics provider, like SEKO, that could hold stock in the USA, then pick, pack and fulfill the orders. So…all orders would come from our Shopify store, be routed to the logistics partner in America (SEKO), who would then ship for us at a more sensible price with better delivery”, added Notaro.

To maximize your move overseas, accessing different markets requires an alternate approach to your ecommerce and checkout capabilities in your chosen locations. In terms of checking out, your target audience will expect to have the opportunity to check out in their local currency and by their preferred method.

However, as Adam Finan, Shopify’s Senior Merchant Success Manager suggests, this is very distinct depending on the region: “In the US market, credit cards are very normalized, whereas as in Europe, each country has its own individual preferences. Germany uses Sofort, Netherlands uses iDeal, Belgium uses Bancontact and so on. Often up to 50% of purchases go through alternative methods which aren’t a credit or debit card transaction – the faster and more localized you can make the checkout, the more likely it is that person is going to say ‘yes please’!”

The First Steps – kicking off your international expansion

Expanding overseas isn’t simple, but it is certainly doable. The keys are prioritizing what will work best for your business and when. David Wiltshire of Patchworks summed this up as a succinct two-point plan:

  • Step 1 – choose the geography, region or territory that you plan to enter into in the short, medium and long-term
  • Step 2 – pull together an ecosystem which supports that vision

When assessing the region, one must take into account factors such as time zones for support, language capabilities in warehouses, and which softwares play well in which territories. Taking the time early on to select appropriate technologies and platforms, whilst tapping into the knowledge of the experts, is vital at this stage.

David added that, “it’s hugely important that if you’re looking at a truly Global reach, you need to start with truly Global partners.” 

Where to target – key markets for Global growth

Once a merchant has a good business model and the product is selling at a good conversion rate, entering into new markets is a natural next step. But which markets to enter into isn’t always a straightforward choice.

Clearly, America, Canada, Australia and the EU are the most obvious markets that merchants would consider when expanding, although there have been recent EU complications recently due to Brexit.

After the initial transition period, it appears the effects of Brexit are being overcome, as David Emerson highlighted: “It was something which was a long process for and a massive shift in the way business was done – so many areas weren’t ready or had a full understanding of its implications. So, the first 30 days were extremely rocky, because of the lack of preparation. However, after that initial shock, we’ve seen that trade has started to pick up again.”

Emerson added that the key to entry or re-entry into the EU market from the UK, or vice versa, is reliant on the right partners and the right expertise; particularly those that can ease the burden of documentation and process.

Outside of the traditional markets, locations such as Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have seen a significant uplift in cross-border and fulfillment transactions. This, in part, could be attributed to changing consumer behaviors which has made these areas easier to access and thus having a knock-on effect on logistics.

Global growth is possible, but taking the right steps towards that growth is imperative to long-lasting success.

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