4 economic barriers to going global – and how to overcome them

4 min read
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The value of global e-commerce is likely to hit US$2.3trn this year (2018) and US$4.5trn by 2021. These figures are so immense they become almost meaningless. What they could signify for you as an e-commerce trader is simply more sales and bigger profits. Better holidays, even.

Online trading really does make it possible for all kinds of businesses to reach out to new markets and customers all over the world. If you sense a ‘however’ coming, it’s this: in a world of 220 countries and territories, and countless languages, you are almost certain to encounter difficulties. We’ve grouped them into four main areas.

1. Getting paid

The common payment methods in your own country may not be so prevalent in others. While some forms of payment are happy to describe themselves as global, in practice they’re anything but. So when statistics show that up to 59% of shoppers will abandon their cart if their preferred payment is not offered, it’s worth considering multiple options, including the dominant choice in each country. This could be anything from Alipay in China to online bank payments in India.

What you can do: 

- Ensure your e-commerce business is localized to the extent that it recognizes your customer’s location and displays the right currency and location

- If customers elect to use a credit card, show how much they will be paying prior to the point of payment

- Look into partnering with a secure international payment gateway that supports multiple-currency transactions, such as WorldPay, PayPal or Stripe. The more you trade across borders, the more useful this partnership will become

- Be wary of online fraud. Learn about the well-known fraud hotspots and the fraudsters’ techniques. If your scam antenna starts to twitch, don’t hesitate to insist on a bank transfer before shipping the goods.

2. Moving products across borders

Shipping physical products internationally can present its own set of challenges. The addition of shipping charges can cancel out any potential sales of low-margin commoditized items, and take a big bite out of the profits of more niche products.

Then there are complications such as size and weight restrictions, customs duties and documentation, as well as regional regulations and practices that sometimes give the impression of changing according to the day of the week.

Add the problem of items turning up damaged or not turning up at all, perhaps thousands of miles away, and you can see why some e-commerce retailers might prefer the concept of cross-border e-commerce to actually doing it in practice. But it needn’t be that way.

What you can do:

- Simple answer? Get in touch with DHL. Seriously. When it comes to international logistics, whether for global corporations or bedroom-based startups, nobody can offer more hands-on experience or helpful advice.

With DHL, you get access to a network of more than 350,000 people in over 220 countries and territories. We’ve got what it takes to help you cross borders, reach new markets and grow your business. We’ve been doing it for years.

3. Being seen as ‘foreign’

This is a problem that seems to predominantly afflict companies from countries where English is the native language. While many people around the world understand English, e-commerce retailers miss big opportunities when they fail to transcreate their content into local languages.

2014 survey carried out by the Common Sense Advisory found that among 3,000 consumers across 10 countries, 59% would never make a purchase from an English-only website. That’s a lot of lost custom.

What you can do:

- Offer payment in the local currency, as outlined above

- Use a local country code, such as .au for Australia or .my for Malaysia

- Choose images that are appropriate to each market. A ‘thumbs up’ sign means ‘OK’ in many cultures, but is viewed as an obscene gesture in the Arab world as well as in parts of West Africa and South America

- Don’t settle for a literal translation of your website (or even worse use a translation engine). Instead, use a professional ‘transcreation’ agency who will adapt your website to other markets, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context.

4. Being lumbered with the wrong platform

Just as choosing the right location is critical for a bricks and mortar store, so is selecting the right platform for your e-commerce store. An older legacy system, particularly one that was custom-built for you when you were just starting out, may seriously handicap your potential for growth. As you expand into new markets and territories, you may find that problems with your platform start to mount up. It may struggle to cope with multiple currencies, require more and more third-party apps to provide basic functions, or be incapable of working with advanced technologies like chatbots or artificial intelligence.

Changing platforms can be disruptive, and the longer you leave it before moving to one that’s better suited to your needs, the more disruptive it’ll get.

What you can do:

- Start by thinking about what you want your business to look like in the future. Not just 12 months from now but 12 years from now

- Be prepared to do lots of homework. The e-commerce platform market is a crowded one, and names like Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, WooCommerce and Volusion are just some of the players

- Your prime considerations should be security, customization, flexibility and scalability

- Consider whether you will require a platform that includes content management functionality

- Check whether increasingly popular functions such as AI and chat systems are included in the platform package or whether they’re available as plugins that incur additional monthly subscriptions

- Check that the platform can work with all the disparate methods of payment you’ll need, such as Intuit, Skrill and digital wallets

- Make sure the platform is capable of optimizing your site for mobile, which now accounts for more than half of all e-commerce revenue.