How to sell abroad
When launching an online store in foreign markets, you have two basic options to consider:
- Using “marketplaces” – sites that link customers with multiple suppliers, offering producers the possibility of selling their products directly, such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy. We have written more on this topic in the article on marketplaces and sales aggregators.
- Creating a local version of an online store, adapted to foreign markets.
Marketplaces are an excellent choice for smaller stores, making it easy to take the first steps in cross-border sales. They allow to make a start without creating a full new version of e-store adapted to a particular foreign market. Marketplaces let you get to know the specifics of trade in that country – for example, to broaden your knowledge about the purchasing preferences of customers there. In this case, a typical path would be:
- translating the product descriptions into multiple languages;
- displaying products in marketplaces;
- promoting products within the sites.
Remember that it is not enough just to place your offer on the site. You must also set aside an advertising budget for promotion within the marketplace – to ensure that your products are seen by customers who will be interested in them.
The second option is about creating versions of your store adapted to local markets. This route requires more preparation, and you should normally expect to do the following:
- translate the whole of your sales platform,
- provide customer service in the local language,
- employ local specialists who know the target country,
- build logistics for deliveries,
- register the business and pay local VAT rates (if you plan to achieve large sales volumes)
- invest in marketing campaigns for gaining customers.
If you choose this option, you should begin by analysing the market and creating a suitable comprehensive strategy for expanding your e-commerce business. There are as many different solutions as business models – everything depends on the goals and capabilities of your e-store.
In this article we provide some general data and indicate the direction of development of e-commerce in the context of cross-border trade. In future articles you will find discussion of some specific markets, which will help you decide which countries to try to sell your products to.
These are unquestionable positives that stem from selling online to markets outside a home country. Although such a move comes with many challenges, it is worth taking them on if you want to expand your business.
We will shortly be publishing articles about cross-border e-commerce that will be full of practical advice, helping you to learn more about the topic and to take the first steps towards international expansion.
What challenges will you face?
When you decide to start selling to other countries, you should look at the challenges which await you and which you, as an e-businessperson, need to consider. Factors that should be analysed include:
Insufficient knowledge about the professional running of an e-commerce enterprise is problematic not only in case of foreign expansion, but also just for running an e-store competently in Poland. So if you are thinking about trading across borders, consider the complexities. You can gain concrete and practical knowledge from our series of articles, so we encourage you to follow this blog.
Awareness of the local market
The success of an e-store in a foreign market is directly linked to knowledge about that country. What is the competition? Which players control shares of the market, and what strategic actions are they taking? What are the preferences of local e-consumers? Are there any sociocultural differences in that market? Maybe there exist strong trends that do not apply to Poland, but play a dominant role elsewhere? Lack of this type of knowledge can lead to numerous errors, which might subsequently cause the e-store to fail.
This is one of the key success factors in cross-border e-commerce. Both the time and cost of delivery are important, as both of these things have a huge impact on customers’ purchasing decisions. Logistics costs, or more precisely their asymmetry, present a further challenge in cross-border e-commerce. It is sometimes much more expensive to ship goods from Poland to another European country than from that country to Poland. This is a factor that strongly impacts the competitiveness of Polish e-stores. However, the situation has recently started to improve. There are more and more firms that specialise in cross-border logistics, and a new European Union regulation is intended to ensure that the market for cross-border package delivery becomes more transparent and competitive. We will deal with the subject of logistics in a separate article.
One of the most important elements of entering new markets is adapting to the habits of online consumers, and this includes the issue of payments. If you are starting to sell in other countries, you must find out what payment methods are used most commonly in the local market. Most importantly, remember to offer the possibility of payment in local currencies. It is also a good idea to accept different payment methods. While most Western European markets prefer online payments, some EU countries still prefer to pay cash on delivery – although this is gradually changing. PayU can help firms considering foreign expansion to adapt their payment methods to specific markets, to prepare payment forms in local languages, and to settle transactions in different currencies. This is made possible by a simple single API integration with the PayU Hub, a global platform, which provides online stores with even wider access to local payment methods throughout the world.
Channels for gaining customers
Creating a new language version of an online store and adapting it to local conditions is only half the road to success. An important factor that you should consider is the need to obtain good-quality traffic from the market in question, and to persuade customers to buy at the store. Just like when doing business in Poland, the actions you take should be wide-ranging. Consider building diverse channels for acquiring customers – including SEO, SEM, social media, and working with influencers. It is worth using the assistance of local specialists, who will help you create an action strategy suited to the local market. Of course, you should set aside an adequate budget for actions of this type, particularly at the start of your expansion.
The lack of a worked-out long-term action strategy is a significant problem for many online businesses. Many decisions that are important to the firm are taken on a day-to-day basis. Online stores that want to operate in several markets simultaneously should have a strategy that will allow them to operate efficiently and effectively. If you lack such a strategy, you may not be in a position to fight on level terms with local competitors, who usually know the cultural and legal environment better than you do. In this case there is no single universal method that works in every case. You need to match your strategy to the nature of your e-business. Sometimes a better solution will be to centralise processes; sometimes the reverse. From the very beginning you should analyse the situation, be flexible and ready for change, so that you can constantly learn and adjust to the new market.
Cross-border e-commerce offer huge possibilities to online businesses. It gives you an opportunity to expand your operations beyond the saturated local market and try your chances in other countries. It also let you discover and develop the potential of particular ranges of products, which often cannot be done in the local market; and the expansion of your customer base leads to an obvious result – it increases your sales.
- Accenture, 2018;
- E-Commerce in Poland 2019, Gemius report for E-Commerce Poland;
- PayU, 2018;
- UPS Europe Pulse of the Online Shopper Executive Summary, 2017