Internationalise your online business

You are a (small) retailer, and you want to expand your online business abroad. But how to start? In a series of blog posts, I will try to find some answers at questions like this. However every retailer has it's own current situation and a "one answer fits all" is impossible: If you do not have enormous budgets, for developing new websites and hiring international e-commerce experts, you can do things yourself.
In my opinion a localized site and localised promotions are absolutely the ideal situation. There are to many differences in culture, legal and commerce, to just copy paste your website.

First make sure you have (or find someone who has) e-commerce or website experience in your home country. It will give you many insights that will help you make you succesfull abroad. It is not of any use to sent traffic to your website, if the website is not delivering what you want it to deliver (orders, leads, brand value etc).
If your current website is not performing, do not start expanding abroad, first get experience in optimizing your current website.

The 11 C internationalisation framework

Newman and Lake developed the "11 C's of Internationalization" a framework that will help people to review the opportunities and challenges for specific markets.
  1. Country
There are many potential countries you might want to expand to. But which country is a good choice? If you do not have any idea yet, try to do online research.
A few links to help you out:

Google Trends. Google Trends is a free tool that will help you to identify "trends". Type in some "keywords" that are relevant to your products or services in a local language and see the popularity of these products in a time frame. 
Google Consumer Barometer. Google's consumer Barometer gives you free market research data, about products and services, all around the globe. 
Google's Global Market Finder. Google's Global Market finder helps you finding popular keywords all around the globe. But be aware. This tool is made for selling adwords advertisement, use it for analysis only if you do not have Adwords Experience. Auto translating, (that is available in the tool) is often not correct.
DHL Global Connectedness Index. DHL's global connectedness index, is released every year and will help you analysing the e-commerce maturity and possibilities of nations.
ICT Facts and Figures 2013. What is the internet penetration in area's around the world? How many people use mobile internet? Find answers to these questions and more in the ICT Facts and Figures report.
Asia Digital Marketing Report. Planning to expand to Asia? Read this interesting Asia Digital Marketing Report.

More C's after the break!


Online consumer behavior can be totally different per country. The best of course is to continuously test your website separately in every country where you are active. But if you do not have a website yet, try to figure out the possible behavior of your new consumers/customers.

To get answers to possible behavior of your new customers you can think of writing an online competitor analysis to analyse the type of visitors, you most likely will get.
  • Do your competitors have social media websites? What's the sentiment there? What are customers asking for, what's their age? What's their profile?
  • How many backlinks do your competitors have? And what kind of websites link to your competitors? It will tell you something about the type of visitors. Check backlinks with SEMOZ's Backlink Checker.
  • What keywords do your competitor's rank at search engines (this might be local search engines, don't always use Google) and what kind of keywords they advertise with?
  • What's the general sentiment of your competitors online? 
  • Can you identify by visual and interaction aspects of your competitor's site what kind of audience the website visits? 
  • What are the main promotions your competitors have at their websites? It might attract a certain kind of audience. (e.g. promotion driven, or service driven)
  • Place an order or request information at your competitor. What is the general communication you receive? Formal? Informal? What's the layout of the e-mails? 
  • Test your competitor's website by sending questions to their customer service. How do they respond, test various contact possibilities (phone, social media, email etc)
  • Check your competitor's social media websites. You can check what people who like your competitor's brand, like more. It tells you something about their interests. The new feature "Facebook Graph Search" helps. An explanation about facebook Graph Search is written in this excellent article.

How mature is the internet or e-commerce situation in the country? Use the links at bullet 1 to find information.


Communication is essential in international e-commerce. For search engine and visitor reasons it is essential that you update your website frequently with new, fresh content. Think about your customer communication touch points. What points of communication will a customer or visitor have? Is there e-mail communication involved? How are you going to setup your e-mail marketing (both service and commercial) campaigns? In my personal experience I see lot's of differences in e-mail usage and response per country! Are you promoting national holiday's, bank holiday's? Every country has it's own national holidays (that's why they are called national holidays:), but even days that seem general, like "mothers day" are celebrated at different days throughout the world. Birthdays have less value in some countries, "name day's" are far more important. Learn about the culture, for an optimized contact strategy.


Understanding a culture is essential in business abroad. See for example this article about cultural differences, I wrote earlier. Altough this article is mainly about cultural differences in social media, also in website development cultural differences have a lot of influence in the effectiveness of your website. More information can be found here.
Even within Europe there are so many differences in culture and site usage. Try to investigate and test this, continuously change your website to make it as effective as possible. Outside of Europe? For example, you might need totally different images at your website in the Middle East, as lifestyle images or model shots, don't' work there.

Customer Service

Some say "Customer Service" is the new marketing. Although not completely true, good and rapid customer service is more important then ever. Items to think about:

  • Customer service must be in the local language without spelling mistakes! 
  • Customer service is not limited to phone or e-mail anymore. Customer service = social media. A good reputation at the web and social media has effect at online web promotions. For example ratings might have effect at your google ad position. Start with a good customer service from the beginning. If you get a bad reputation online in the beginning because of a poor customer service, it might be very, very hard to improve your online reputation again.
  • Make sure your "customer journey" is localized. (delivery options, delivery communication, web promotions etc.). In Sweden they often deliver at droppoints, while in Holland, delivery at home is the most common form of delivery. 


In the online business small competitors, or competitors you have never heard of might be very important ones. Competitors that go "viral" can get your sales rapidly. Competitors that have a reputation advantage can have several advertising benefits so that you will lose sales.

The market you are going to enter might be totally different then the market you are currently active in. Internet has changed the world and many business models have changed.

Still Michael Porter's 5 competitive forces model is still valid for good insights.

-Threat of new Entrants
-Bargaining power of suppliers
-Bargaining power of Buyers
-Threat of substitute products or services

Besides this strategic model from Michael Porter, also compare the functionalities that your competitors have at their websites.

Currency and Payment options

You can only get local customers, if you offer local payment methods. Some countries (even in Europe) still use "cheques" for example. In China, Alipay is very , very big and Alipay works totally different then payment methods in Europe. Make sure you have local payment methods.

There are several global payment providers. Usually they publish reports every year about global payments. Global Collect is an international payment provider, also adyen is one or
Read this report from E-commerce Europe in association with Innopay about online payments.
Don't forget about currency's. Even within Europe there are differences. In Northern Europe, usually the currency sign is displayed in front of the product (e.g. € 28) while in Southern Europe it is often displayed after the amount (e.g. 28€)


Try to find some local benchmarks of conversion rates. This can be everything of course, from opening rates for e-mail marketing till the direct sales conversions at similar websites. Optimize your website for conversion.

Channels (and category)

After developing a website, the game is only going to start. Then you need traffic to your new website. Don't think the traffic will come by itself. A traffic strategy is necessary.

Traffic sources are for example:

- Email marketing
- Affiliate marketing
- Search Engine Optimization
- Search Engine Advertising
- Social Media Marketing
- Display Advertising
- Third party advertisement


Localise content as much as possible! Make sure your CMS is capable of doing so. If something has to be localized, it is content. Don't underestimate the differences in culture and expectations when you develop your content.


Try to make a businesscase with the information you collected at all other "c's"

The 11 c's of international ecommerce / crossborder e-commerce


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