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Usually, new stores launch to one country’s market – if not by conscious choice, then simply because shipping, translation, and payments are hard enough to discourage most international customers from buying.

But as you grow, you’ll probably want to capture more markets. And you may not understand cultural norms, how to translate a store, and the payments landscape in the places where you want to expand to. In this lesson, we’ll talk about when and how to research internationalization efforts, how to implement internationalization on your store, and how to fall back gracefully in case it’s difficult to precisely geolocate customers.

Researching international issues

The most obvious place to look at where your customers are coming from is in Google Analytics. Go to Audience → Geo → Location, change the date selector to show the past month of data, and change the row pull-down to show 25 or 50 rows. This will show you all of the countries that people have visited from in the past month, with corresponding percentages of where they’re coming from.

Next is to look at your merchant provider or fulfillment center to see where you’re shipping actual product. This will give you a similar country breakdown, although for paying customers.

Next comes the fun part: figuring out the big discrepancies. For example, is 20% of your traffic from the United Kingdom, but only 8% of your orders ship there? That means the corresponding conversion rate from UK customers is less than half the global average. Google Analytics will corroborate this, with ecommerce conversion rate, transactions, and total revenue listed in your country view’s far-right columns by default. (AOV can be calculated here by dividing revenue by transactions for each country.)

Note that transactions may be quite low for some of the longer-tail countries. Only perform these calculations for countries that have placed at least 100 orders in the past month.

Next, incorporate international questions as part of your post-purchase surveys. Since post-purchase surveys connect to your order, you know what country the customer came from. If the customer placed an international order, ask them how they felt about buying from a store that was outside of their country. Pay careful attention to concerns around shipping, foreign transaction fees, merchant accounts, and language barriers.

International expansion

It could be that people aren’t buying from other countries because you simply haven’t chosen to expand there. Shipping could be expensive; your traffic provider could be targeting audiences from only a few exclusive countries; you could be charging in a foreign-to-them currency, through a merchant provider that doesn’t support their bank.

If a lot of people are visiting from a country, you aren’t targeting that country with any specific ad campaigns, and their conversion rate is significantly below the norm, you might want to consider expanding there – by localizing your store to their norms and needs, and by fulfilling orders from a center located in that country.

International expansion is a high-risk, long-term play that highly depends on where you’re headquartered, what your competitors are doing, and the size of your potential addressable markets. Make sure you approach it carefully, with a clear primary focus on shipping and payments.

Personalization through geolocation APIs

On Shopify, the best way to target new customers to your store is to spin up a few separate stores for each country, since merchant accounts can only be launched per store, and not turned on and off for specific customers. Shopify writes more on this on their blog.

Then, you can use an app to geolocate customers to what country they’re visiting from, and redirect them to the appropriate store for their country. The two most commonly used apps for this are Geolocation Redirect and EasyLocation, but you can always have your developers build a bespoke solution for you.

Common design decisions

On any international store, you should have the following:

  • A currency selector. You should charge in the local currency that your customers are likely to use. Currency selectors should be unobtrusively placed, likely in the footer and/or hamburger menu of your store.
  • Alternate merchant accounts for countries that take them. If you’re expanding to China, you’ll want to adopt their payment systems, including and especially Alipay. If you’re expanding to Brazil, their market is dominated by a few local banks and you’ll want to do the legwork there, too.
  • Translation. Cultural subtleties don’t translate in well-edited copy, and Google Translate is a level of conversion-killing friction that implies to customers that your store simply isn’t for them. Obviously, you’ll want to translate yours – and make sure that your store is attended to the cultural sensitivities and needs of your target market, ideally through usability testing and 1-on-1 interviews.

Graceful fallback: country & language selection

If you’re unable to figure out what country a customer comes from, or if they come from a country that you aren’t in, you’ll either want to send them to your primary country’s store or (ideally) provide a country & language selector that lets them browse on their own terms.

Any selected country or language should throw a permanent cookie, with the option to switch in your store’s footer.

Wrapping up

If your business is doing well, and you’re in a conducive market segment for international expansion, doing so is probably inevitable. With this tutorial, you should have the broad-stroke tactics for researching, planning, and executing international expansion in a way that works for your new customers.

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