5 Tips for Taking a Localized Approach to Cross-Border Ecommerce

By: Eric Gutoski
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This blog was originally written by Eric Gutoski, Chief Strategy Officer of BORN.

For ecommerce sites operating internationally, a successful global rollout often depends on understanding the nuances between local culture as much as it does on having a cogent business strategy and products that appeal to a global audience.

Irrespective of what niche an online store is selling into, there’s one thing that international sellers can certainly agree on: to maximize growth potential, selling beyond home territory is more of a ‘must’ and less of a ‘nice-to-have.’

Here are five tips to make the cross-border ecommerce journey more successful for those operating international online stores.

Make Things Local – As Far As Possible

Localization is key when it comes to delivering successful cross border ecommerce, and there are several crucial elements to rolling out an experience that speaks to the buyer in their own language (and ironically, that means more than just rolling out websites in their native tongue!).

1. Pay special attention to language nuances

Launching websites in buyers’ native language remains the baseline measure for localization success — and it’s a logical place to start. In fact, research has found that as many as 72% of online shoppers prefer to shop in their native language — even when they also speak an international language such as English.

Unfortunately, translating product pages and UI language isn’t as simple as feeding pages into Google Translate or any other automatic translator. To really resonate in a local market, there’s simply no substitute for human translation work — and staff members to handle the local websites and customer service functions once they are up and running.

Idioms and slang are essential to give a website a local look and feel and to instill confidence in buyers, who may be unconsciously biased towards anything from their own country (or overtly nationalistic!). Additionally, website owners must be aware that culture and language and inextricably linked. Those launching websites in Muslim-majority countries, for example, must be aware of local religious sensitivities, such as that alcohol is not permissible. Even the political climate in a country can color what kind of language is likely to resonate with buyers.

The world may be thoroughly globalized, but the collective experience of countless ecommerce owners has shown that cookie-cutter formulas that attempt to quickly roll out international storefronts without paying close attention to the culture and demographic they are targeting are doomed to fail. Market local while going global — be sure to attempt to truly understand the local culture and language in each region when expanding globally.

2. Offer local currencies

The greenback may often dominate the world’s financial news, but there are in fact 180 local currencies in circulation around the globe including 20 that, confusingly, all bear the name ‘dollar.’

How does this impact storeowners’ localization efforts?

For one, as a rule, consumers are used to thinking, budgeting, and comparing prices in their own local currency. Ideally, your payment gateway will support direct payment in the website currency (in other words, payments are automatically converted to and processed in a major world currency at checkout), but even if it doesn’t, it’s vital that the website includes the local currency.

It’s also common for websites to include both a local currency as well as a few major world currencies (such as the US dollar, Euro, or Pound Sterling) throughout the site and to give users the ability to switch the site currency (and language) at the click of an icon.

Consumers shopping online in countries that are not major economies are used to comparing prices against a common world currency, such as the US dollar. Additionally, expats often retain the habit of comparing local prices to their “old country” for some years after they move to a new territory. Adding both local and global currencies to a website makes it easy for these shoppers to compare prices online. Assuming your offers are competitive, this addition should improve the conversion rate.

Don’t forget to pay attention to what might seem like minor details when designing this aspect of your website. Currencies have different symbols, some of which are placed before the number and some of which are placed after. Internationally defined ISO abbreviations can also be used in their stead.

3. Localization is key

As I mentioned earlier, speaking to customers “in their language” means more than it does literally. Providing a localized experience that truly performs in a new sales geography means a great deal more than simply getting the text right to the level that a native speaker can understand it.

It’s valuable for those thinking of opening a website in a new locale to have a clear understanding of nuances about that local market before selling into it.

In concrete this can mean:
• Understanding consumers’ preferences, in terms of payment methods and credit lines.
• Developing localized buyer personas; tweaking website language and marketing collateral to reflect these local idiosyncrasies.
• Awareness and application of local content norms, including quality, variety and number of product photography, as well as attributes such as apparel sizing.
• Researching and developing a local “promotional calendar” based on major shopping holidays, such as Black Friday, that are unique to that geography.

Of course, the value of having “boots on the ground” cannot be overstated in this respect. Those devoting significant resources to targeting a market would be well-advised to make exploratory visits to understand exactly in which respects local customers may differ from international ones.

4. The last mile: shipping and logistics

Naturally, beyond getting the consumer past the checkout page, getting the products to the consumer’s door is a key concern for any ecommerce operator.

Logistics and fulfillment are vital concerns that must be figured out well in advance of a website’s go-live date.

Some questions to ask at this stage of localization planning can include:
• Does the geography have a reliable postal system? If not, your website’s global brand could be damaged by an onslaught of complaints from dissatisfied customers, even if you’re not directly responsible for final mile delivery.
• Are there customs regulations surrounding my products in this geography? Import restrictions can vary significantly from country to country.
• Will local warehousing and stock management be necessary, or can all products be dispatched centrally?
• Can express delivery be arranged at a reasonable cost to the consumer?

5. Is there a path for growth?

During the feasibility testing stage, ecommerce owners may be investigating the possibility of launching several localized websites at once.

Often, this prospect seems daunting — largely due to the fact that many merchants mistakenly think that to make localization worthwhile it has to be an all-or-nothing gambit spanning continents as well as countries.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case.

Global ecommerce accelerators are great matches for businesses that want to test out geographies on a piecemeal basis and can take the hassle out of dealing with aspects such as customer experience tailoring and international logistics. Pairing up with one is a great way to make the process of internationalizing a smoother ride. After all, just one profitable international store can significantly buoy worldwide revenue.

The World is Waiting for Your Store

Global experiences are a must for ecommerce operators whose virtual storefronts can be browsed from virtually every nook and cranny on the planet. Furthermore, extensive localization is key and goes beyond simply translating websites into the vernacular. Brands that want to make the process easier and faster should consider teaming up with an ecommerce consultancy with proven international success.


For more information on how BORN can help you execute a global strategy, please contact Mackenzie Johnson, mackenzie.johnson@borngroup.com