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Scaling internationally comes with many challenges for e-commerce brands, not least the need to continue making each customer’s experience feel personal and relevant. From your online store you have the potential to reach customers across the globe. But in order to be successful, you will need to localize customer experience for each new region. 

Swanky is a global Shopify Plus agency who have helped numerous brands internationalise their e-commerce stores. Here they join us to share with you 11 steps to localising your customer experience when you ship internationally.

1: Offer local currency and language to localize customer experience

An easy first step to localising your e-commerce store is to allow the customer to checkout in their own currency by adding a multi-currency function to your site. Customers can be easily put off making a purchase if their currency is not available. 

Handling currency conversion is not simple, and you’ll need to decide on your approach. Having a fixed price in each currency, for example, could eat into your profit margin if conversion rates fluctuate. However, it will ensure customers always see the same price displayed, whichever day they log into your store. 

Preferred payment methods also vary from region to region. You’ll need to make sure your e-commerce store is set up to receive payments using the common payment methods for each region to enable a smooth purchasing process. 

Translation of your e-commerce store into your customers’ language is equally important for building their confidence in your brand. Being able to browse products and product descriptions in their own language helps customers to make more informed purchases, creating a smoother customer journey.

2: Understand local customer expectations

Customers have high expectations of their online shopping experience. If you’re expanding into a new market, you’ll need to be sure you understand the needs of your new customer base. Remember, negative reviews from your international customers could harm your brand reputation back home, so it’s essential to get this right. 

As a general rule when it comes to shipping, global customers are looking for shipping to be fast, cheap and flexible. However, it’s a mistake to assume that your customer behaviour will be identical across different markets. 

Carry out an extensive discovery phase in advance of launching into a new market, and be ready to adapt your strategies according to regional expectations. 

You’ll already have a wealth of data at your fingertips from your Shopify store, Google Analytics and any other integrations in your store, but you can also use behaviour analysis tools such as heat mapping and exit intent surveys to better understand your customers’ buying behaviour. 

If you’re looking to start selling into the UK from abroad, here are some tips on how to sell to the British market, and what makes it unique to other European markets.

3: Localize customer experience of your e-commerce store

As you begin to understand customer behaviour in each new region you’ll be better placed to serve shoppers more effectively. You’ll want to localize the customer experience to match the experience they would get if buying from a local brand. 

The entire customer journey – from browsing your site to making a purchase, receiving their shipment and post-purchase support – should make customers feel that your brand understands and values them.

Consider adapting the look and feel of your store, depending on location. Select imagery that reflects the culture and demographic of each region, to encourage your users to have a greater affinity with your brand. You may want to promote different products in certain regions depending on the season they are currently in. For example, if you are a fashion retailer, your Australian clients will want to see your summer range in November, whilst Europe will be looking for a winter wardrobe. 

Personalisation tools can be used to customise the user experience of every customer, according to their location – based on IP address – or further data you gather on them as they browse your site. Grooming brand Wilkinson Sword, for example, has two storefronts for their two different brands, each with a look and feel designed for a specific audience. Once a user has chosen a particular brand, they will be offered this storefront as default for future visits to the store. 

wilkinsons home page

For more ideas on how to personalise your customer journey, check out this article on 15 e-commerce personalisation examples

4: Design personalised marketing processes to localize customer experience

As well as localising your on-site experience, take advantage of marketing tools to build personalised marketing processes that are tailored for each country. 

Segment your email lists so that you can send more relevant, localized content to each of your target markets. Adapt imagery and wording for each region, remembering that even in regions that speak the same languages – such as the UK and the USA – customers will respond better to different wording. You may also need to tailor the promotions you send, for example, you could trigger promotional emails to be sent out to customers from a specific region on National holidays that only apply to that region. 

Lastly, don’t forget to time all your marketing communications to be sent at an optimal time for each region, to avoid customers receiving messages in the middle of the night. 

5: Ensure delivery details are correct for the customer’s region

As well as simply translating your site, there will be information that will need to be localized to reflect differences between regions. Sizes and measurements, delivery information and answers to FAQs will need to be specific to the region that the user is shopping in. Shopify has recently introduced Shopify Translate & Adapt, a native app that makes it easier for Shopify merchants to vary their store content for each region. 

Address details will also be different for each country. In the US for example, customers will have a zip code consisting of five numbers, whilst in the UK, addresses have postcodes made up of a mixture of letters and numbers. 

6: Keep delivery local with an international warehouse

Reducing the distance between your stock and your consumers will make your shipping faster, cheaper and greener, allowing you to offer your international customers local delivery times. 

You could achieve this by focussing your global expansion on countries close to your home region, to reach a wider audience whilst continuing to use your existing warehouses and keeping your overheads low. Or you may prefer to look for local warehousing options in the new region to avoid the need to ship internationally every time you get an order. 

One of Swanky’s US clients, Motion RC, saw their European sales increase dramatically when they launched their Netherlands warehouse in 2018 and were able to offer cheaper, faster shipping to European customers. Motion RC opted for the Netherlands as their warehouse location thanks to its central location within Europe and international port. The Netherlands is a big warehousing hub, resulting in an experienced local logistics workforce, as well as plenty of reputable accounting and legal firms and favourable tax and business regulations. It’s worth bearing in mind country-specific legislation on import and export, which could make a big difference to your shipping costs.

Furthermore, establishing a physical presence in Europe, along with launching a separate .eu e-commerce site, helped Motion RC build their reputation on the continent as a local player and compete more effectively within the European market.

7: Be transparent about delivery costs

No customer likes to discover unexpected fees like tax or shipping costs when they are completing a purchase. According to one survey, 48% of all reasons for cart abandonment are down to high hidden costs. 

Be transparent about your delivery costs and times as early as possible to avoid any nasty surprises at checkout. You could include a delivery calculator on your product pages so that customers can check what they will be paying before they arrive at checkout. It’s also great to be able to show local availability on product pages, to avoid frustration at a later point if the product is not available in their region. 

Swanky ran an A/B test on gifting brand Letterfest’s Shopify store, clearly highlighting on the product pages that the item would arrive in enough time for Mother’s Day. The result was a significant uplift in conversions and reduction of drop-off in the checkout stage, as users felt confident that their gift would be delivered in time.

transparent delivery costs

8: Find a reliable logistics partner that aligns with your brand values

The majority of global brands outsource at least some aspects of their international shipping to a 3PL (third-party logistics provider). 3PLs can handle all aspects of the fulfilment process, including warehousing, tax and compliance, which take a lot of weight off you as the retailer, especially if you are just starting out in a new market.

One of the biggest challenges in a new region will be building confidence in your brand.  Your delivery partner represents your brand through the customer experience they offer, so it’s essential to choose a partner known for their first-class service. This may not mean the cheapest option available, but the value of seeing happy customers return and promote your brand to others will be well worth the cost. 

Be sure to find a partner that aligns with your brand values. For example, if you’re a sustainable brand, you’ll want this to be reflected in your shipping as well as your products themselves. Shoppers are also increasingly taking a stand against excessive use of plastic packaging, favouring greener options instead. It would be prudent to keep this in mind when you’re selecting a logistics partner.

9: Provide a variety of delivery options

Increasing the number of delivery options available will give more flexibility to both you and your customers, and help localize the customer experience. 

A click and collect delivery option, for example, offers your shoppers a speedy and convenient solution. The customer is able to collect their parcel at a time that suits them. This option also reduces delivery costs for you as the supplier, a benefit you can pass on to your customers to enable you to offer free delivery. 

As you may not have a physical presence in your new region, why not explore options provided by the click and collect network? Supermarkets often have collection points where customers can pick up their delivery at the same time as doing their grocery shop.

10: Reassure your customers post-purchase 

The time between when the customer has completed a purchase on your site and when they receive their purchase is a crucial time for building a positive relationship with the customer. They have handed over their hard-earned money, and they are putting faith in you to deliver. 

Providing visibility into your shipping process is an important step in offering your customers that well-needed reassurance. Keep your customers in the loop with dispatch updates, live tracking, SMS alerts, or any other messaging channel that is relevant for your demographic.

Make sure your customer support team has automated access to customer order details, to help save time for your team and improve the experience for your customer if they get in touch. 

A thorough FAQ page will equally save the support team time if the customer can find answers to their questions without needing to get in touch. With Shopify Markets, Shopify stores can localize the contents of their FAQ pages to ensure information is relevant for each region.

11: Offer a fast and easy returns process

A key way to improve your international customer experience even further is by offering an easy returns policy. 

With 69% of customers deterred from buying online if they have to pay for return shipping, returns can be a headache for any online retailer, let alone when you ship internationally. Aim for a clear, flexible and customer-centric approach to returns to help differentiate you from your competitors. 

Make sure your returns policy is clear and easy to find on your website. Many customers will want to feel reassured about the returns policy before completing their purchase. If you can’t offer free returns all year round, perhaps use it as a bonus offer at certain times of year, for example, around Christmas. 

When it comes to your return processing, local warehouses in each region will help you increase efficiency. Having a fulfilment centre near to the end user will mean you can get your products back in stock quickly and easily. 

What’s more, if a local customer has ordered the item that’s been returned to stock in their region, you can fulfil it from your regional warehouse, creating the perfect fulfilment loop.

Getting your international customer experience right

As you look at the advantages of scaling your e-commerce business internationally, you’ll see there are plenty of ways to localize customer experience. With the use of personalisation and automation tools, a clear international fulfilment strategy in place, taking advantage of a network of local 3PLs and couriers, you can keep your international customers as happy as the customers from your home region.

For further information about internationalising your Shopify business, Swanky have published a comprehensive guide to internationalisation on Shopify to help e-commerce retailers navigate the complex journey of internationalising their brand. 

Get in touch with Sendcloud  to understand how our platform can support your international shipping. Or if you want further support in other areas of your e-commerce internationalisation, speak to the team at Swanky to find out how they can help.