The global e-commerce opportunity
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The global e-commerce opportunity

Preparing for an upcoming conference on e-commerce, the abcommerce summit for Irish Retailers, where I will be speaking about the do’s and dont’s for international e-commerce, reminds me of some salient points about global e-commerce that are worth thinking about.

Global e-commerce or international e-commerce?

It is easy to be impressed with numbers: In 2019, the Irish e-commerce market recorded sales of € 7.7 billion. Definitely not a number to be scoffed to, but with Ireland in 2019 being the 44th largest e-commerce market, Irish e-commerce sales are dwarfed when compared to e-commerce sales to the tune of $ 3,535 billion worldwide. But mentioning Ireland’s rather low global rank here is of course not meant as a criticism, but rather as a reminder of a given fact, resulting from small country size. So, for Irish retailers or e-commerce operations to grow substantiallly, they will need to look at markets outside of Ireland.

Based on the numbers above, it is tempting to be attracted to global e-commerce, but really a more realistic approach is to aim for international e-commerce or cross-border e-commerce, i.e. carefully selecting and expanding to a small set of markets, where you can differentiate yourself and achieve maximum ROI.

Critical considerations here are much the same as in any internationalisation project: Demand and supply, competitive differentiation, the cost of localisation vs return, the revenue opportunity, local market pricing level, the overall business environment, as well as practical considerations relating to legal and regulatory requirements, the logistics of product delivery and return etc.

So, the main thing here is to see the global opportunity for what it is: yes, very big globally and a must for e-commerce growth, but the overall size of the global market is not really that relevant. Instead, to properly grasp parts of this great global opportunity and ensure a good return on investment, careful market research and market selection and prioritisation is key. Selective and well-planned international e-commerce or cross-border e-commerce is what this is really about.

International e-commerce marketing and international SEO (ISEO)

One key challenge of international e-commerce, independent of what markets you have prioritised, is achieving visibility in your target markets. It goes without saying that this requires some work with regard to SEO (or, more precisely, ISEO) as well as digital marketing overall.

Take a look at your Google Analytics and check what countries (except Ireland) visitors come from today. My experience is that the number of non-Irish visitors is quite small and if your website is in English only, when you get visitors from other countries, they will be mostly from other English speaking countries. 

So, if you target non-English speaking markets, you will need to get your website translated. Translation needs to be done with an acute awareness of SEO, as people often use different search terms than their exact foreign language translation equivalent. So, your translator needs to be multi-skilled, qualified and experienced in both professional translation and SEO. 

But even if you have decided to stick to English-speaking markets for now, certain changes are often needed for ISEO purposes, so your potential customers in, for example, the US can find you. This includes changes to spelling, terminology in content and metadata as well as technical changes. In some markets, you will also need to make more radical changes to your SEO, which in Ireland is typically focused on Google visibility, yet in other markets, e.g. China, Korea, Russia, Japan, etc. needs to take into account other search engines and their SEO requirements as well.

Unfortunately, hardly any webshop can rely on SEO only and especially in more competitive foreign markets, you will need to also develop and implement a localised e-marketing strategy. Here, it is paramount to have deep knowledge of the target market, understand who your key competitors are, what marketing tactics they use, and then devise a strategy on how to best compete with them. Due to the different competitive landscape in different markets, the marketing approach in export markets is often very different to that of your local market. If you use Google Ads, it is also worth noting that keyword costs can be quite different and that Google Ads should really be re-created (rather than translated) for different markets, in particular keywords and ad text are not typically a translation as such.

e-commerce sales and conversion in international markets

International SEO and a localised e-marketing strategy will help bring more international visitors to your site. The next step is to convince them to buy from your site – an e-commerce website from a different country and a webshop they most likely have not heard of before. This requires some extra effort.

There are two main factors are play here: Differentiation and trust.

Differentiation should have been handled in the early stage of your e-commerce internationalisation project, when you reviewed and prioritised your target export markets. Only markets where you can truly differentiate yourself deserve the effort required for e-commerce localisation. Differentiation can come in various ways, i.e. truly different products or product range or better/different terms, i.e. anything that counteracts the risk or inconvenience associated with a cross-border purchase. It is worth bearing in mind here, that what differentiates you in your export market may well be quite different from what differentiates you in your home market.

The other main factor is trust and this is something that can be addressed during the implementation of the localised webshop. Because your brand is typically not known in the export market, you will need to make an extra effort to build the required trust to achieve sales conversion. Building trust is done at a number of levels and includes things like ensuring legal compliance of products and website, offering locally trusted and accepted payment methods, displaying locally relevant and known trust signals (for website and products), and reviews and case studies, ideally from the chosen export market. 

Both trust and differentiation are key in ensuring your get high e-commerce sales conversion rates.

If you want to find out more about international e-commerce, please feel free to contact us for an initial conversation.


Susanne Dirks

Susanne Dirks is an internationalisation consultant, specialising in website localisation, international SEO and international digital marketing.