International Ecommerce Issues: How to Diagnose Global Barriers with Analytics

International Ecommerce Issues: How to Diagnose Global Barriers with Analytics
This is a special guest post from Edin Šabanović, senior CRO consultant at Objeqt

One of the main benefits of the Internet is its ability to reach anyone, anywhere in the world. In fact, any enterprise ecommerce brand that truly wants to grow needs to carefully consider international markets.

Unfortunately, the challenges to international ecommerce are notoriously difficult. Cultural diversity, the need to sell in multiple currencies and language, payment preferences, tax laws, and government regulations all create issues not easily overcome.

If you want to grow globally … data holds the key.

To do that, let’s examine the most-common challenges to international ecommerce as well as how to overcome them …

What Are the Most-Common International Ecommerce Issues?

  1. Language and Localization
  2. Content and Cultural Perceptions
  3. Technical Infrastructure and Speed
  4. Customer Support and Service
  5. Currency and Payment Preferences

How to Identify Your Site’s International Ecommerce Issues?

  1. Demographic Segments
  2. Language Analysis
  3. Location Reports
  4. International Funnels
  5. Sales by Country

Pressed for time?

Keep reading to unearth the analytics behind international expansion …

But, if you’d like a summary of the key points, download The Enterprise Guide to Global Ecommerce.

Inside, you’ll get one-pagers detailing …

  • Comprehensive data on the opportunities and threats
  • Business spotlights for practical takeaways
  • Checklist for selecting the right global platform

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What Are the Common International Ecommerce Issues?

1. Language and Localization

When operating in a single country, language issues are few and far between. Even if you’re not a native speaker, the fact that you have a single language to master means your attention can be devoted to this task.

With international ecommerce, things get complicated as the need to provide consistent customer experiences increases. When a prospect comes from China or Germany, even if their browser is set to English, they won’t necessarily grasp subtleties, idioms, or colloquialisms.

This challenge becomes all the more pressing when you consider …

Language is a top challenge in international ecommerce

2. Content and Cultural Perceptions

Of course, language isn’t the only factor that determines whether content resonates.

Sometimes, even the best literal translations end up in embarrassing blunders, like when KFC’s motto — “Finger-lickin’ good” — was translated in China to read: “We'll eat your fingers off.” Or when Ford’s ad — “Every car has a high-quality body” — ended up reading in Belgium: “Every car has a high-quality corpse.” 

Worse, different people groups have different cultural standards and customs. What can be considered funny or casual in one culture may be nonsensical or downright offensive to those from different backgrounds.

3. Technical Infrastructure and Speed

Infrastructure within most developed countries is more or less uniform, and — unless you opt for a cheap solution — your visitors will enjoy solid uptimes and loading speeds.

When you move overseas, things change dramatically. If you rely on the same servers as a one-size-fits-all solution, you’ll soon notice that certain geographies have much slower access.

The result is an inevitable drop in conversion rates.

Image and data via Skilled

4. Customer Support and Service

Depending on your products, customer support can be a critical consideration. For example, if you sell electronic equipment or anything with that requires assembly, you may need to provide both static instructions and live support in native languages. Furthermore, you may need to provide maintenance and service for the products themselves.

Observing how your FAQ pages perform with customers in different languages — as well as search queries in your onsite search — can uncover a lot about what support different areas need.

5. Currency and Payment Preferences

Converting prices into local currency is a fairly straightforward task that can be accomplished through your store’s theme, customer-facing apps, or multiple storefronts.

The role of currency in international ecommerce

The real issue is offering optimized payment preferences. While credit cards are a universally known payment method, in some countries there may be other and more popular methods that users are simply more familiar with and consequently more trustful of. Make an effort to find out if this may be the case and try to fix this.

How to Identify Your Site’s International Ecommerce Issues?

With those challenges in mind, the question becomes: “How do you identify and solve the most pressing international problems your visitors are facing?”

The answer lies in data …

Google Analytics’ out-of-the-box setup offers granular geographical location, even down to the city users come from. With this information, you can observe the behavior of visitors on your website according to either their geolocation or language and then measure how effective your website is in engaging specific groups.

The basic method to do this is to use audience reports and check the behavior of different groups depending on the country they come from and the language they speak.

While the country field will likely be accurate, the language field will depend on the language settings of the visitor's browser and OS. Remember, this doesn’t mean they all speak English even if their browser is set to US English.

Using the average bounce rate of different visitors and conversions according to goals, you can find out how effectively your website engages and addresses different prospects.

Location report in Google Analytics for international ecommerce

Of course, you should step back prior to any analysis and see if it is worth it. If your website is not frequented by a significant portion of international visitors (i.e., less than 10% of sessions), there is little point in trying to improve their experience.

You can also examine individual landing pages by filtering according to country:

However, to truly gauge where to invest your efforts and solutions, the first step should be setting up segments, as these are the most readily available way of displaying fractions of your website visitors and analyzing their behavior separate from the others.

Demographic Segments

To create a segment, click on the ‘Add new segment’ button on top of your report screen. Once a dialog box opens, select ‘+New Segment.’

In this case, we will use geographic location to analyze customers coming from different countries. In ‘Demographics’ option, you will be able to define Location field, according to Continent, Country, region or city to break down your users to ever smaller segments.

Setting up international segments is straightforward in the Google Analytics interface

Ideally, you can use segments to make sense of acquisition reports. For example, you can see how visitors from different countries reach your website as well as their behavior once they arrive.

However, there is one important aspect of your ecommerce website that you will not be able to analyze using segments — the conversion funnel.

Unfortunately, this report is impossible to segment, but there is a solution.

To make it possible, you can create a different view of every important country and/or language. By creating views, you will be able to ‘segment’ the funnel report according to a country, but without having to use the Advanced Segments feature of your analytics:

Language Analysis

The best reports to spot issues with language and localization are the general overview of demographic data. The former will contain a table of key-metric comparisons:

Language report in Google Analytics for international ecommerce

In this example, we can see that roughly 70% of all sessions on this site use the English language (either US or GB variant). Those users appear more engaged with bounce rates at 39% and 56% respectively and average pages per session around four.

Sessions that used other languages have higher bounce rates, lower average pages visited, and longer average session duration. Likely, this means international visitors are struggling to interpret the content and then leaving.

However, since the scale of the problem appears limited — in no instance did the other languages comprise more than 3% of all visitors — the problem is not critical.

A far more important metric is conversion rate.

The conversion rate of English speaking visitors is approximately 3%, while others have a much lower rate — in most cases less than 0.5%. Those kinds of bottom-line disparities are exactly what you should be looking for in your own reports.

Location Reports

Location reports are presented similarly to language:

Location reports can be used as an additional indicator of potential problems international visitors have.

While the language report indicates trouble with interpreting content, location reports indicate other factors that hinder the conversion of international visitors.

For example, if a majority your orders come from your home country, as is the case here — with UK and Canada being the sole outliers — it may indicate a problem with site speed or pay gateways for international customers.

This insight is especially applicable if you aim for international growth. By using these two reports you can identify areas you need to focus more attention on.

International Funnels

Google Analytics with Enhanced Ecommerce Features provides an easy way to segment your funnel and analyze behaviors:

Enhanced Ecommerce Shopping behavior report in Google Analytics used for international ecommerce

By analyzing shopping behavior segmented according to either language or location (location is a far better choice) you can uncover what potentially hinders your international visitors from completing their purchase.

If many drop out at product view, they most likely do not fully understand the offer … or the product simply is not relevant to them.

If they added the product to cart but have not completed the purchase, this may indicate a problem with shipping or price depending on the design of your checkout flow. Dropouts at checkout most likely indicate trouble with payment options or total price.

While you cannot really be sure without additional research (most likely by using surveys or user testing), this narrows the potential issues down and you can start addressing them.

Sales by Country

As a final source of insight, Shopify’s “Customers by county” report should be your big-picture benchmark to test your efforts as well as to gauge what international opportunities are the ripest for creating localized storefronts.

Customer by country report for international ecommerce

When you figure out where most of your customers come from, you can compare this data with the number of visitors and see if you are doing better or worse for customers coming from different countries.

You can use your native language or home country as a benchmark and assume that all visitors should probably convert at roughly the same rate. By comparing how different visitors and customers behaved, you can tell what may be wrong or what potential issues merit more attention.

Similar to Google Analytics, Shopify Analytics offer filters to create segments of different visitors. Using filters, you can make reports that show only customers or visitors from a specific country and then compare their behavior to your selected benchmark performance.

Final Thoughts

Growing internationally hinges on localization.

But diagnosing what challenges are barriers to global growth can be a challenge unto itself.

The first step in solving international ecommerce issues is identifying them through analytics. Afterall, the only way to solve a problem is to drag it into the light.

About the Author

Edin Šabanović is a senior CRO consultant at Objeqt where he helps ecommerce stores improve their conversion rates through analytics, scientific research, and A/B testing.