International Market Research: What You Need to Know Before Working with Clients Across Borders


In 2018, 70 percent of ecommerce growth occurred outside North America. Let that sink in.

If you’re a Shopify Partner based in North America, this may be surprising—ecommerce growth is booming here, and the thought that it could be growing even faster somewhere else is hard to comprehend.

But it’s true, and merchants are capitalizing on it. In fact, by 2022, 20 percent of all ecommerce will be cross-border, according to Forrester. We’re seeing these trends materialize in real time, as a growing number of merchants around the world choose Shopify.

Recognizing these trends is important for you as a Shopify Partner. That’s why we explored the international opportunity deeper in our recent webinar with Brennan Loh, Director of International at Shopify. We dove into how we’ve localized products and features for merchants in France, Germany, Japan, and Singapore, as well as how to make new referrals across borders. 

We know that there are lots of aspects to consider when expanding your business internationally. That's why we want to talk about the value of international market research, so you can minimize risk and maximize impact when approaching international expansion.

You might also like: The Future of Commerce is Global: Why and How to Take Your Business International with Shopify.

Why you should consider market research

When looking to work in international markets, it’s important to consider how communication, expectations, and business vary across countries and cultures. The way things are done at home aren’t always the way things are done in other countries.

Perhaps you have an embarrassing story of when you traveled to a new country and didn’t understand the local culture? It’s the same in business. You need to understand and follow local business culture, as this will help you build high trust with potential and existing merchants in those regions.

"It stops you from making assumptions of what you think people want, and will focus you on providing services they actually want."

The importance of understanding local culture also applies to how you develop and market your services. Just because your business is successful in English speaking markets, don’t jump in with the expectation a cookie-cutter solution via translation is guaranteed to work. It’s a great place to start, but be prepared to make slight iterations to your service offering to fit new markets.

Your business is likely successful today because you started with extensive research about your potential customers and refined your approach as it grew. This is the same with going global. Through conducting international market research, you get validation to move forward into a new market and that will save you a mountain of potential wasted time, effort, and resources.

Market research will save you time

Making time to dip into the market and understand what services are needed, why they’re needed, and how people hire for them is important. It’s important because it stops you from making assumptions of what you think people want, and will focus you on providing services they actually want.

Market research will save you effort

Every hour or minute you invest in pursuing a new venture takes mental effort. Humans are not productivity machines, and this expenditure of effort will result in mental fatigue. If you don’t do market research first, and you take a chance on an idea and it fails, that’s a lot of wasted effort—and going back to the start will be tough on your morale. The worst case scenario of this failure to adapt to the market is losing motivation in running your business.

Market research will save you resources

While time and effort are both resources, there’s also monetary and staffing costs. Either you or someone else within your team or company needs to be the stakeholder of this international business expansion, to run user tests such as interviews or a contextual inquiry.

While one person might lead the project, it’s rare that they would do everything alone. Say you move ahead without researching the market, and hire a local agency to translate your website or landing pages. If you don’t have the insights to adapt and localize pages to a new market, there’s a chance you won’t have leads come in. Having done an international market research session first would increase your chances of success and reduce repeating this process over and over until you stumble on success.

By doing international market research, you reduce the risk of your business venture flopping. You’ll be more informed by what the market wants and less likely to gamble on an idea or gut feeling. This will save you ample time in the long run because you’ll be less likely to go back to the start and redefine your business plan.

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Now you know the importance of conducting market research, let’s explore some actionable ways to gather market research and use it to be as resourceful and deliberate as possible when expanding into foreign markets.

How to collect international market research

One of the best ways to validate your business plan and service offering is to go where the conversation happens. You’ll be able to listen in on and participate in real-time conversations on what potential clients need help with. Even if you have the world’s best service, website, and copy, if the market doesn’t want the service you’re offering, the game is over. This is why you should invest the time in researching whether there is a need for your business or services.

Below are two ways you can conduct the necessary research.

1. Find online communities

There are many international Facebook groups started by merchants, partners, or Shopify Partner Managers, where you can collect market insight.

There is tremendous opportunity in grassroots communities started by Shopify merchants or partners. When developing a business strategy, observing conversations between your ideal target customers can help you understand their goals, challenges, and painful business problems. Having this insight upfront allows you to authenticate your service offering using qualitative data, and helps you be clear on what potential clients actually want, rather than gambling on what you think they want.

To get insight into these goals, challenges, or pain points, use the search bar within the community to search for phrases that show someone is struggling with something:

  • “How do you”
  • “How can I”
  • “I can’t stand”
  • “I’m struggling with”
  • “Can someone help”

Collect and collate these insights into a spreadsheet, as it can inform your business strategy further down the line on how you can market your business, run an ad campaign, or even join the conversation. For instance, if you choose to hire an agency to help you with marketing, using the same language as your ideal client across your marketing copy is going to grab their attention, as it will feel like you understand their pain-point and issues.

This is how Norbert Ordog, cofounder of Sufio, validated their invoicing app expansion into European markets. Norbert actively searched and viewed conversations on Shopify Community to aid their market research.

"When developing a business strategy, observing conversations between your ideal target customers can help you understand their goals, challenges, and painful business problems."

“Shopify Forums was a good way for us to validate a need for our app in Europe,” Norbert explains. “We saw conversations related to issues our app solves, and we’d join these conversations and ask further questions to get to the bottom of the problem. We took this insight away and made a note of these posts and after the development and release of our app into these markets, we went back to the forums posts and shared a solution to these issues. We were also able to bring our app into the conversation when we felt it was a good fit for their needs.”

Over time you'll hopefully start to identify trends in each region—perhaps merchants are struggling with their theme, or want to migrate to Shopify. There are plenty of merchant challenges, and they all present business opportunities to you.

If you want a little inspiration on where to start, below is a list of the top business challenges from our 2018 merchant survey. We found that merchants most need help with storefront customizations, shipping and logistics, store set-up, and marketing.

Shopify’s top merchant challenges from our 2018 merchant survey.

Where can you have these conversations?

Some communities you can start exploring today include:

Note: If you decide to join the conversation as opposed to simply listening in, don’t go for the hardsell with your first message. Introduce yourself and your business, and help them solve their problem. And remember, engaging partners and merchants in English will be difficult, we recommend you seek professional translation assistance.

2. Attend local events


Meeting potential clients or partners at local events is a great way to understand a new market and get to know their business. But it can also be a great way to meet industry peers who are also looking at expanding their business internationally.

The same applies to in-person events as it does online: drop in or have conversations with your ideal target customer and ask them about their goals, challenges, and painful business problems. These are the questions you can ask to get insight into their business:

  • What are your biggest problems right now? What are you struggling with?
  • What solutions have you tried? What's worked, and what hasn't?
  • What's the biggest obstacle that's preventing you from solving this problem?
  • What would it mean if you got this problem solved how would things change for you? What would the end result look like?

Where can you go to have these conversations?

Local Shopify events like Unite, Pursuit, and Shopify Meetups are a great place to start. When you attend these events and talk to fellow partners, you’ll be surprised by how many work internationally, either through regional offices or other business relationships. They can be a great source of encouragement and insight.

Chase Clymer, co-founder of Ohio-based Electric Eye, met Alejandro Moreno, co-founder of Mexico-based Getmore at Pursuit in 2018. The agencies are now partners in business and operate across the US and Mexico.

“It all started when Alejandro and I spoke about the Shopify meetup Electric Eye hosts in Ohio. He wanted some insight into running a successful event in Mexico,” Chase explains.

“I shared my system for running these meetups, and he put it to use to host and launch a successful first meetup in March 2019. But further conversations evolved from there, and we explored ways to work with one another. We focus on marketing and strategy, and they have the design and development skills. Before we knew it, there was a business partnership in the making.”

"Before we knew it, there was a business partnership in the making."

Beyond Shopify events, there are other international events where you can mingle with industry professionals, potential clients or global merchants, and members of the Shopify team. Some of these include:

For more global conferences ideas, check out these lists from Pipe Candy and Nosto.

Go global as a Shopify Partner

This is a chance for you to get ahead of the crowd and join us in creating new opportunities in these markets. Your business could expand into new countries and win international business through making affiliate referrals, development store referrals, or both. And it all starts with international market research.

Start with a market research program so you don’t over invest and risk wasting time, effort, and resources. Use online communities and events or meetups to find merchant challenges and source insight into how you can help them grow. And who knows—perhaps you’ll meet another Shopify Partner who can help grow and expand globally.

You can keep up to date with our international initiatives on our Go Global page. We look forward to helping you explore and expand into international markets.

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Whether you offer marketing, customization, or web design and development services, the Shopify Partner Program will set you up for success. Join for free and access revenue share opportunities, tools to grow your business, and a passionate commerce community.

Sign up

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