This past year has brought the future forward, and global ecommerce is exploding. But is your store set up for global sales?
In fact, 35% of all Shopify traffic comes from international visitors, and a staggering 92% of those visitors want to browse and buy in their own currency and prices, according to a recent Shopify survey.
If you run a Shopify store, it doesn't take long to take your store from local to global. In this guide we'll break down exactly how you can do that.
In this guide
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How to create an international ecommerce strategy
Breaking into international markets can be exciting. This likely means your sales strategy for your current market has been successful, and you’re looking to scale. However, you need to be strategic about your international ecommerce venture.
Learn more about how you can easily dive into new markets.
1. Identify international target markets
Be intentional about where you expand. A “sell to everyone, everywhere” strategy might seem like a good idea to attract as many buyers as possible, but different markets around the globe are nuanced with unique browsing and purchasing habits. Employing a catch-all approach is a sure-fire way to dilute your efforts and stop your international expansion in its tracks before you even start.
Begin by looking at your sessions by location report in Shopify’s analytics section. If you already have international visitors from various countries, pick two or three to investigate further. If you already have some sales from those countries, even better — we’re looking for indicators of demand for your products from international buyers. Ultimately, you're going to use these indicators to identify one or two markets that you can start selling to.
If you don’t have any international visitors or sales yet, don’t worry. You’ll still want to pick one or two markets that you identify as having good potential for demand. Markets that are close to you in proximity or share the same native language and similar purchasing habits are good options for your first global expansion. For example, if you’re in Canada, selling your products in the US is an appropriate first option.
2. Make it easy for international customers to pay
One big part of moving into international markets as an ecommerce company is making sure your business can accept their local currency. We make this easy with Shopify—learn more about how to properly set up payments for your international customers.
Offer prices in your buyer’s local currency (requires Shopify Payments)
After you’ve identified the international market(s) you’re going to target, first ensure that those buyers can pay for your products in their own currency. 33% of international visitors won’t even consider making a purchase if their local currency isn’t offered, so this is a crucial first step in converting.
- Navigate to your Shopify Payments settings
- Click on the option to Add a new country/region
- Select the market that you want to start selling to
Once the country/region has been added, the currency for your newly targeted market is now live and you’ve taken your first step to sell internationally!
Buyers from the market you selected will now be able to view prices in their local currency, which are automatically converted from your base prices using a real-time foreign exchange (FX) rate. For even more control over what prices your international buyers see, head to the next section.
For now, to ensure that your international buyers can discover your products and pay in their local currency on your site, install Shopify’s Geolocation app. When a buyer from the country/region that you're now targeting lands on your site, Geolocation intelligently identifies where they're shopping from using their IP address and ensures they view your store in their local pricing.
Allowing international buyers to shop in their local currency increases the likelihood that they will buy from you — so prioritize installing the Geolocation pop-up before any promotional messaging or other pop-ups that you may have. For enhanced results, we recommend using the pop-up modal in the center of the screen, which yields the highest rate of acceptance from buyers.
Take control of your international pricing (requires Shopify Payments)
Congratulations! You’re now selling to a new international market where buyers can easily discover, browse, and pay in their own currency. Next, try taking even more control over your international prices.
Automatic FX rates are what you currently have configured by default, which is a great “set and forget” strategy. Shopify automatically converts your base prices into your buyer’s currency using a live exchange rate, while accounting for currency conversion fees so you’re not out of pocket. One thing to note about automatic pricing is that your product prices will change as the market fluctuates — which could surprise potential buyers if they visit your site multiple times before making a purchase.
To help combat this, use manual FX rates to stabilize your pricing. You can preselect an appropriate rate that will be used to convert your prices into that currency, meaning that your product prices will remain stable until you change that rate again. Keep in mind, when you take an order in a different currency, there is a small currency conversion fee to do so. So when using manual FX rates, be sure to incorporate the fee percentage into your selected rate using the formula provided.
On the Shopify plan and above, you can take even more control of your international strategy with price adjustments, and adjusting your prices up or down for specific countries or regions using percentages.
For example, perhaps you're expanding into both Germany and France, who both use the Euro. If you want your German prices to be slightly higher, insert a percentage price adjustment to increase your German prices and leave your French prices based on your nominated currency conversion. For example, inputting an adjustment of 100% would double the price, or -50% would half the price. Prices will still obey any rounding rules you set for each currency, and appear cleanly on the storefront.
If you’re on the Advanced or Shopify Plus plans, you can set specific international prices for each of your products, or a subset of your catalog. This is helpful if you have specific prices in mind for the international market(s) you are now targeting, or if you have a manufacturer's MSRP that you must use for different countries.
You can set specific international prices via a .CSV upload of your products:
- Start by exporting the products you want to set international prices for, and open the .CSV file.
- Scroll across to where you see the international pricing headers. For example, Australian pricing takes place under the column headed with Price / AU.
- Input your prices for each country/region exactly as you want them to appear on the storefront before importing the .CSV file back into Shopify.
Tip: If you don’t set specific international prices for your entire catalog, your other products will follow the FX rate and price adjustments you have set up.
Different markets around the world have different expectations when it comes to seeing and paying for taxes. North American markets most commonly display products exclusive of all taxes, then add them at checkout based on where the buyer is shipping to.
Other markets, however, including Europe and Asia Pacific, typically mandate that products be displayed inclusive of any taxes that are to be paid. Shopify removes the headache of taking these variables into account, by including or excluding taxes in the product price automatically, based on where your buyers are from.
For example, let’s say you are in the United States and your chosen expansion market is the United Kingdom. You sell a T-shirt for $20 USD which is loaded into Shopify exclusive of all taxes. You sell into the UK using a manual FX rate of 0.75, where buyers are going to expect their prices in GBP to include the local 20% VAT rate.
The final price of your T-shirt to UK buyers will appear on the storefront as £18 GBP (20 x 0.75 FX rate x 1.2 VAT rate) rather than adding the 20% VAT at checkout, which could cause sticker shock to buyers and likely result in them not making a purchase.
You can find the full list of countries or regions with their respective tax treatments, in our help documentation.
Tip: Shopify only adjusts prices if you are using FX rates and/or price adjustments. If you set specific international prices, Shopify will not adjust these prices for you, so set them exactly as you want your buyers to see them and pay for them in different markets with the above tax setting enabled.
3. Set up international shipping
You’re making great progress on internationalizing your store’s online experience! Next, ensure that international buyers see tailored shipping options. Your store is no longer employing a “rest of world” strategy, so let’s ensure this also applies to one of the most important parts of the buying experience: how your buyers will get their products.
Begin by creating a shipping zone specifically for your new international target market(s) in your Shipping settings, and consider what your shipping strategy will be when you create the different shipping rates. Shipping internationally is likely going to be more expensive, so consider the following tactics to remove as much friction as possible for your new buyers:
- Check prices and options with your chosen shipping carrier. You’ll want to make sure your carrier of choice ships to your chosen market(s), and you’ll want transparency on what those prices are. If you’re using carrier-calculated shipping, simulate the buyer experience by testing an international checkout yourself.
- Buyers appreciate transparency, and when you live up to your shipping promises instead of hiding longer delivery times, you’ll build trust and gain customers for life. Provide shipping speeds in your rate descriptions so buyers know exactly what to expect.
- Consider using international pricing to increase your product prices for the target market to offset offering cheaper shipping options. Would you be more likely to buy a $70 item with $30 shipping, or a $100 item with free shipping?
- Research countries or regions that have tax obligations when shipping to them. For example, if you are shipping to the United Kingdom, you must collect and remit VAT to the UK government on any packages you send that are valued under £135. You don’t want your international buyers to not receive their packages because they are denied from entry.
- If some of your products are heavy and bulky, and shipping internationally is simply not feasible, you can prevent buyers in other countries from purchasing those items using shipping profiles.
4. Localize your website
Localizing your website means making it accessible to locals in your new markets. This involves translating content, switching up your layouts depending on which direction their language goes, creating international domains, and more.
Use international domains to target specific markets
At this stage, you’re offering a localized pricing experience for your international buyers with specific and transparent shipping options for each market – well done. The next step in your going global journey is to further localize the storefront experience with specific international domains.
Not only are international domain names a positive visual indicator to buyers that they are browsing a local version of your site, they also increase the likelihood of buyers paying in their own currency without having to do anything. This is because they set pricing and language defaults for each market that you are targeting.
For example, let’s say you’re a merchant currently based in the US selling on johnsapparel.com. For your expansion into the UK, you can leverage international domains so that those buyers see johnsapparel.co.uk (ccTLD, top level domain) or even uk.johnsapparel.com (subdomain).
If you’re not sure whether to use a ccTLD or a subdomain, we recommend a subdomain which won’t cost you additional money. If you use a Shopify-managed domain, you can set up a subdomain directly in your admin. For third party domains, refer to their documentation for setup, and then connect your subdomain to Shopify.
Once your new domain is connected in Shopify, set the pricing and language defaults in the domain management section.
If you’re beginning to target markets that speak different native languages to your own, we’ll be touching on translating your content in the next section.
Now, when buyers land on your domain targeting the United Kingdom, they will automatically see their local prices in GBP. Shopify automatically takes care of SEO for you, setting hreflang tags on each of your domains. This helps Google and other search engines know which domain pertains to which country or region, allowing buyers to see the right domain and pricing in search results.
TIP: Search can be unpredictable, and international buyers can still sometimes land on the wrong domain. Ensure that you’re still leveraging the Geolocation app so your buyers are promptly taken to the correct domain and pricing if this happens.
Translate your store and online materials
When first expanding your business globally, ideally there are suitable target markets that share the same native language as your own. However, if that’s not the case, or you’re taking your international expansion to the next level, strongly consider investing the time to translate your store into the language of the country or region that you're targeting.
Similarly to local pricing and currency, almost 80% of international buyers strongly prefer to browse an ecommerce store in their native language, making a translated store a powerful tool to increase international sales. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, you don’t need to open multiple Shopify stores to offer a shopping experience in multiple languages.
To start, browse our collection of compatible translation applications. These are tools that plug directly into Shopify’s multi-language section, where you'll manage the translation of your content. Most apps offer a 7–14 day free trial period, so take your time browsing, testing, and then select an app you feel the most comfortable with.
Once you have selected and installed your preferred translation app, enable the language that you want to translate your store into from the Languages section in your admin.
You’re now ready to begin translating your content in your app of choice. If you’re targeting a market in a language that you can already speak, you can begin to undertake translating the content yourself. More often than not though, it’s unlikely you can speak the language of the market you’re expanding into. In these cases, there are two options you can consider:
- Leverage an online tool such as Deepl to generate machine-translated content in the chosen language. This is an efficient and effective way to begin selling in another language. Other than your time, machine translations won’t cost you anything.
- The quality of machine translations is improving every day, but they aren’t 100% accurate, especially in some languages like Turkish. If you find machine translations insufficient from customer feedback, browse the Shopify experts marketplace for partners that can manually translate your content into your chosen language. Depending on how much content you need to translate, a project like this can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For more information on finding specialized help in the Experts Marketplace, check out this post.
If you’re just getting started, we’d recommend machine translations to begin with and not worrying about manual translations until you’ve built up some momentum. If you’re beginning to see real growth in your target market, or you already understand the needs and nuances of that market, look at investing more in manual translations when the time is right. Don't have the budget for bigger translation projects? Check out Shopify Capital, a business financing program that helps Shopify merchants get funding to fuel their growth.
Think about translating your most high-traffic pages, products, and all legal/terms of service information first. Remember to include email notifications as well, so when buyers from your new target market do make a purchase, they can also understand the automatic emails they will be sent for confirmation and shipping notifications.
Lastly, once you’re ready for buyers to start experiencing your site in the new language, be sure to make that language available on the relevant international domain by going back into your domains section and setting it either as the default or a language option. Shopify takes care of SEO again by setting the correct hreflang tags for each new language you publish, and the Geolocation app you previously installed also allows buyers to toggle languages if they want.
5. Market in your new international markets
Advertising is an effective way to generate traffic from your international target market and drive demand while testing out your local experience at the same time. You’ve done a lot of work to localize your online store for international visitors; make sure you capitalize on all of these efforts by localizing your marketing as well.
Whichever channels you plan to advertise on, it’s important to create region-specific campaigns that target your international buyers specifically, sending them to the correct version of your site. Removing as much friction as possible for new buyers is especially important, particularly for those coming to your site from a new country or region for the first time. Simply re-running pre-existing online campaigns to new countries or regions usually makes it less likely that people click on your ads, or send those who do to the incorrect version of your site.
For example, in the Facebook Ads Manager, split your ads that target new buyers into different campaigns. Localize any of the copy (an effective tactic is to call out fast shipping to the target country), imagery, and ensure the destination URLs reflect the international domains that you have set up for each market.
Facebook is just one of many examples to consider here. Ensure that you're investing the time to localize your advertising in each of the online channels that you plan to target buyers.
You may also consider creating separate social media accounts for each different market so you can further appeal to your audience in those areas. Each of your social media posts can be properly localized and allow you to target specific languages and regions.
If you use dynamic retargeting with the likes of Facebook, Google, or Pinterest, ensure these campaigns are also localized to your buyers’ preferences by displaying their local prices, and language if applicable. To do this, you need to create a product feed from Shopify that supports multiple currencies and languages to display both the same pricing and copy of your online store. We recommend investigating either DataFeed Watch, or Multiple Google Shopping feeds for a dedicated solution for Google.
We would never lie to you: global expansion is not without its pain points. Global e-commerce is complex and nuanced, constantly changing at a rapid pace and forcing us all to evolve and adapt as fast as we can.
But for every growing pain, there is literally a whole world of opportunity: there are about 4.66 billion internet users on this planet and creating personalized, frictionless experiences gets them closer to you. It’s why we build the things we build, and why you should use them. Because together, we want to make commerce better for everyone.
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