Cross-border commerce is one of the biggest growth opportunities for Shopify merchants in Singapore. Forrester Research predicts that by the year 2022, 1 in 5 ecommerce dollars will be spent on an international transaction. In fact, many merchants find that growing sales in some international markets is cheaper than selling domestically.
We’ve broken this guide down into four steps to help you successfully start or accelerate your cross-border ecommerce business:
- Choosing a strategy: domestic or cross-border selling
- Selecting your focus countries
- Getting your Shopify store ready
- Building your marketing plan
Choosing a strategy: domestic or cross-border selling
When it comes to selling internationally, there are two strategies to consider.
The first is to focus on selling to domestic buyers while also driving international sales in parallel. With this approach, your shop currency will be set to Singapore dollars.
The second strategy is to exclusively focus on selling to international buyers not located in Singapore. In this case, while your shop is registered in Singapore, you would set your shop to another currency like US Dollars, for example. Merchants use this strategy primarily when they want to focus on selling to US buyers rather than domestic buyers.
Selecting your focus countries
A good place to start when developing your international selling strategy is to break down your existing traffic. Your online store sessions by location report will tell you how much international traffic you currently have and which countries are sending the most visitors.
Another common source of insight is direct customer feedback. If you’ve been successfully selling for a while you might have international product requests already sitting in your inbox or social media notifications.
Google Analytics location reports can also help you dig deeper and understand how traffic from different countries is performing in terms of conversion. If a country has significant traffic with a high bounce rate and/or low conversion rate, you can start by focusing on this market.
Which countries are other Shopify merchants in Singapore finding the most success in?
For most Shopify merchants in Singapore, the US continues to drive the biggest cross-border demand. In fact, many merchants exclusively sell to buyers in the US.
Beyond the US, many merchants have also found success in selling to Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. Other southeast asian markets like Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines are also growing quickly.
Which other tools should you use to prioritize regions?
Google’s Market Finder is a great tool to research which markets present the highest opportunity for your business. It shows the monthly searches in your product category, recommended Google Ads bid prices, and other country data to better understand each market.
Google’s Consumer Barometer is another tool to help you understand what buyers value. To get started using the tool, navigate to ‘Graph Builder’ > ‘The Smart Shopper’ > ‘International Purchases’ .This section will help you better understand cross-border purchase behaviour by showing which categories drive buyers in different regions to international commerce. For example, more than 40% of Chinese consumers reported cross-border purchases of beauty and cosmetics products in Google’s Consumer Barometer.
Getting your Shopify store ready
If you’re just getting started and want to try cross-border selling, we recommend you start with a single store and set it up to target international buyers. If you have an existing store targeting domestic buyers and you want to launch a more focused effort for international buyers, we recommend opening a separate, new store for that region. You’ll have to copy your theme and product info over from your primary store. To make things easier, consider using an inventory syncing app from the Shopify App Store to keep your all your stores in sync. If you decide to follow this process, we encourage you to learn more about the expanded capabilities and feature set you get with Shopify Plus.
Shipping is one of the most important considerations when selling internationally. If you’re using an app like Easyship for domestic orders, you can continue to use the same app for international orders. Singapore merchants can also use the DHL app to ship internationally at discounted rates.
We suggest providing international buyers with at least two shipping options:
- A low cost or free (above a minimum order amount) shipping option
- A more expensive but faster shipping option
An easy-to-find shipping policy page on your store can help buyers understand the different shipping options available to them. Clearly communicating shipping times and shipping costs for buyers in different regions will also earn trust and provide buyers with more confidence in their purchasing decision.
Shipping policy page on Shopify merchant Slickieslaces
We recommend merchants also consider investing in an order tracking app to give buyer more visibility in to the status of their shipment. Since international orders may pass through multiple carriers and occasionally take a long time to clear customs, this additional visibility will reduce the number of support requests and increase customer loyalty.
For more information on cross-border shipping, check out our international shipping guide.
Import Duties and Taxes
International orders typically generate additional import duties and taxes. This cost can be paid by the customer upon delivery, or can be charged by the carrier to you, the merchant. The first model is called DAP (Delivered at Place) while the latter is known as DDP (Delivered Duties Paid). With DDP, merchants typically make the buyers prepay the import duties while checking out.
The amount of duties and taxes charged depends on multiple factors including the cost of the product, product type, country of origin, and the buyer’s country. When managing import fees, there are two important pieces of information you’ll need:
- HS Code: The Harmonized System code for your product is a 6-10 digit globally accepted norm to classify products. You can find HS Codes for your products by using Canada Post’s HS Code Finder. Many landed cost apps in the Shopify App Store can also find this code for you.
- Country of Origin: You should also know the Country of Origin of your products which typically is the country where the product has been manufactured.
Many merchants don’t handle duties at all. They instead choose to add a disclaimer in the product description that buyers will be responsible for import duties, taxes and other related fees. If you choose to go this route, consider making your disclaimer obvious as buyers who fail to see it may be left with a negative experience when their product arrives and their carrier asks them to pay duties they weren’t expecting.
Information about import fees on Shopify merchant Love, Peace & Boho
Apps like Easyship allow you to clearly show buyers import duties and taxes in checkout along with the shipping rate both in the DDU and DDP mode.
When shipping internationally, you’ll also need to print out a customs information form which contains details about the products in the shipment. You should make sure that the shipping app that you’re using allows you to print customs forms.
Showing prices in local currency
According to Paypal Cross-Border Research 2018 report, one of the key factors in helping improve conversions for international traffic is showing prices in the buyer’s local currency. Shopify allows merchants to sell in a single currency on one store, but you can use one of the many multi-currency apps to display prices in local currencies.
These apps automatically detect the buyer location and change the currency shown on the store according to their location. They also add a currency selector widget in the theme. Now when a buyer from the US visits your store, the multi-currency app will dynamically change your product prices from SGD to USD. This gives buyers more confidence in understanding the value of your product and helps them make a buying decision. On the cart page, you can then add a message that the checkout will occur in SGD.
If you want to exclusively focus on a single international market like US, you can use Shopify Payments to sell in US Dollars but get payouts in Singapore Dollars. Find the full list of currencies you can sell in with Shopify Payments on Help Center.
Multi-language and Translation
Depending on the regions you want to target, language may play a big part in improving your conversions. You can use Google Analytics to understand the behaviour of buyers based on their language. You should look for languages which have high number of users and lower conversion than English. Offering translated content in these languages could be a good way to boost conversions.
If you decide to invest in translation, generally there’s three approaches you can take:
- Machine translation like Google Translate
- Human translation
- A mix of both
You’ll find apps on the Shopify app store which cater to all three of these models. For languages where you see high demand, we recommend investing in human translations. You can then use an app like Langify which gives you a simple interface to manage translations in your store. If you don’t have the time or budget to find translators, you can try an app like Weglot which offers both human and machine translations.
Keep in mind that buyers who buy in a different language will also expect some form of support in their language. If buyers contact you in a language you don’t understand, then you can use Google Translate to understand and respond to their query.
Building your marketing plan
Tailoring your campaigns for different regions
While setting up marketing campaigns for different regions, it’s important to remember that buyers from different areas of the world have different purchase motivations. Some of the main factors are better prices, better availability, a broader range of products, and higher quality products.
In mature ecommerce markets such as Germany, Japan, and the UK, buyers value a broader range of products and better availability. Focusing on finding buyers that are looking for products or brands that might be hard to find locally can be an effective strategy to capture more business in these markets. While in emerging markets such as India and China, people are more likely to value high quality products. Focus on quality product photography, calling out materials and highlighting product details.
Keep local holidays in mind
Holidays focused on shopping in different parts of the world are natural marketing opportunities. In North America, Black Friday and Cyber Monday generates the most frenetic ecommerce activity. For buyers in China, this will be Singles Day, and in India, this will be the festival of Diwali.
Which marketing channels should you focus on?
Facebook is widely used in most markets that Singapore merchants sell to: United States, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and United Kingdom. Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia also have high Facebook penetration. Instagram is growing quickly in South East Asia as well.
This makes the Facebook and Instagram ad platform a smart place to start testing your cross-border campaigns.
Taking your first step towards selling globally
Whether you’re working towards your first international sale or looking to scale your cross-border business, keeping the above areas in mind should help you find more international buyers. At Shopify, we’re committed to helping our merchants in Singapore find success with cross-border selling. Tell us in the comments below about the challenges you face and the strategies that have helped you sell to buyers globally.
FAQs for selling internationally
How do I decide which countries to sell to?
What is the most reliable shipping option to sell internationally?
How do I calculate import duties and taxes?
—Written by Rohit Mishra