Global trade flows have long been the backbone of economic growth, and ecommerce has made it easier than ever for businesses to reach audiences beyond their borders. Using platforms like Shopify, the architecture to provide a cross-border experience is in place, and the barriers that at one point blocked merchants from going international have been removed.
But it’s not always easy for a merchant to know where to start. As a Shopify Partner, part of the value you can offer your clients is in recognizing the opportunities for them to expand their business. By understanding when and if your client is ready to go international, you can advise them on how to approach this challenge.
In this article, we look at how to recognize that your client is ready to take the leap and expand internationally.
Finding the right international fit for your client
Even though any brand of any size can now go global, in order to do so successfully, merchants need to know where to focus their efforts and how. The way a business successfully operates in one country may not work in another, which is why it’s important to consider all avenues of going international, from the operations of the business right through to how to market products to an international audience.
"Even though any brand of any size can now go global, in order to do so successfully, merchants need to know where to focus their efforts and how."
This means you must understand not only when a client is ready to expand, but also where in the world they should focus their efforts. Often, finding the right international market for a client means unearthing the international opportunities they already have, even if they don’t know it.
Below, we look at three key questions to ask yourself to determine if your client is ready for global expansion, and where they should consider expanding to.
You might also like: Global Expansion Strategy: Why Partnerships are Key to Winning New Business.
1. Does your client already have international traffic?
It’s actually possible that your client has already gone international without noticing. They could already be receiving regular traffic, or fulfilling orders to customers in different regions. These non-domestic customer bases could point to an uncovered gap in the market, or an exceptional product market fit waiting to be explored.
To determine if this is the case, a quick look through their Shopify and Google Analytics data should reveal if they are already selling internationally and to where. In particular, take a look at:
- The Sales by billing country report within the Shopify Admin. This report automatically displays which countries contribute the most to a store’s revenue. That information often reveals where a merchant is already selling internationally and, therefore, where they should invest more heavily. You can also use this report to explore specific countries to see what states or provinces perform best, for even better targeting.
- Google Analytics’ (GA) location and language reports. These can be used in addition to Shopify’s analytics to set up segments that reveal users, bounce rates, and (most valuable) the conversions of international traffic by continent, country, region, or city.
These reports will help you identify where your client is already seeing international activity. You’ll begin to understand your client’s most active global regions, and start to see possible avenues for global expansion.
The next step is to look at the current operations, strengths, and weaknesses of your client’s business to understand which regions they are best suited to. This leads us to the second question.
2. Does your client already have supply chain, operations, or channels you can leverage?
Just as a merchant’s orders and traffic may be global, so too may other back-office elements. If so, these may help shape some of your strategies around international expansion.
Explore the following questions, and develop your own checklist as patterns emerge:
- Does your client already have an existing, non-domestic supply chain?
- Are they missing an opportunity given their supply chain presence? Are there opportunities to leverage existing fulfillment nodes to sell direct to consumers in-market?
- Are they already selling to a market beyond their own borders which you can draw learnings from and apply into other markets?
- How do they operate their business’s finances and taxes across multiple countries or regions?
- Which sales channels are performing well and bringing in the most customers?
- Are some of their customers already coming in from new markets?
By evaluating the back-office elements of your client's business, you may be able to find convenient and less costly opportunities for them to sell internationally. By expanding to regions where their supply chain is already present, merchants will be able to fulfill orders without significant investment or risk. Similarly, if your client can attract buyers from another market on sales channels they already use, instead of having to develop new sales channels, both the cost and risk associated with expansion lowers dramatically.
If you do end up building international products for your clients, be sure to check out how pseudo-localization can make that process easier.
3. Is there a market for their products in other regions?
There’s no point setting up a business in another country if the merchant has no one to sell to. Ensuring the right product-market fit is absolutely crucial. If your client is trying to expand to a market that is saturated, or where their product is not culturally relevant or in demand, it’s unlikely that they will find success.
"There’s no point setting up a business in another country if the merchant has no one to sell to."
The best way to find this out is by conducting a shopping audit and seeing if there are any stores—online or offline—selling similar products in the market your client is interested in. This can be as simple as browsing similar or related products on online marketplaces (such as Amazon or Etsy) to see what’s popular, or as complicated as researching keywords in each region to identify in-market opportunities for your client’s product.
If none exist this could mean one of two things:
- There could be no demand for the product, or
- You and your client may have just uncovered a gap in the market.
Determining which of two it is can be challenging. You need to have an understanding of the culture and shopping habits in your target region to fully understand if your client’s product will fit.
To help you figure this out, you can use the appendix in our Cross Border Selling with Shopify course to review some of the top industries, annual revenue, and projected growth rates in major regions over the next five years.
You might also like: How to Build Multilingual Shopify Apps.
Expanding beyond borders
The three questions we explored in this post will help you evaluate if your client is ready to expand their business beyond their own borders, and provide some insight into where they should expand to.
Once you and your client are confident you’ve found the right new geography based on product-market fit, they’ll also need help to make decisions based on the products they sell, the logistics of selling and shipping those products, and how to market them while taking into account any cultural nuances with messaging. As a Shopify Partner, you’re in the unique position to offer that guidance to clients, and help them bring their business to the next level.