10 Steps to Build a Winning International Ecommerce Strategy for 2024

International Ecommerce Strategy

Going global is a big opportunity for your brand. New markets and customers, expanded brand affinity, new product development and adoption—you name it. And international ecommerce is the opportunity for it. 

The potential for accelerated growth and lucrative financial rewards are exponential. But scaling globally can also be fraught with costly missteps that can actually stunt growth. It may even leave you second-guessing your global growth strategy altogether. 

If you want to grow and expand your business, there are some key tips and tricks you need to incorporate into your strategy. Ahead, you’ll discover 10 steps to building a winning international ecommerce strategy, how to make international ecommerce easier for you and your customer with Shopify Markets, how Shopify Payments can help with multicurrency needs, and how to shape your global future.

Table of contents

10 steps to building an international ecommerce strategy 

Whether you’re dipping your toes into international markets or going for a full-blown expansion, your vision of scaling globally can come to life. Here are 10 steps to help you take the guesswork out of what to do. 

1. Conduct market research to identify potential target markets and assess demand for your products or services

The first step you must take is conducting market research for your potential target market and customers. Expanding your brand into a new market will only work if customers are there to buy your product. 

This likely will be the most laborious step, because it requires digging deep into potential competitors, customer needs, and customer buying behaviors, among other factors, and figuring out where your brand fills the gap. If you’re expanding into a new place that has different cultural requirements or customers that have differing expectations of brands, it’s important to figure that out in the research stage to fully prepare for that market.

In a crowded digital buying space, it’s more important than ever to do this work thoroughly so you can reach your customers and sell your products to them precisely how they want. 

2. Develop a comprehensive plan for entering and succeeding in new markets, including pricing, marketing, and logistics

After compiling your market research and determining where your brand fills customer and product needs, it’s time to develop a strategic, comprehensive plan for entering the market.

US athletic backpack brand WOLFpak had international interests in mind, using Shopify Markets Pro to manage and scale their brand globally. The brand’s cross-border revenue ballooned to over 500%. Even UK-based brand Hello Klean, using Shopify Markets, found their global growth much more straightforward, with localized experiences available to those in the new markets, including the US and the Middle East. 

How do your products need to be priced? How do your competitors in the market compare? When it comes to shipping and fulfillment, do you have international partners? International customers are often faced with higher shipping rates and are more likely to abandon their carts, which could cost you sales. 

3. Localize your website and content to appeal to customers in different regions and languages

Buyers want to shop in their own language. Appeal to them and make the shopping experience easier by ensuring they can buy products, read reviews, and enjoy your brand’s content in their own language. 

4. Ensure compliance with local regulations and laws, including taxes, customs, and data privacy

Do your customers need to pay any duties on your products when they enter another country? That’s something you’re going to need to figure out before expanding into a market. Some ecommerce brands show those duties upfront before checkout, which makes the buying experience more transparent. 

Local regulations around taxes are important to understand and should absolutely be part of your research into an international ecommerce strategy. Look to your competitors for how they price in the market and what rules they are following. Reach out to any local commerce partners to help you understand what needs to be done to ensure laws around taxes, customs, and data privacy are followed. 

5. Establish partnerships with local vendors, suppliers, and distributors 

How will you be manufacturing or distributing your product to your international customers? It’s often not sustainable to manufacture or ship everything from one place. Partner with local vendors, suppliers, and distributors to get your products out to your customers. Buyers don’t want long wait times, especially if you’re expanding into their home market to improve access to your products. 

6. Optimize your website for international search engines and social media platforms

Tap search engine optimization (SEO) experts for your website and social media pros for paid ads, organic search, or jumping on viral trends to  your customers exactly where they are.

Make sure you’re aware of the most popular platforms in the region, too. For example, if you’re expanding into Asia, have you thought about using WeChat? What about live shopping channels? Those are also very popular.

7. Offer multiple payment options and a secure checkout process 

Your customers need to be able to trust you with their money. At the same time, you need to trust that your customers have the funds to make a purchase. In the digital era, offering your customers multiple payment methods is one way to bolster trust. 

8. Provide excellent customer service and support 

Customer support will always be good for your brand. If your customers need help, ensure it’s easy to find. AI chats are really helpful for customers looking for FAQs. With more urgent, specific questions, consider having a customer support team with regional knowledge to field questions and help your customers have a better experience with your brand.   

9. Continuously monitor and analyze performance metrics 

Data is going to be important for you to determine your success in a new market and if or how you should pivot. Monitor your performance metrics, including SEO, abandoned cart rates, average order value (AOV), and more to see how your brand is measuring up. The data is there to help you tweak the strategy if you need, like partnering with different distributors if delivery times are too long; or how partnering with local influencers might be more cost-effective than paid ads on social channels.  

10. Stay up-to-date on global trends 

How you sell to customers is rapidly changing—and this can impact your international stores and growth. Read up on some of the biggest shifts in commerce, like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, social commerce, and experiential in-store activations, for example, to see where your brand can grow. Global trends will impact your business no matter what, but at the same time, it’s important to be discerning. If mobile shopping is becoming the norm, do you create an app dedicated to your brand or improve your mobile browser shopping experience? 

Multi-currency for Shopify Payments

A massive part of succeeding globally is offering customers payment in their local currency. With multi-currency for Shopify Payments, you’ll be able to grow globally by acting locally. Multi-currency allows merchants to sell and settle in local currencies.

In addition to managing everything in one place, Shopify Payments allows you to offer customer-friendly international storefronts and checkout experiences. Multi-currency payments can improve your performance internationally in three ways:

Experiment with growth

Develop a global-first mindset with a multi-currency offering. Multi-currency offers the flexibility you need to make decisions on a country-by-country basis as the dynamics of specific international markets change. 

Change your mind or see a new opportunity? Shopify’s multi-currency allows you to easily add or remove currencies. You can also go live in new markets in minutes and select only the currencies you wish to sell in.

Localize experiences

When in Rome, act like a Roman. Offer customers across the world a custom experience regardless of where your brand is headquartered. Shopify’s multi-currency has powerful built-in geolocation functionality too, allowing you to show customers local currency prices based on current foreign exchange rates rounded for stability.

Integrated solution

Today, offering customers a robust multi-currency experience is a necessity. Multi-currency businesses on Shopify Plus using Shopify Payments support the following currencies: AUD, EUR, JPY, SGD, USD, CAD, HKD, NZD, and GBP. 

From product creation to payout reconciliation, you’ll now see the proper currency presented across Shopify, so you don’t need to worry about reporting inconsistencies or inaccuracies.

Making international ecommerce easier

Selling internationally doesn’t need to be difficult for your business. International ecommerce, with the right tools and partners, can be simplified and streamlined. With Shopify Plus, you can use tools like Shopify Markets to customize pricing, tailor storefronts, create custom markets, and drive traffic to your international storefronts. Our analytics and insights can help you map out where to go next. 

Your global future

Successfully scaling globally means reminding yourself that what works in one country may not work in another. There are hundreds, even thousands, of local payment methods across the globe. Each one is tailored to a specific audience with a specific purpose in mind. While credit cards are wildly popular in North America, they’re not used nearly as much by online shoppers elsewhere. Multi-currency and local payment methods have made it easier to scale internationally. Native language capabilities are available to merchants operating in German, Japanese, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian, with plans to include more languages in the future. We’re also working on product information solutions to help you grow faster in any stage of global expansion.

In the long term, we’ll continue to make our single-store solution even smarter while simultaneously making it simpler to manage multiple expansion stores. 

While international ecommerce is a multitrillion-dollar opportunity, it’s one you’ll only be able to successfully tap with a platform that has a global-first mindset. We’re working to simplify international ecommerce for merchants who are expanding their businesses.

International ecommerce strategy FAQ

What is international ecommerce?

International ecommerce is the selling of goods and services across borders from a business’s country of origin. 

What are ecommerce strategies?

Ecommerce strategies are the tactics and methods brands use to sell their goods or services to customers online. They may include marketing, fulfillment, performance management, market research, and more.  

What is a global ecommerce strategy?

A global ecommerce strategy is how you grow into markets outside your native one. A global ecommerce strategy takes into account what you need to do before, during, and after expansion. 

How do I start international ecommerce?

Start growing into international ecommerce by understanding where your customers are and if your product fills a gap in that region. Market research will greatly help you determine any further strategies or tactics you need to create and deploy to achieve your international growth goals. 

About the authors

Christina Lord

Christina Lord is a Product Marketing Manager who helps bring Shopify Plus global products to market. With an MA in global studies and previous careers in sales and international customer success, she offers an informed perspective on global commerce trends and product market fit.

Sarah MacDonald

Sarah MacDonald is an arts and culture writer and editor based in Toronto. Her words can be found in the Globe and MailHazlitt, The Walrus, CBC Arts, Elle Canada, VICE, and many more.

Check out Sarah MacDonald’s work