Quick guide on how to grow your retail business internationally

Explore the barriers and benefits of exporting, and how you can start reaching new shoppers

The growth of ecommerce is making it easier than ever for companies of all sizes to find and sell to new customers overseas. And for companies ready and willing to take the leap, the benefits are significant. According to research,1 87% of executives say their biggest growth potential lies with international online sales expansion, and 66% of ecommerce firms say cross-border sales account for nearly a third of their annual revenue, on average.

1 Overview

Let’s explore some of the potential benefits to your business of exporting; the barriers you’ll face to selling overseas; how to enter your new regions; and how to successfully market your products to global shoppers.

Key benefits of exporting

From increased sales to more brand awareness, selling your products to new audiences abroad can bring all kinds of benefits.1 Expanding your customer base can also make your businesses more resilient to economic downturns: if sales in one country decline, you can refocus your efforts on regions that are still growing.

Barriers to export

While cross-border digital commerce has created a wealth of new opportunities for small businesses, the journey to globalisation is not without its hurdles. For example, 37% of businesses see processing foreign transactions as a barrier to export, while 42% have concerns around product shipping and handling. A third of businesses also worry about being able to navigate potentially complex legal environments abroad.2

2 Approaches to help your retail business enter new markets

Identify the right market

It may sound obvious, but one of the first things you’ll need to think about is which country or region you want to enter. Your decision will depend on many different factors, such as ease of access to that particular market, consumers’ disposable incomes, or whether there’s even enough demand for the products you sell. If you’re unsure where to start, Market Finder by Google can provide a range of insights into countries and their consumers, based on your specific product categories.

Plan your operations carefully

Next, you’ll need to run a series of internal business audits to ensure your business and product offering is the right fit for your export market:1

  • Market segmentation: In your target country, identify and then group your ideal types of customers based on things like values, beliefs, lifestyle and income.
  • Gap analysis: This will help you decide whether your target country has enough demand for your products.
  • Product alignment: Remember to take into account any cultural nuances to ensure your product and business are perceived by consumers in the right way.
  • SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis: Adding some data and numbers to your plans will help you get a better idea of the actual sales and revenue potential of the market you’re evaluating.

Choose your business model

Your business model should allow you to successfully align with the new market’s projected value — and your reasons for wanting to export there. For example, it could be that more cost-effective manufacturing is available there; the size of the new customer base; or even any tax incentives this market might offer.

Abide with regulatory and legal requirements

The last thing any business needs when expanding abroad is to fall foul of local laws and regulations. As a starter, you’ll need to follow a long list of regulatory proceedings, including:2

  • Setting up a subsidiary or regional presence
  • Opening a local bank account
  • Registering with tax authorities
  • Acquiring any local commercial certifications
  • Keeping accurate corporate records
  • Running patent and trademark reviews
  • Setting up payroll, compensation, and employee benefits

Arrange international logistics

An efficient and optimised supply chain is vital for delivering seamless customer experiences, competitive pricing, and more sales.3 In fact, 98% of shoppers say their loyalty to brands is directly affected by the delivery process — and 84% agree that a poor ‘last mile’ experience is enough to put them off making a repeat purchase.4 Partnering with shipping companies and logistics service providers will allow you to take advantage of their fulfillment services, such as handling import fees or customs clearances on behalf of the seller. This article has more details about supply chain management, which you might find useful.

Choosing a fulfillment partner with warehouses close to your target country might also mean you can ship orders to customers in that region quicker. As well as creating happier shoppers, this could also help you compete harder with local retailers.5

Visit Market Finder to access our logistics partner referral tool, plus other useful logistics resources.

Localise for your new market

55% of consumers prefer to buy exclusively in their own language,6 so it’s important you localise your business and product offering to your new audience. In fact, localisation is the third leading method used by businesses to market their products in international markets.7 At the very least, your website and online store content may need to be translated (and checked by a native speaker for fluency), and remember to ensure your customer service is set up to deal with new queries in a foreign language or from different time zones. This article on localisation has more details, which you might find useful.

Offer shoppers the right payment methods

Each country will have its own preferred methods of paying for things — and you’ll need to make sure your online store is set up to offer them. Research shows that 50% of customers are likely to abandon their shopping cart if they don’t see a payment method they’re familiar with. And 40% say they find online shopping more convenient when a known payment method is available.8

Offer great customer service

Offering the right product at the right price might earn you a sale, but if your customer service isn’t up to scratch you’ll likely struggle to get repeat business. Shoppers today expect their queries to be dealt with near-instantly, so you’ll need to make sure you have the systems and people in place to respond in a timely manner. Bear in mind too, that shoppers will want to contact you through a whole range of channels — like phone, email, social media and chatbots on your website — so ensure you have the systems and structures in place to be there whenever they need you.

3 How to market your business abroad

Use social media to connect with customers

At the start of 2020, there were more than 3.8 billion social media users. This represents a huge — and easily accessible — audience for you to promote your products and build a loyal following.1 It’s important you don’t just dive in though. Take time to develop a strategy that’s right for your audience (i.e., choose appropriate platforms and messaging), and make sure you’re able to create and post useful content that people will appreciate and share.

Advertise online and offline

Promoting your business in the right places will help you create a buzz and get the word out about your products. A key part of that is ensuring your products are visible on the major search engines.2 For example, if you sell children’s toys, you’ll want to make sure that when people search for “new kids toys” that they find your website and buy from you. You can do this by setting up a business listing on search engines, social media pages, and local listing platforms. Each one will guide you through the process and will ask you to enter details such as your business name and address, business hours, any product images you have, plus customer reviews. You should also be able to edit your information as you go, and even potentially update your listing with special offers, etc.

4 Other useful resources from Google

Here’s our top picks to get you started:

Market Finder for retail: The tool has useful tools, guides designed to help businesses go global. It helps companies find potential export markets using its country ranking algorithm, based on following parameters:

  • Average monthly searches for your product category
  • Google Ads average recommended bid.
  • Ease of doing business in your target country
  • Online purchases by device type
  • Average time to purchase decision
  • Drivers of online and offline purchases

Grow My Store: Assess your retail website's customer experience and explore helpful tips on how to improve.

Google Trends: Type in your product name (or any related word or phrase) and see how search trends have changed over time.

Shopping Insights: Discover what shoppers are looking for in your categories, see how your brand compares to your competitors, and more.

Google Alerts: Get email alerts when new web pages, newspaper articles, blogs, or other content appears online about the things you’re interested in.

Find My Audience: Develop a better understanding of who your most valuable customers are on YouTube, so you can start reaching them with relevant messages.

There’s a lot to think about when taking a business global. Use these resources to plan your journey, develop the right strategy, and sell to the customers that matter to you.