JD Duarte


Jose Duarte discusses the steps needed to expand an eCommerce business internationally

If you’re comfortable with the way you run your eCommerce business in your country, you might be wondering if it’s time to look abroad. Since your business already works online, you shouldn’t have much trouble selling your products internationally. After all, you can send a message to another country in a second, so selling products can’t be much harder. However, it turns out that internationalizing an eCommerce company is more complicated than it looks. Jose Duarte, an eCommerce expert and entrepreneur from Costa Rica, discusses how to take an eCommerce business to the international stage.

To expand an eCommerce operation, you’ll need to carefully study all the details of your business, making sure that every part of your business structure is ready to supply a whole new market. Your potential customers will most certainly use another currency, speak another language and have different laws and customs. And you’ll have to take all this into account before selling outside your borders.

If you know expansion is going to benefit you, you have the money you need and the right staff (or you can hire it), there’s no reason not to start planning. Explains Duarte, “To sell in international markets, you need to know which ones you want to do it in. You may not have a clear idea yet, so it’s worth analyzing all the countries where you think your business might succeed.”

You’ll also need to find out what competition you might have in that market. Is there a local brand that already responds to the need for what you offer? Is there room for a product like yours in that society and culture? Has anyone tried to sell something similar there in the past? In addition to answering these questions, you’ll need to conduct a thorough analysis of the trade laws of your potential new market. Is there an incentive to build your factory within its borders instead of shipping from your country? Is there a tax on international goods that could apply to you? What procedures does your company have to follow in order to sell legally?

If you see empty spaces in your inventory, consider creating new products that are unique to your new market. If done right, this tactic has another purpose besides filling the shelves: to allow people to feel more comfortable with you. This way, when your new customers come up with an unknown brand, the fact that they can see products with familiar shapes, components, or names will make them trust you more from the start. Also, if you make those products with locally sourced materials in a local factory, you could save more money and have better quality items than if you shipped them from home.

Once the new products are considered and conceived, it’s time to prepare your website for global expansion. This involves multiple phases of improvements, such as translating the web, creating new content for the blog, and determining payment processing.

If the website needs to be translated, you’ll need to prepare a translated version of the previous blog posts. “You will need to write original content for your new market; a blog full of content is more appealing than 2-3 posts,” adds Duarte. “During the process, you’ll also need to make sure that the content you post on the translated blog is relevant to your new marketplace.”

When everyone can already enjoy your website, you will need to be prepared to process payments arising from the purchase of your products. This will be a logistical problem that will consist mainly of a collaboration between your accounting department, the government of the country in which you are going to expand, and perhaps a payment processing company that is already ready to carry out international transactions.

Since you’re already in touch with your accountant team, take some time to calculate shipping and order management costs. You’ll also need to include your regular courier company in this talk, and think about how to distribute and pay your staff to take care of new tasks. For the sake of smooth transparency and transactions, try to have all this resolved before officially opening your online store.

When everything is ready for your new customers to buy your products, it’s time to update your social media presence to attract them to your website. Depending on the target country, you may not have to do too much to make your platforms ready for your new audience. If the culture is similar and most people understand your language, you’ll only have to create articles related to the new country you’re selling in.

While preparing the new website, choosing products to sell and strengthening your social networks, you’ll also need to consider something else: your brand image. While you’ll need to keep the essentials so people know you’re the same company, you’ll also need to optimize it to fit seamlessly into your new market. Standing out as a company is fine, but there’s a good way and a bad way to do it. Being above the rest as a reliable and responsible contributor to your new market is good, but being an unknown and stubborn presence can arouse a negative interest that generates resentment towards your brand. The trick is to preserve your basic identity while making it clear that you respect, understand and appreciate your new customers.