Part 2 of our article "Internationalization in E-Commerce".

You can find the first part here

Country-specific features

Aside from the business and technical challenges of expanding into other markets, companies are also confronted with country-specific peculiarities. If the necessary specialist knowledge is not available in-house, it is advisable to acquire a country manager or to work with an agency with the appropriate knowledge. Since SEO, for example, does not only mean optimization on one's own pages, it is also possible to better identify relevant factors that affect the environment, PR, third-party pages, etc. and can help to market the shop abroad. You have an insider on site, so to speak.

With regard to the special features, a distinction can be made between adjustments that are essential for functioning e-commerce and those that are recommended but by no means absolutely necessary.

The indispensable modifications (or even new features to be set up) of the online shop include all processes that are directly related to the customer's purchasing process. Without them, the sale of goods via the Internet abroad is simply not possible.

As already mentioned, the language and the currency must be adapted to the target country of the expansion. Although you can serve abroad with an English-speaking shop, this can be sobering for the customer, at the latest when it comes to payment modalities, if their currency is not accepted or their preferred means of payment is not available. Customer service and support should also be offered in the local language, as customers do not want to resort to foreign language FAQs or service hotlines when they need help.

But not only language and means of payment have to be designed according to the respective country. The same applies to sizes for textiles and shoes. Conversion tables, for example as a link next to the available size information, can help the customer to find the right size for him, but seem awkward and interrupt the customer in the shopping process. It is all the more important to use a product information management (PIM), merchandise management or enterprise resource planning system in which product data and prices can be maintained in the national languages and also with the corresponding values (shoe sizes, clothing sizes, etc.).

The checkout process

The mere linguistic adjustment of the checkout process is usually not enough when it comes to shop operations abroad.

Form fields are often arranged differently abroad (e.g. the order in which the surname and first name are requested and vice versa, first the postal code, then the city and vice versa), sometimes different information is also requested. For example, prefectures are queried in Japan and provinces in China, while specifying the federal state in Germany is usually optional. The adaptation of the form fields is not only useful for reasons of shipping and payment processing. Unexpected form structures result in the customer being distracted at checkout, which in turn can increase the exit rate. Legal requirements must also be observed, for example when it comes to agreeing to general terms and conditions or the placement of information on data protection.

What applies to entering an address also applies to the means of payment offered. What is known is used. If the preferred means of payment is missing, the shopping cart is left at the checkout. Therefore, means of payment should be adapted to local preferences. In Germany, payment by PayPal or on account dominates, while in the Neighboring countries Switzerland and Austria credit card payment is more popular

The same applies to the USA. In South America, payment by e-wallet is widely used, while in Finland half of all orders are invoiced. In the Netherlands (iDEAL) and Poland (Przelewy24), real-time online payment methods are preferred.

The general rule is that shipping costs for international deliveries should not be declared at the end of the checkout process or hidden in the general terms and conditions, but should be clearly visible at the beginning of the purchasing process. If shipping is free in some countries or in the country of origin, this should also be advertised.

Interface design

An internationally functioning website without harmonization of the interface, i.e. the visual interface between the online shop and the customer, is hardly possible. Therefore, in the context of internationalization, attention should be paid to the respective conventions of the target country when coordinating the design. The design of the interface is divided into the two areas of culture-dependent and culture-independent elements. Culture-independent elements have general validity and can be used in multiple cultures. The best example of this are pictograms, which are understood in most cultures due to their reduced form and neutral representation. The more culture-independent elements are used in interface design, the less local adjustments need to be made. However, if an adjustment is to be made in order to offer customers a pleasant shopping experience, it is advisable to create the culture-independent elements during creation in such a way that they can be changed without problems, for example in terms of text or design. If possible, texts should not be integrated into images and graphic elements should be divided into individual levels so that components can be changed at any time. Despite the fact that some interface components are culture-independent, some parts should definitely be adjusted. In addition to the date format, currency, sizes, telephone numbers and address formats, the reading direction must also be correct (e.g. from right to left in Arabic, from top to bottom in Japanese and Chinese). If the adjustment to cultural characteristics in interface design goes beyond the minimum, further aspects must be considered. Not every color design is used in the same way internationally. In Asia, white is the color of mourning and less suitable as the main color for websites. In Germany it is known as the color of purity and in Egypt it is associated with cheerfulness. Red is known in Germany as a warning and signal colour, in Egypt it stands for mourning and death, while in China it is associated with happiness and cheerfulness. The use of photos with models from the same ethnic area as the intended target group can make an additional contribution to adaptation, especially in the field of fashion. For one thing, the customer gets a better idea of how the clothes will look on them. On the other hand, the shop operator signals that he is adapting to the needs of the customers and that he understands them. This is an important step in customer loyalty.

In general, it can be stated that minimalist standards can be used in western countries, while in many Asian countries the specific requirements should be examined more closely. ### Adjust online marketing E-commerce abroad also requires corresponding online marketing. The available channels vary in comparison to the domestic market both in their sheer number and in their relevance and characteristics. For example, Google does not have the same quasi-monopoly status in every country, but coexists alongside national search engines such as Baidu (China) or Yandex (Russia). This means additional effort in the areas of SEO and SEM and requires knowledge of the country-specific requirements for content and design.

The effort can be worth it, as search engine optimization and marketing are well suited to making your goods and services known abroad. It is advisable to work with a local company that has the necessary expert knowledge of country-specific customs and legal frameworks (e.g. in relation to e-mail marketing). In addition, a local cooperation partner can ensure the creation of search engine ads (e.g. AdWords) in the local language. In addition, a local service provider has extensive market knowledge when it comes to coordinating online marketing with typical market conditions. For example, the sale of seasonal items such as textiles must be adapted to the country's climatic conditions. Depending on the climate zone, the sale of seasonal items must be advertised earlier or later than in the home market.

Smartphones and tablets are the assistants of our life and our lifestyle

When expanding abroad, e-commerce companies are often confronted with a different end device infrastructure and a correspondingly different level of acceptance of the devices.

As a study by the statistics portal Statista shows, the proportion of smartphone users who use their mobile devices for online shopping is twice as high in Great Britain as in Germany, in Indonesia almost three times as high. The absolute spread of smartphones, also forecast for the future, is highest in China (currently 422 million devices in 2014) and thus more than twice as high as in the USA, for example. It is therefore advisable to make the website available in a responsive manner, i.e. adapting to a wide variety of end devices. This enables users, especially in countries with high mobile device penetration, to have the shopping experience that corresponds to their habits.

Conclusion and outlook

Even before the advent of the Internet, expanding abroad was a costly and risky undertaking. Despite new possibilities and technical progress, not much has changed. The expansion of one's own business activities needs to be carefully considered and should be based on the right intention. Cross-border trade should not be driven by push factors, but by pull factors and thus the self-determined perception of opportunities abroad.

In order to expand e-commerce into foreign markets, processes as well as technical requirements and required content must be created from scratch or adapted to new circumstances. The foreign customer should be able to find the content they are looking for in their native language, pay in their local currency using the payment methods they are familiar with and use the devices they are used to for the entire process. In addition, the user interface can be adapted according to the cultural characteristics of the newly developed market.