Thanks to the explosion in popularity of shopping at online marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, adflyer, Folksy and others, small retailers and home businesses are now able to sell their goods to customers around the world.

If you’ve got a home business selling anything from handmade jewelry or vintage clothes to pet accessories, chances are you’ve already dabbled with an online store at the major English language online marketplaces like eBay. But have you considered expanding beyond English?

There are nearly two billion people online worldwide, but only around 34 million are native English speakers – and the vast majority of online shoppers require information in their native language before making a purchase. That means if you’re only selling online in English, you’re reaching less than 2% of your potential online audience!

Here’s how you can get a greater slice of those international markets…

1) Look into foreign online shopping platforms

eBay is undoubtedly the world’s biggest online marketplace for small retailers, with 38 localized versions for all the main European and Asian ecommerce countries, and it makes a great starting place for international versions of your online store.

However, there are also other popular online marketplaces in different countries, which are worth looking into. Taobao is China’s largest online marketplace, generating an annual turnover of more than $80 billion USD. It operates similar to eBay, and there’s also a thriving economy of Chinese consultants helping foreign businesses to sell via Taobao.

Likewise, PriceMinister is the most popular online marketplace in many European countries, and MercadoLibre has established itself as the ‘eBay of Latin America’. It’s worth doing a little online research before entering a foreign market to find out where people are shopping.

2) Get your sales pitch properly translated

The key difference with foreign online marketplaces, of course, is language – eBay España is in Spanish, eBay Portugal is in Portuguese, etc. This means that you’ll need to get your shop and product descriptions translated into these languages by a professional.

Online machine translation programs ought to be sufficient to understand incoming orders, or to create your profile in the first place, but they’re not accurate enough to be trusted for your sales pitch – incorrect terminology or bad spelling and grammar will destroy a potential client’s view of your trustworthiness.

3) Set your prices for the local market

Before you jump in with an online store for Taobao or MercadoLibre, though, it’s worth checking what price you can charge for your goods in the local economy, and whether that will present enough of a margin to make it profitable.

One of the major barriers to shoppers around the world buying from foreign stores is the comparatively high prices, created either by high exchange rates or differing local product values. For instance, the current strength of the Australian dollar means that it’s often cheaper for Australian shoppers to purchase goods from foreign online shopping sites and pay for the shipping than it is for them to buy locally. Conversely, small Australian retailers are finding it hard to sell overseas without dramatically reducing their prices.

By looking at the exchange rates and the prices set by your competitors in foreign markets, you’ll get a good idea for potential profit margins. Even if the profit margin is small, you may find over time that the sheer quantity of goods sold makes up for the lower prices – or you may gradually whittle your international efforts down to just a few foreign stores.

4) Be aware of foreign payment systems

The second major barrier for online shoppers is payment systems – if you only accept credit or debit card payments, but your customers in China don’t use credit cards and prefer to pay by Alipay, then you’re going to see a lot of abandoned shopping carts. Before launching your online store, it’s worth doing some online research, or purchasing market reports from consultancies like Econsultancy or yStats, to figure out which payment systems you’ll need to offer for each country.

5) Research postage and shipping carefully

The last step to ensuring profitability and practicality is making sure that you can actually ship your goods to the foreign countries in question, and at a cost which won’t price your goods out of reach for the locals. How reliable is the local postal service? What postage options can you offer to make your products trustworthy and attractive for local consumers? Indeed, would it be cheaper to ship your goods en masse to the country in question and employ a local agent to post purchased items locally?

These are all questions you need to consider before going multilingual across foreign online marketplaces – but the potential for new sales vastly outweighs the hassles of making your home business international.

Source: Common Sense Advisory

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