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Targeting overseas customers? Research your markets

If you’re selling internationally through your own website rather than an e-marketplace, you could be missing a trick, explains Karl Susol from the Department for International Trade NW team, partner of the Business Growth Hub.

Before you do anything take a moment to think about where you are on your e-commerce journey. Maybe you’ve just set up your own niche microbrewery and want to sell your unique blend of hops to cultured foreign tongues, or maybe you are the owner of an innovative new to market tech product that’s already built up a solid customer base and looking to take the world by storm.

One thing is without doubt, e-commerce and selling online is a ubiquitous factor for any business looking to explore new markets. 

How ready is your business for cross-border trade?

Start by looking inwards…consider and assess the areas within your online business that can be scaled up, for example:

  • Review your current e-commerce platform
  • Review your fulfillment capabilities
  • Is your customer services team ready to handle overseas calls?
  • How will you take payments from overseas customers?
  • Is your current range of products suitable? 

Create an e-commerce marketing strategy

Every market will require a different digital strategy for online sales rather than a generic plan. More than likely you’ll have to look carefully at your current business model and adapt it appropriately.

Remember that your website is your digital shop window. So make sure that the customer or user experience (UX) journey on your website is fluid and easy for consumers to navigate. It sounds obvious, but if you get your delivery strategy right you'll increase the conversion rate of your website and encourage more repeat purchases.

Know which marketplaces provide ease of business

Research your market, macro and micro. Get the data from freely available resources such as the Department for International Trade, for example. When deciding on the countries you want to target for online sales, there are a plethora of factors for you to consider:

  • Consider retail marketplaces, search engines and comparison shopping sites 
  • Ranking each market that you wish to expand into can help support your decision as to which market to enter
  • What’s the disposable income of your audience, and is there a preferred method of payment?

The last point can seem somewhat trivial on the surface when it’s really not. True, as it is, that there are numerous payment methods in international countries that are universal, such as Paypal.

However, if you don’t research which payment methods international customers prefer to use, your business is less likely to convert in your target market. For example, invoicing is one of the most popular online payments methods in Germany accounting for 58% of all online customers ordering online and paying after they receive their goods.

Paypal is Germany’s most popular method of online payment, followed by Amazon payments and Giropay. On average an online store in Germany offers five different payments methods, whilst cash on delivery is still the most popular payment method in the Middle East.

Furthermore, M-commerce is rapidly gaining traction in some overseas markets where customers prefer to use their mobile device to make a purchase. 

According to a study by Nielsen, some online retailers in India are using a mobile-only model. While in the US, mobile devices accounted for 57% of all online shopping traffic during Black Friday in 2015. 

It is predicted that £32bn of retail sales will be made via mobile devices in 2019. So if entering new overseas territories, you shouldn’t be ignoring the requisite for a responsive mobile website that allows customers to use their mobile throughout the whole online shopping experience, especially if your product appeals to a younger audience.

Localise your content

Done well, an internationalised website can be a great advert for international customers to purchase your product or service.

Choosing the correct domains, developing market entry strategies for each target country (which include SEO) in addition to providing local customer service support  (i.e. local returns number and native language options) should all be considered when entering new markets.

To fully engage with your target market your products or listings should be translated into their native language. The reason why? Poorly translated content could result in your brand appearing relatively low in search rankings in the target market, while it will almost certainly lose credibility.

You can either use automated translation, i.e. Google Translate, or a professional translator or interpreter. If feasible, always lean to the latter if you want assurance that the translation captures the nuances of a language − although machine-based translations can be cost effective they are not 100% accurate and do not take into consideration idiomatic language and differences.

Other really important points to consider are:

  • Allow customers to have several options to purchase and pay for items on your e-commerce platform.  A study by the Boston Consulting Group identified that Australian buyers prefer to buy items in Aus Dollars even if this price is higher than US Dollars
  • Highlight the fact that your brand or product is designed, manufactured or even made in the UK can be a USP, especially to overseas customers who would be willing to pay a premium
  • If your company is focusing on a specific international market and you have numerous listings requiring updates it may be worthwhile considering hiring people with language skills, for example local students from universities. The overall cost is lower in the long term.


You’ll need to think about logistics too and ensure you include information on product availability, estimated shipping times and clarify your international returns policy. 

Honesty is always the best policy. Be upfront and honest with customers about delivery charges, duties, and timeframes. 

Retailers should either incorporate all taxes, duties and additional fees into the final shipping price or inform the customer that they are responsible for paying the relevant duties and taxes. 

Choose a local logistics provider who has the capability to offer tracking and a notification service, in addition to a fast delivery service.

When it comes to returns, your policy should be clear and easy to follow allowing customers to feel confident which can drive more purchases, repeat sales and more importantly encourage consumers to post positive recommendations. 

Final tip: if exporting to Germany, be aware that it has one of the highest product return rates with estimates putting the figure around 50% as they tend to order multiple colour and size options. 

Interested in Exporting? Business Growth Hub has a suite of services and activities in place for new and experienced businesses looking to sell to overseas markets. Get in touch through Enquire & Grow


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