For the online retailer that has already asserted themselves as a major player in their local market, international expansion may well be the next natural step forward in their quest for continued growth.
Expanding into foreign territories is by no means an easy feat and one that requires a great deal of planning before the first steps can be made. But when a big fish in a small pond looks to the likes of ASOS, Nike and Apple for inspiration, it is easy for them to become envious of their globetrotting.
It is also common for the same small businesses to ponder how some of the giants of their industry managed to reach out to customers across the world and connect with them on every given attempt. So, what is their magic formula?
Fortunately for retailers, while there are no set guidelines for venturing into foreign markets, they are part of an industry that is willing to advise its fellow members on the best steps to take in certain scenarios.
As much was evident in a special panel covering international expansion at Performance Marketing Insights: Europe, where attendees were reminded of the importance of advertising to spread word of their business.
It was here that panellist Michael Long, senior partner marketing manager at global hospitality giant Hotels.com, highlighted the significance of businesses collaborating with foreign advertising experts to ensure their messages always read true with a fresh audience.
“We do have certain things that we keep in-house, and I think that makes sense when you’re managing one central product. But, while we are running one global brand, it is definitely important to use local knowledge so you can tailor things for the right audience,” he commented.
Simon Bird, general manager at voucher code supplier Savoo, also believes that strong, localised content can make it easier for businesses to expand overseas by allowing them to rank well in foreign search engines. Therefore rushing into a new market with scant preparation cannot be seen as a good move from any angle.
Good deals - easy expansion
Not all companies believe that good content is the be all and end all of overseas marketing. According to Eugene Lomize, head of monetisation at Russian search engine Yandex, retailers coming into Russia have enjoyed plenty of success by placing their faith in one thing - being able to offer the best deal.
“It is very important to localise your website, but they didn’t do it… They were very successful because they had a very strong offer.” Lomize backs up his logic by pointing to the example of eBay merchants, most of whom do not have well-translated product descriptions, and their ability to sell items abroad.
At the very least, retailers may have to consider bold actions like price-match guarantees when entering a new market. After all, if a customer can’t see value with a business they have only recently become aware of, the chances of them moving away from the companies they already use are minimal at best.
This is where incentives like discounts and special offers come into play, giving customers an worthwhile reason to switch allegiances and see what another party can offer.
Aside from the prices, there is also the process browsers go through in order to part with their hard-earned cash. Every retailer should stress the need to offer an easy booking system as they look to attract new customers and keep them coming back for more.
According to Long, improving the online experience for international browsers is a task that should never be overlooked.
“We are trying to offer the best we can by constantly updating the website and doing tests across all markets, new ones as well as mature, to make sure it’s easy for customers to actually navigate.”
Then, after making their first step into a new market, the pressure is on the company to build on the foundations that have been laid and to retain the first batch of customers who have jumped on board.
According to Long, who has witnessed many expansions into foreign markets as part of Hotels.com, the secret is in communication and being able to constantly listen to what first-time buyers have to say.
“Once we’ve established a base of customers in the market, we can then start to reward them even more, using our social [media] team to communicate and try to build that loyalty with our brand.”
Speaking after his stint on the panel, Long told PerformanceIN that whatever brands choose to focus on when launching into new markets, it pays to take things slow and steady. He advises looking into basic factors like web usage, smartphone penetration and the strength of the competition before making a grand entry.
“Don’t rush into it - I think that’s the main thing,” he states.
“It would be too easy for everyone to just create a different version of something in a different language and ‘off we go’, and I think the approach needs to be a lot more considered.”