Selling online worldwide: How to avoid common pitfalls

Today, even small companies can be global players. Worldwide parcel services, the Internet and international money transfer service providers make it possible. In order to successfully sell internationally, however, one must create a viable concept and act with great care.

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The right market

It is not enough to gain a PayPal account and to put an English website online. Rather, international selling means locating your offer for each individual destination country.

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First of all, you should consider in which cultural circles and world regions your goods or services can be marketed at all. For example, Catholic devotional items will hardly be sold in Islamic culture and in the Spanish Sahara one will not be able to sell toboggan sledges. But there are also much less obvious barriers, so you should start your activities best in our and culturally similar neighboring countries.

In this sense, an English version of your website is not a bad start to international sales: you can reach both (still) the United Kingdom and Ireland, two EU countries that offer a well-funded market.

Legal conditions

Starting with EU countries also has the advantage that there are only few trade barriers within the EU. If you want to sell abroad, you have to inform yourself beforehand which regulations are to be respected there.

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The closest thing, of course, is to think about possible duties. However, it may also be that certain taxes are levied on the importation of goods or further regulations have to be complied with. For example, you should not deliver goods to Australia on wooden pallets, as these materials could be used to carry wood pests.

It may also be that certain items that are freely sellable in our country are illegal in other countries, subject to age restrictions, or requiring special permission.

Money transfer is also a problem. While transfers within the EU are now no more expensive than domestic transfers, non-EU transfers can be costly. Also PayPal is, as far as the payee, not squeamish on the fees, in many cases, however, cheaper than a normal bank transfer.

Language and culture

Every salesperson knows that the secret of success in selling is to make the purchase decision as easy as possible for the customer. This means that you have to break down barriers between the customer and the sale.

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The most important barrier is probably the language barrier. To localize therefore also includes that one offers pages in the national languages of the respective destination countries. It is also important that the texts correspond to the currently spoken or written everyday language. As a translator, therefore, should be a native speaker, who is up to date, what is currently in his home country and what is currently available for linguistic fashions.

A native speaker will usually be able to tell if it’s done with a simple translation of the web content or if the site needs to be customized to fit the culture of each country. For example, in East Asia, adult sites may also be colorful and playful, which we would find ridiculous and childish here. A dog as a symbol or mascot, in turn, which is perceived in the western world mainly as a popular figure, is not suitable for the Islamic culture at all, since dogs are considered here as impure.

net culture

One might think that there is a single culture in the global village of the Internet. That is not so. For example, preferred search engines and social media channels sometimes vary from country to country. While Google is the undisputed number one search engine in Europe, it has significantly lower market shares in its home country, of all places, than ours.

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While we mainly use Facebook in Europe and the US, in some South American or East Asian countries very different platforms such as vKontakte or Mixi are favored. If you want to get traffic to your site using social media, you should know what it means in a given country.

If you do not want to run your own online shop on your website, you need other sales channels. These too can be country-specific. So determine whether in the country people prefer to buy on Amazon or eBay or if there are any platforms, which we do not know at all, but there are heavily frequented.

Technical aspects

An important role is played by the technology. If you have a large number of country-specific versions of your site to maintain, you should use a Content Management System (CMS). Today, good CMS already offer the possibility of having translations of newly entered or edited original pages done semi-automatically or fully automatically by means of a translation API.

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What you should also pay attention to is the use of the correct search terms in the texts. The translator should not only be familiar with the current everyday language in the destination country, but also know which words are generally used there when searching for specific things.

In this context, it’s important that your country-specific sites are listed under domain names with the TLDs that apply there. For example, Google’s country versions clearly prefer sites that use the country’s TLD.

The author:

Christian Arno is the founder and CEO of Lingo24. Lingo24 specializes in translation services.

Post picture: Skeeze on Pixabay

(The article was first published in August 2014 and has been kept up to date ever sincelast update was in April 2019.)