Selling Online in a Borderless World

When you have an ecommerce website, you could just as likely be selling to a person on the other side of the world as someone down the road. Now more than ever, the Internet has shrank the globe, and this has to be considered at all times during the online selling process, from your marketing, your conversion rate optimisation, all the way to the payment methods you offer.

Selling across borders of course means selling across multiple languages. Sounds simple enough, yes? French to sell to the French, German for Germans, and English for English — what's the difficulty? Well, different languages have different nuances, and it only takes one slipup to alienate your potential customer. For example, if I don't organise the localisation of this sentence for a US audience, you will soon realise that this text is aimed at wooing a British reader rather than an American, and you'll feel alienated. Likewise, the Spanish used in South America differs from that spoken in Spain; in fact, it differs from just Mexico to Colombia. In the former, "carro" is the word used for car, but the latter uses "coche."

This awareness of language is yet more imperative when it comes to selling. We like to buy in our own language, so as the vendor, that means you have to be aware of these potential pitfalls so as to avoid them.

In Germany, there are several different ways to say the word "you," so when marketing to Germans, you need to know whether to use "du" (informal) or "sie" (formal). This boils down to knowing who is buying online in which market, because while it's easy to think that since ecommerce is a way of life in the US it's the same in every country, this is simply not the case.

Take Sweden as an example: the majority of online shoppers live in the capital Stockholm, so any online advertising or marketing should reflect this. 

Just as linguistic accuracy is hugely important to your online marketing, so is an awareness of the culture you're targeting. Unsurprisingly, people from different countries respond to different types of marketing. In France, an appealing price is crucial, while Russians like to buy from foreign retailers due to an inherent distrust of domestic vendors. These cultural nuances need to be adhered to throughout the entirety of the selling cycle.

At the opposite end of the selling cycle, you can just as easily lose a sale at the last gasp by offering the wrong payment methods. Again, it's easy to take the US's familiarity with paying by debit or credit card online for granted, but for some countries, these methods are still mistrusted and other forms of payment such as bank invoice (Germany) and cash on delivery (Russia) are more popular — therefore these need to be accommodated.

Although there is no one golden rule for global ecommerce success, there is for failure, and that is to operate a one-size-fits-all ecommerce strategy across multiple markets. A local strategy for each local market should be step one for selling across borders.