Get your eCommerce store ready for the global market

With global cross-border eCommerce sales projected to double over the next five years to reach $424 billion and new technology pushing the envelope for digital payments, there's never been a better time for South African online retailers to tap the international market.

Johannesburg, 28 Feb 2018
Read time 4min 10sec

Participation in cross-border eCommerce across most geographies is increasing, transforming previously segmented markets into a global retail trade. In South Africa, online stores are quickly becoming the destination of choice for consumers, a trend driven by the convenience of accessing products and services anywhere, anytime.

But, competition is no longer limited to local retailers. An estimated 1.4 million South Africans, according to a recent study by Ipsos, now frequently buy from overseas online stores. On the other hand, South African eCommerce Web sites are attracting growing interest from shoppers on the rest of the continent, most notably Nigeria, Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana.

These customer habits have the potential to open new doors for local eCommerce retailers. South African consumers currently shop abroad for a variety of goods that cannot be obtained domestically. This creates a unique opportunity to capitalise on the demand for cross-border products and brands not easily accessible in local markets.

Some of the most popular online categories for global cross-border shoppers, revealed in the Cross-Border Consumer Research 2016 Global Summary Report, are: clothing and apparel (46%), consumer electronics (24%), digital entertainment and education devices (24%), toys and hobbies (23%), and cosmetics (20%).

Catering to the needs of local cross-border customers will enable e-tailers to rise above their competitors, not because their products and services are superior but because the shopping experience is better. Eventually, it all comes down to establishing a positive reputation on home soil before you promote yourself to the rest of the world.

Expanding globally is a bit more complex than building a loyal national customer base. There are a lot of factors to consider before you go ahead and open your business to international shoppers. It's important to remember that a successful local product range doesn't automatically mean the products are export ready. You need to sort out a great deal of groundwork and preparation, which requires research on the demand, competition, product adaptability and local buying trends. You should also raise questions in terms of customs, duties and taxes.

If you are going to break into international markets, you need to have a clear shipping strategy, which includes how you will work shipping charges into your pricing. Customers have certain expectations when it comes to cross-border deliveries.

For example, in the Cross-Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey 2016, respondents indicated that they want clear information about delivery charges before purchase, free delivery on a certain value, and free returns, among other things. Whether or not you employ these preferences as a guideline, make sure that customers understand your delivery policy before they place an order.

In order to reach international customers, you will have to show your visitors a translated version of your webpage. Enlist the help of professional proofreaders who have a firm grasp of the international visitors' languages and customs.

Last, but certainly not least, you should always allow your target market to pay in their local currency as well as via their preferred payment method. Credit card transactions may be the dominant payment in certain regions, but they are also traditionally the most vulnerable to fraud. Fortunately, advances in payment technology have given rise to a range of online payment options and more secure transaction environments.

Another thing worth noting about international payments is that financial institutions in other territories must keep up with the regulatory and legislative demands of their country. Payment gateways with a global footprint will likely have partnered with the major credit card companies in the region so that merchants won't have to deal with the red tape themselves.

Having the support of the right payment gateway in South Africa ensures that the online merchant has all the essential measures, such as regulatory differences and security, in place. Illustrating the extent to which the digital payments landscape has evolved, Brennan Boyajian, Global Sales Executive at PayU, points out: "PayU supports 16 different countries. We have experts on the ground to better understand how local consumers transact, and we work very closely with the local financial institutions to minimise fraud."

A solid partner in the targeted region can help the merchant analyse and understand local business customs, consumer preferences and cultural differences, which affect decisions around inventory management and product marketing.

Putting yourself on the global stage can have enormous benefits for your company, even more so when you have the backup of partners in the targeted region that help you overcome the challenges of cross-border eCommerce.

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