5 Strategies for US-Based Ecommerce Brands to Increase International Sales

If your ecommerce brand has been focused on the USA to grow, but you’re now eyeing international expansion, you’ll quickly find out converting international customers may not be as easy as you’d think.

Many factors make or break your potential to get international visitors to convert into customers, and many of those factors aren’t things you even have to think about when selling to an American audience. 

Messaging, expectations, shipping… all elements, amongst many more, that require some special attention when selling to an international audience. 

Keep reading to discover the top five factors that can heavily influence the conversion rate of non-US based consumers and the simple approaches you can take to get those international customers to convert as well as your American audience.

1. If you ship to their country, make sure you mention it everywhere

One of the first questions that pops into a customer’s brain while visiting your website or after landing on one of your landing pages is whether or not your product can even arrive at their home. This may even be the very first thing they think of before looking at your products.

They will scatter through the FAQ page, hoping away because any message pertaining to USA shipping is not a message they care about. Free shipping and two-day shipping notices sound great if your customer can take advantage of them, but not so great if they can’t. 

They may notice your “international shipping” banner. However, this will not be enough of an answer to their very specific question. “Do they ship to Canada?”, “Do they ship to Australia?”… 

Many websites will declare that they offer international shipping, but then will also have a list of countries they are “currently not shipping to”. Well, customers would like to know if their home-country is or is not being shipped to.

Therefore, seeing terms like “USA” or even “international” around your website is simply irrelevant, confusing and way too vague for your customers to be reassured upon visiting your store, hence their anxious and elaborate search for the name of their country throughout your website.

Haute Hijab mentions the customer's country in the cart's shipping notice

The solution is simple personalization

Make sure each experience on your website and landing pages is personalized by specifying that you do ship to their country. There are many personalization tools such as Convert, Dynamic Yield, Salesforce, and Optimizely that make sure the relevant information is displayed to the right type of traffic. For example, if an Australian sees a clear “shipping to Australia” banner or icon as soon as they land on the page, nothing more needs to be said.

On the other hand, if an Australian customer lands on your page and sees an “international shipping” logo, you can bet that the customer will dive right into your FAQ page anyway, to find out if they are included in that broad message. 

In addition, make sure that irrelevant shipping messages targeted to US citizens are not displayed to your international consumers too. If they can’t make use of a message, you won’t be able to profit from it either. 

In general, personalizing the experience of a customer is key, so integrating this into your shipping strategy would help immensely as well. So, instead of “international shipping” and “Shipping to USA” notices, specify the country your customer is in and address their concerns. Be clear and precise, and don't forget you can always A/B test different layouts and copy for these notices to see what resonates best with customers.

2. Shipping costs can be a deal breaker

The biggest reason why customers abandon the checkout process is due to unexpected extra costs when reaching the checkout point.

This is even truer when we’re talking about customers outside the USA who expect and fear they’ll be met with sky high shipping fees. We discussed earlier that it’s irrelevant and often confusing when brands only display USA-centric shipping messages on their website to international customers. 

Now, let’s say you do ship internationally and you’ve followed our advice to display this through geo-targeted personalization, all should be good for international customers to buy without any doubts, right?

Not quite. International customers are used to brands saying they ship internationally only to be faced in the checkout with yes, an international shipping option, but one that comes with a price tag that may be higher than the customer’s cart contents. 

This means that even if you’re specifying throughout your site that you ship to the customer’s country, they may still have some doubts and hesitations knowing the shipping cost may be out of reach.

High international shipping costs can hurt your international efforts

Show the shipping information that’s most relevant to the customer

If you’re a US-based brand and international customers aren’t really a focus, then you may not have a negotiated shipping agreement with carriers that allows you to offer international shipping at a reasonable cost, and if that’s the case, there’s not much more you can do in terms of messaging to help this. 

However, if you offer free shipping, flat rate shipping, or free shipping after $X for international orders, then show it! Make sure visitors see it. Free shipping or at the very least, reasonable flat rate shipping, is a huge incentive for international customers and it will help allay their fears of not being able to buy from you due to shipping.

After all, 9 out of 10 customers are more likely to purchase from a store if free shipping is offered. Therefore, if you do offer it, make sure your prospects know it, and that they also know of any conditions and specifications. So, if you’ve got that special something, make it obvious.

3. Duties can come as a surprise and hurt your international expansion efforts in many ways

Those infamous duties. So many people fear them, and you should too. These fit right in with the reasons why so many shoppers may abandon their cart at some point in the checkout process.

US brands are not often aware of this, but it’s quite common for international customers to receive a package from an American brand, only to be asked to pay duties either upfront when receiving the package, or weeks later when the shipping carrier sends an invoice by mail. Those duties aren’t just a few dollars either, as they can easily reach 20% to 40% of the price of the items the customer ordered. 

This happens frequently without brands even being aware, and when it happens it creates quite a negative experience for the customer, who feels cheated thinking they got a good deal when in reality they have to pay a surprise, large additional sum of money. It destroys the good experience you want to create as a brand, and customers may start feeling post-purchase regret.

And it goes without saying that this customer probably won’t buy from you again anytime soon.

As a retailer, understanding how duties affect your customers is critical. 

Managing expectations and minimizing duties is the only option

Saks' Fifth Avenue displays this modal window when international customers land on their site.

The first solution is to simply manage expectations. If you don’t have a negotiated agreement with your shipping carriers where duties are prepaid and included in the shipping cost, it’s best to let customers know at checkout that their order may be subject to additional taxes and duties and that they will be responsible for paying them. 

Bonus points if you’re also able to tell them the estimated amount of those duties. While this will cost you some conversions at checkout, by managing expectations, customers will know what’s coming and won’t be faced with a bad surprise that will sour their relationship with your brand. 

If you’re serious about international expansion, you’ll likely want to skip the above altogether and negotiate with your shipping company so that customers don’t get charged duties. If you do so, to truly benefit from it, make sure you mention that duties are paid everywhere where you reference international shipping.

And finally don’t make the mistake of only addressing duties on the Shipping step of the checkout. International customers will be thinking about this as soon as they land on your site, so you want to make sure this is addressed site-wide and in your cart as well.

4. How long will it take for the order to arrive?

Just a few years ago, a study found that 87% of online buyers claimed shipping speed as being the most influential aspect of their likelihood to be a returning customer.

While, from our experience, we’ve seen that it may not be as much of a deal breaker as shipping costs and surprise duties, people want to know when they can expect to receive the items they’re buying - especially if they’re outside their preferred time frame. 

Just as it is common courtesy to let someone know when to expect a visit from you, it should be the same regarding your delivery date. If people are spending their hard-earned money on your goods, let them know when they can expect to get their purchase. Uncertainty creates friction, and friction kills conversions.

You may have noticed that e-commerce giant, Amazon, always displays the estimated delivery date on their product page - way before people reach the shipping step in checkout. And that’s not a coincidence. Amazon knows that customers are impatient and that fast shipping, or at least managing expectations, typically helps increase conversions.  

If customers know what to expect, you’ll also save your customer service team from receiving a flurry of emails from customers asking “when will my order ship?” or “when will my order arrive?”, and that alone should be reason enough to implement shipping time estimates.

Luxury fashion retailer SSENSE clearly shows shipping time estimates next to their shipping methods.

Managing expectations and clear communication is key

  • Specify on product pages, or whenever you talk about your shipping policy, how fast orders ship. Do you ship packages the same day orders are placed, or within 3 days? Specify!
  • On your product pages if you have a section that talks about shipping, in your cart and in the checkout flow, provide an estimate of how long orders to the customer’s country takes to arrive.
  • In the order confirmation email, re-state the two points above.
  • Send the customer a tracking number as soon as it’s available.

You may or may not know how long it takes for your products to get delivered to a certain country. If you do, advertise it. Have a clear icon on your webpage that tells those UK citizens their package will reach them within 7 business days.

5. Currencies can create lots of confusion

Whether you convert your prices on your website to display in a customer's currency, or not, most people from outside of the US will assume your prices are in USD. That’s just how it is.  

Shopify and other ecommerce platforms make it easy for you to convert your prices into a customer’s currency, which can be good, but only if the currency code (e.g. CAD for Canadian dollars) is specified. 

Remember, people by default assume that your prices are in USD, so if you convert them to Canadian dollars without making it clear the prices displayed are in CAD, customers will think your converted price is still in USD, which of course, when they do the math to see how much their order will really cost them, they’ll think your products are way more expensive than they truly are - costing you conversions.

It can also be frustrating for international shoppers who aren’t used to the conversion between USD and their own currency to browse a website in which the prices are in US dollars only. They feel uncertain as to what they’re agreeing to pay - and no one wants to be a confused shopper, especially when it involves their own money.

END Clothing displays currencies next to the prices, and in the site's header.

Don’t assume customers think your prices are shown in their currency

  • If you don’t convert your prices to display in the customer’s currency and only sell in USD, it’s still best to display the currency code USD next to the price of your items and in the cart/checkout to let international customers know the prices are in US dollars. It’ll help allay concerns, and that’s always a good thing.
  • If you do convert your prices automatically to the browsers’ currency (which we recommend you do), make sure to display the currency code or symbol next to the prices.

Conclusion

Expanding internationally can be incredibly profitable, but it also comes with additional challenges that you don't have to face when selling to Americans only. To maximize your benefits from selling internationally, make sure to optimize for the 5 points above, or risk haunting your international customers with a slew of concerns as they get to checkout.

Want to know what some of the other concerns your customers are facing when shopping on your site? Learn six customer research methods that will help you do just that. 

Or check out how SplitBase optimized customers’ cart and checkout experiences to increase a brand’s revenue by $1.6M.


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