The share of eCommerce in worldwide retail sales was 7.4% in 2015. By 2019, it grew to 14.1%--and it’s only increasing.
In fact, it’s estimated to reach nearly 22% by 2024. That’s a big pie, and you want a slice of it -- right?
If you feel like you’ve gone as far as you can in your home country, it might be time to start looking beyond the border. For a big fish in a small localized pond, going global is an exciting prospect!
That said, there are a lot of ducks to align if you want to successfully sell internationally — currencies, shipping, languages, domains, compliance, taxes...the list goes on. Fortunately, as with so many things, Shopify’s user-friendly native features and plethora of plug-and-play apps can make global selling a breeze.
Here’s how to handle a few of those components.
Use Country-Specific Domains
Your first step to world domination is having international domains, which indicate to shoppers that they’re using a local (to them) version of your store. You have two options here:
- A separate domain for each country (e.g. shop.com, shop.uk)
- A subdomain for each country (e.g. us.shop.com, uk.shop.com)
Puma, for example, takes the subdomain approach. Depending on where you’re visiting the website from, you’re presented with a region-specific subdomain.
Particularly if your primary domain is hosted on Shopify, it’s infinitely more cost effective to use subdomains for your international customers. Shopify and Shopify Advanced plans allow you to add up to 10 subdomains (in addition to your primary domain) and a Shopify Plus plan allows up to 1,000 subdomains--totally free.
Conversely, if you’re determined to have custom top-level domains for each location (i.e. shop.ca), you will need to buy them. It’s also important to note that region-specific restrictions or requirements may apply when purchasing region-specific top-level domains. For example, Canada requires you to meet residency and business registration requirements in order to snag a .ca domain.
In the vast majority of cases, subdomains will do just fine. Before running off to create them, here are some ground rules:
- Shopify Lite and Basic Shopify plans don’t support international subdomains. You need to be on a Shopify, Shopify Advanced, or Shopify Plus plan.
- Subdomains must use two letter country codes. If your U.S. store is shop.com, your UK subdomain should be expressed as uk.shop.com.
- To use international domains, you must sell in multiple currencies using Shopify Payments. You can set up the currencies that you want to offer in your payments settings.
Got It. Now...Why Do I Want a Country-specific Domain?
Enhanced Customer Experience
Shopify allows you to configure country-specific domains with designated languages and currencies, creating a totally localized shopping experience. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: personalization is the best way to beckon consumers into your shop and get them to stay.
Think about the last time you stumbled into an online luxury shoe dealer located in Denmark. (OK, maybe you haven’t done that...just follow us here.) The site’s content is written in Danish, the currency is DKK, and the familiar .com has been replaced with .dk. For the average consumer, those shoes would have to be extremely compelling to make it worth leaping over all those perceived barriers to entry.
By contrast, if that retailer were to install a U.S. subdomain, complete with USD currency and English content, there would be nothing to divert your attention from those beautiful products.
When you create international subdomains, hreflang tags are automatically added to your store and a unique sitemap is generated for each domain and language. You can submit those sitemaps to Google Search Console to ensure that Google displays your shop in the correct languages and currencies for your international audience.
Establishing yourself as an international brand is great for optics, as well as a whole host of other things.
OK, I’m Convinced. How Do I Create International Subdomains?
Here’s how to add a subdomain for your Shopify-hosted primary domain.
If you’re using a third party host, you’ll need to create your subdomains there and then connect them to Shopify.
Translate Your Store Language
Even if you don’t elect to create international subdomains for your Shopify store, it’s a very good idea to make sure your site will speak your core customers’ language, no matter where they are in the world.
Why? Because 40% of internet users avoid purchasing from websites that don’t have content in their native tongue. That’s...a lot of lost sales. 😬
Please note that Shopify won’t magically translate your store’s content to other languages just because you add them in your Admin console. First, you’ll need to import a translation of your site via CSV (there are some limitations there, FYI) or use a third party app to conduct the translation for you.
Using a CSV
This is a DIY approach that, to some degree, can offer more accuracy in the translation (but takes more time and effort to do.) The quick and dirty method is to use a tool like Google Translate or Deepl to manually generate machine-translated text in your selected language. Load up whatever it spits out into a CSV and upload.
The downside is quality. While the accuracy of machine translations has improved a lot in recent years, it hasn’t reached 100%. Some languages, such as Turkish, are particularly hard to translate for any software.
Another alternative is to hire a human translator to translate all of the copy on your site, and input that into a CSV for upload. Platforms like Gengo can help you find native human translators who can communicate in a dialect familiar to your target audience.
Since manual translations are expensive, you’ll need to prioritize the content that you want to be translated. The text you should translate first includes:
- The pages with the highest traffic
- The pages with your featured products
- Legal terms and policies
- Shipping, returns, and other policies
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to translate important email notifications such as order confirmations, receipts, abandoned cart reminders, order tracking, and so on.
Using an App
Plugging in an auto-translate app is certainly the faster option, but potentially leaves room for error in linguistics since there is little to no customization available. In most cases, however, they’re sufficient.
Whichever method you decide on, once you’ve activated your chosen translation app or imported your CSV, you can enable your target language in the Shopify admin dashboard by going to Settings > Store Languages > Add Language.
Let Buyers Shop in Their Local Currency
Considering that 76% of shoppers actively seek out websites that display pricing in their native currency, it stands to reason that your odds of capturing sales from an international audience are significantly higher if your store can...do that.
To customize your store to support various currencies, go to Settings > Payments. Click Manage, then Add Currency and select the region for which you’d like to display the alternative currency. Voila! Customers can now view prices* in their local coinage.
*Prices are calculated and generated automatically based on your base price and the real-time foreign exchange (FX) rate.
NOTE: As mentioned above, Shopify will not support a multi-currency store unless you’re using Shopify Payments. If you don’t have Shopify Payments enabled, you’ll need to set it up first.
Set Up International Shipping
It doesn’t do much good to display your site’s content in French and currency in EUR if people in France can’t actually get your products.
To set up international shipping, you’ll need to create a series of shipping zones, each equipped with their own rates. If you’re already selling and shipping, you already have at least one Profile, and you can simply add international shipping zones to that same profile by clicking Create Shipping Zone.
However, you may want to create a new Profile if you plan to only offer certain products for international shipping, for example. To set up profiles in the Shopify Admin, go to Settings > Shipping and Delivery > Create New Profile. From there, you’ll be able to give your profile a name, add products, and set a shipping zone with the appropriate rates.
Some Things to Consider About International Shipping
Shipping to another country can be expensive, and considering that 49% of shoppers abandon carts due to high extra costs (such as shipping), simply passing off that expense to your customers isn’t necessarily going to work.
What’s a merchant to do?
There’s no one-size-fits-all sorcery that’ll soften the financial blow of shipping internationally, but there are a few things you can do to mitigate extra costs and create a frictionless experience for your customers along the way:
Be mindful of taxes and other legal obligations
Don’t enter the global game without conducting proper research on your financial and legal responsibilities in each region to which you’re selling.
For example: in the UK, any products worth less than £135 require you to collect VAT (value-added tax) from the customer and remit the same to the UK government. If you fail to collect that VAT, the products may be rejected in transit or at customs, resulting in more cost to you to re-ship the item(s) and inconvenience to the customer who is eagerly awaiting their merchandise.
(Psst! If you need help with international taxes--or any taxes at all--Avalara is a badass solution.)
Pick your logistics partners wisely
Evaluate rates and options provided by your selected shipping carrier (or carriers) and think about which provides the best mix of cost effectiveness and delivery lead time for the products you sell.
Clearly state available delivery times and associated prices
Not only do consumers value transparency, but it’s also in your best interest to manage their expectations to avoid disappointment or frustration. Instead of hiding longer delivery times or shipping fees, display them openly on your website--and make sure they’re accurate. Making promises and keeping them is the easiest way to establish trust and build loyalty to your brand.
Manage your messaging
Some customers are just always going to be pissed off by high shipping costs, even if they theoretically understand why it has to be that way. Those people you’ll never be able to please, because they’ll always demand Amazon-like speed even from small businesses.
That said, it’s worth the effort to add a bit of personal messaging to your international customers that might help them make more sense of what they’re seeing at checkout.
For example, Wicked Edge’s Shipping Policy page explains that some shipping fees are quite hefty due to the weight of their products. Since customers are buying online, they don’t have the opportunity to pick things up and understand how heavy some of these items are.
Putting it into perspective can help with shipping sticker shock.
You don’t necessarily need a whole separate page, though. A simple message on the cart page may be all you need:
“Thanks so much for shopping with us and supporting a small business! Our warehouse is located in Germany, so please check estimated ship times at checkout to know when your goods are expected to arrive. We appreciate your patronage!”
You’ve enabled your store to support international languages, currencies, and shipping. Now, to create the most seamless experience possible for your customers, you’ll want to make sure your site can identify which language, currency, and shipping options a shopper will want to see. Enter: Shopify’s Geolocation app.
Once installed, the Geolocation app will identify where a visitor is located using their IP address. If the tracked location corresponds to one of your chosen regions, that visitor will be directed to either the subdomain you’ve set up for that country or the version of your top-level domain that shows their native currency, language, and shipping options.
Shopify’s native app is not without its complaints, however, so make sure to stack it up against other “internationalization” competitors in the Shopify App Store.
Bring Me the Horizon
Selling internationally isn’t a walk in the park, but the opportunity is worth tackling the challenges. Do your research, dedicate the proper resources, and stay transparent with your customers; you’ll be successfully setting sail for new horizons in no time!