Going global is no longer a nice-to-have for online merchants; it really is a must for those who hope to grow their brand and remain competitive in the eCommerce space. As is so often the case, merchants must follow their customers’ lead – and customers are buying what they want from whatever merchants are offering those products, regardless of where those businesses are based.
Albert Drouart, director, international at Braintree isn’t going to pretend the task is easy – but, he said, it’s a lot easier than most merchants think.
“I’m always dismayed by the unnecessary complexity,” Drouart remarked in a recent discussion with Karen Webster. “Merchants see a bigger challenge than it actually is. I always tell them, ‘You can get started! You have the data to start selling in other countries.’ They don’t need to get an entity to start selling their goods across borders.”
Drouart said the key is to approach cross-border expansion from the right angle, to take small bites of growth instead of trying to do it all at once, and to sequence moves strategically. Working smarter, not harder, is the name of the game.
He said it is also important to work backwards from the consumer. Different countries mean different cultures and different expectations. Drouart advised meeting customers where they are and helping them get over the hump of buying internationally by reducing friction as much as possible.
This, he added, can be done (or merchants can at least start the process) using tools they already have in place, rather than spending big bucks on studies or consultants to point them in the right direction.
Another helpful tool? The X-Border Payments Optimization 2017 Index by PYMNTS and Braintree, which highlights some of the trends and offers insights into what top performers are doing differently to succeed in markets both close to and far from home.
Why Go Global?
In a large market like the U.S., it may not be immediately obvious that businesses should be thinking global, said Drouart. Perhaps that’s why the Index showed an average cross-border readiness score of only 58.1 out of 100.
Still, believe it or not, that’s positive movement – to the tune of about three points per year, since PYMNTS and Braintree initiated the quarterly study. The number of accepted payment methods is increasing, and the number of clicks and pages to checkout is decreasing.
“The value of simplicity and experience has become more known,” Drouart explained. “Merchants are realizing that the complexity of a traditional eCommerce site doesn’t work on mobile. The same powerful things are true everywhere in the world: You need to create great experiences, and you need to allow people to pay.”
Conversely, Drouart said, smaller markets can get tapped more quickly than larger ones, leading consumers to explore beyond their local markets into regional and then international ones. That is why a shrewd merchant must be prepared to serve customers from anywhere, he said. They will come whether merchants are ready or not.
More Isn’t Always Better
When it comes to language and currencies, said Drouart, one must discard the conventional wisdom that more is better. Merchants who try to do it all will overwhelm themselves, and often their customers, too.
Instead, Drouart said merchants should consider how they can target the 80 or 90 percent of buyers who transact in a certain language or currency, and aim to serve that majority first. From there, he said, it’s always possible to add more complexity for incremental gains, whereas starting out with too much can leave businesses with problems they don’t know how (or don’t have the resources) to solve.
Drouart’s advice? Start with currencies. This element, he said, can drive double-digit conversion changes. It drives comfort, he explained, enabling buyers to frame the purchase within their own mind.
While it is true that supporting multiple languages also drives comfort, Drouart noted it comes with the side effect of new complexities in customer service and experience. If customers cannot easily handle refunds and returns, then they create a poor experience and sacrifice repeat customers.
Currency Before Language
Drouart gave the example of a business that is doing well selling in the U.S., with English as its primary language. If that business has an opportunity to expand to Europe, English will continue to serve it well. As Drouart said, adding French, German, Dutch and Spanish is a nice-to-have, but not a necessity.
Instead, adding currencies can reduce the burden of buyers asking, “What am I really paying?” to keep them in the flow of completing the purchase. Having to do exchange rate math on their own, he said, slows customers down and creates a distraction that can prevent them from following through on the transaction.
The reality is, the three major types of payments that merchants must accept are still Visa, Mastercard and PayPal. Not only are these used by the top-performing merchants, but they are often the only payment methods accepted by top-performing merchants, according to the Index.
“It’s all about creating a good experience in which everything works,” Drouart said. If it doesn’t work right, more is decidedly worse.
First Things First
When contemplating international growth, it can be hard to know where to begin. Drouart addressed why adding as many languages as possible isn’t the best strategy.
On top of that, rewards programs, which many merchants seem to see as the mechanic that will catapult them to success, don’t always deliver what the brand was hoping for – though that doesn’t mean introducing rewards is a bad idea. It just isn’t a direct path to success.
Where to begin, then?
The answers are in the data, said Drouart. There’s no reason merchants must start the cross-border journey with an expensive study or by hiring an outside consultant. Browsing data shows shoppers’ origin countries, for instance. That data represents a lead that’s just waiting to be optimized, he said.
If a lot of web traffic is coming from China, Drouart said, maybe it makes sense to add another accepted payment method, such as Alipay. If the customer base is focused in South America, adding Alipay won’t do the merchant much good and will only add complexity to the management process.
Another best practice that has become table stakes is having a mobile-optimized site. Mobile, said Drouart, is past the novelty stage; it is just the way things are done now. Mobile has brought eCommerce to developing countries and economies in a way that desktop computers could not.
Therefore, there is no excuse for skipping the mobile-friendly site. Not having one is bad for customers, bad for search engine optimization and ultimately bad for business.
Finally, Drouart said to think of the customer and his or her local buying experiences. If a foreign merchant decided it wanted to sell in the U.S. but then requested the customer’s state, city and province in the same field, that would create confusion for buyers and could drive them away.
“Frictionless,” said Drouart, simply means thinking about the strategy holistically and considering the whole experience from the customer’s perspective, end to end – and removing any possible obstacles on the path to purchase.