The basics of global ecommerce

Large and lucrative, with the chance for low-cost distribution, global markets are tempting bait for ecommerce businesses. Even though success seems to dangle there for the taking, it’s hard to know where to start, what to focus on first and how to ensure your internationalization strategy works.

As a wise man once said, “Let’s start at the beginning”—with the basics.

You need a strong leader

The international branch of your expanding company will need to operate much like a new business, and it will need all the pieces of the startup puzzle: funding, purpose and a leader. One accountable leader, with the power to make decisions and iterate based on results, can make the difference between success and failure from afar. Who is the right person for the job? While we can’t headhunt for you, here are four characteristics we believe are helpful:

  1. They’ve worked or lived overseas
  2. They have experience launching new products and/or new companies
  3. They have worked on a test-as-you-go basis
  4. They are adaptable, scrappy and used to working with limited resources

This isn’t a position for the faint of heart.

You need a strategy

Going global is a risky endeavor, but those risks can be managed and mitigated with the right strategy. Your guiding principle should be to research and plan first, test second and grow based on the results. Essentially, this is the “startup attitude.” Things can and will go wrong, and plans will need to change accordingly, but that can all be part of your overarching strategy.

One way to begin refining your global strategy is to translate and optimize a product page, or even a simplified version of your product, to begin testing what works and what doesn’t. The goal is to learn as quickly as possible while making a minimal investment.

You need to go lean

Lean, sustainable growth is based on a pattern of low-risk testing and iteration that keeps costs low while maintaining high flexibility. Listening to feedback is essential as you optimize and grow. But the most important part of lean growth is to go slowly and methodically.

Airbnb is one of the most successful startups to claim a truly lean beginning. Founders Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia failed on their first attempt to rent rooms out for a 2007 San Francisco design convention, but kept trying different tactics to convince people to let strangers stay in their homes. Two years later, they had gained some traction, but not as much as they wanted. So they traveled to their most popular destination, New York City, to interview their most successful Airbnb hosts.

Based on what they learned, they sent changes back to their San Francisco headquarters to make each place look more professional and appealing. In short, they made the idea of staying in a stranger’s home look respectable, safe and stylish—and all because they tested, listened and iterated.

You need the right goals

Set appropriate, realistic benchmarks for each growth stage. Many entrepreneurs and CEOs make the mistake of setting goals that are too big with the intention to inspire—but the opposite is the case. Setting reasonable, achievable goals based on existing data is far more satisfying and keeps energy and momentum high. You may want to monitor the average numbers of your local market to ensure your expectations are in line with your new location.

Is your ecommerce company ready to move past the basics into the nitty gritty of globalization? Learn how to choose your target markets, how to approach ecommerce content translation and how to structure your international website with our free download, Going Global: Ecommerce Best Practices.


Lauren Van Mullem

The author

Lauren Van Mullem

Lauren assists in content production for Gengo's marketing team. As a former food and travel writer, she has experience communicating with all kinds of people from around the world and believes in celebrating different cultures through understanding them.

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