Expanding your Online Shop Overseas for New E-commerce Merchants (part 1)

First up: how to identify potential customers and pick the best sites.

This article is part 1 in a series on expanding your e-commerce store internationally.

The idea of expanding your online store overseas for the first time is exciting and challenging. While treading into unfamiliar territory can seem daunting, the chance to sell more, expand your customer base, and scale your business can be well worth the risk.

Like any huge undertaking, expansion will take time and it’s best not to expect immediate results. To sum it up, here are the 4 steps you’ll need to follow to make your first international expansion.

  1. Focus on expanding into one market at a time
  2. List your products in the right places
  3. Market your products to shoppers
  4. Provide a great shipping experience

Even though you may have seen some of these steps before, it doesn’t hurt to be systematic and thorough when planning your overseas expansion. Unexpected issues could crop up during the process, so it is best to have a guideline to fall back on.

In this part, we’ll focus on the first two steps: expanding into a new market and listing your products in the right places.

Step 1: Focus on expanding into one market at a time

If this is going to be your first time expanding overseas, allowing your business to carefully focus on one new market at a time can help make your entrance an impactful one. This can be done by carefully researching your target market, buyer’s personas, and the popular product categories of the market.

Find out who you’re selling to

One of the many ways to get to know your new market better is by identifying your potential customers.

To do this, you may want to look into researching e-commerce data and creating a persona to market your products to. The personas will act as a guideline to tailor your products, pricing, and marketing campaigns to potential customers.

To research about your target market, you should look for answers to these questions:

  • What is their age group, gender, and income level?
  • What products are they buying and their shopping behaviour?
  • Where do they live? Is it an urban metropolitan, second-tier city, or a rural village?
  • What are their interests and lifestyles?
  • What motivates them to buy online?
  • What or who influences their buying decisions? Are there any specific needs or wants you’re able to meet?
  • Which platforms do they use for online shopping?

These questions will form the basis of your buyer’s persona, which will reflect the behaviours of your potential customers.

You may end up with multiple personas if your products can serve different buyer needs. As an example, if you are shipping clothing items from Singapore to Indonesia, Buyer A may be a trendsetter who wants to wear Singaporean brands, whereas Buyer B shops from you because the deals or bundles are attractive.

To look for data, here are some resources you could check out. While some of their information is paywalled, you can still make use of their free data to inform your business:

  • eMarketer
    This research company covers macro-level analysis of digital trends. These topics include e-commerce and retail, and they have a global presence. However, more detailed data will require you to purchase a report.
  • Statista
    Statista also provides data on market research globally and includes the e-commerce industry within their areas of research. Their free content covers macroeconomic levels of data, whereas their detailed reports are available via a premium subscription.
  • eCommerceIQ
    This market research company specialises in the e-commerce industry’s technology and developments in Southeast Asia, with ample data on individual ASEAN markets that can be accessed for free. Like eMarketer, you can purchase their in-depth reports if you need more information.
  • Austrade
    Being part of the Australian government, this research agency specialises in the APAC region and covers trends in trade including e-commerce. While their publicly available reports help Australian businesses by providing trade information on international markets, these reports can also be used by merchants anywhere, such as this report on Indonesia.

Once you have researched your potential customers and their shopping behaviours, it’s time to list your products on the market’s relevant platforms.

Step 2: Listing your products in the right places

While it is good to know the popular e-commerce sites your target consumers frequent, it’s more important to find the appropriate ones that have suitable product categories that fit your brand and your target demographic.

For instance, in Indonesia, JD.ID carries premium brands, whereas Bukalapak and BliBli cater to the mass market. If marketplaces don’t work for your business, you could take a cue from brand.com stores like Under Armour and how they expand into new markets.

You may also want to consider using social media as a selling platform to provide a more personal touch to your customers’ e-commerce experience. Social commerce is a growing trend for e-commerce merchants in markets like Thailand and Vietnam.

Having a social media account for your e-commerce business is important for some markets in Southeast Asia. It is how some customers discover your brand, interact with it, and then recommend products to their friends. In Thailand, social commerce accounts for more than 40% of online sales for products like electronics, cosmetics, and clothing. This ties back to the importance of knowing your customers’ behaviours during your research phase.

Additionally, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are now offering online shopfront capabilities. Tools like Shopify can also be integrated into your social media account to turn it into an online storefront to capture social commerce shoppers.

Find out and offer the market’s popular payment methods

Southeast Asia is a fast developing area in terms of digitalisation, so it comes as no surprise that each market may start offering e-Wallets as an alternative form of payment.

However, it also helps to offer cash on delivery as it is a prevalent payment option for some markets in Southeast Asia. You will need to find a shipping partner who can facilitate cash on delivery in order to collect your revenue.

Offering multiple payment options will also help your brand win the trust of your potential customers, especially if you are a new player in the market.

Identify popular shopping periods

With a diverse region like Southeast Asia, it comes as no surprise that each country’s cultural traditions and shopping events differ from one country to another. While it is important to do marketing and sales all year round, targeting peak shopping periods can result in increased sales.

As an example, the Lunar New Year season sees a peak period in shopping for some Southeast Asian countries, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. On another note, iPrice’s study on Indonesia’s sales period in 2017 saw huge increases in search interest for e-commerce platforms like Lazada, Tokopedia, Shopee, Bukalapak, and Zalora from 10 am to 1 pm during Harbolnas 12.12, presumably due to the flash sales that the platforms conduct to attract buyers.

By identifying popular shopping periods, you can plan special marketing campaigns around them to hit as many customers as possible.

Research your target market and know where to list your products, you are preparing your business to make an impactful entrance into new territory. Once you have done your research, you will be ready to execute strategies to attract potential customers to your e-commerce store.

In the next 2 parts of this series, we will look into marketing your products to your shoppers and providing a great shipping experience.


Amanda Lim writes for Janio Asia content and bring fresh insights into e-commerce and e-logistics.Her article was published here