How to reach international customers online

In November 2015 Open to Export hosted the ‘How to reach international customers online’ webinar with Sarah Carroll (Grow Global) speaking and answering questions.

The major talking points

The key takeaways from the webinar were the following:

  • English is not the only language online with 705 million Chinese speakers using the internet, and 245 Spanish. In many countries, including France for example, native speakers are a lot less likely to make a purchase from an English language website, so translation is a must if you are hoping to export to some countries
  • 70% of online searches are not in English so be aware of the potential need to have an SEO strategy which covers multiple languages.
  • Different countries have different online attitudes. There are more people purchasing items using their mobile phones in Japan and China than in the UK, for example. And remember that different international cultural attitudes are found online as well as in real life. Make sure to tailor your online marketing for the country you’re selling to.
  • Consider the different international marketplaces. In China Alibaba is by far the biggest marketplace, for example, but you might want to consider Mercado Libre if you’re selling to South America.
  • Consider s-commerce in your future sales strategy. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest now are developing their online shops and these could be a great means for connecting with new paying customers going forwards.
  • The world is going mobile with 40% of e-commerce transactions now taking place on mobiles. Already in Japan and South Korea this is over 50%. Make sure your website is mobile friendly!

You can read articles with further information and guidance for reaching international customers throughout our Reaching Customers section.

You can watch the video of the webinar below, and check out our Recent Webinars page to access all the Open to Export webinars giving practical guidance and answers to all your exporting concerns.

Questions and Answers

As usual, attendees gave some excellent questions to which the two experts gave informative answers. Here are the questions and the answers given to them (with the time they are addressed in brackets):
What advice would you give for understanding local online cultures per country? (33:00)
Get your website structured for international sales and over time localise and customise it per country. It’s always great to have a contact or someone on your team from the country you’re selling to. Also intercultural studies is a good thing to look into.
How can social media be used to generate buzz online to reach new customers? (34:14)
You need to have someone who speaks the language and understands the culture for this to work – you need to know the appropriate tone. Also understand why you’re trying to do it – is it for brand or is it more direct sales opportunity?
Do you have any tips for disentangling personal and business accounts? (35:42)
Advice is to keep them separate and attach to your personal ones a professional page profile.
What is the opportunity on LinkedIn for exporters? (36:40)
It’s brilliant for identifying clients or potential distributors. People do respond well on LinkedIn – more so than replying to unsolicited emails, so it’s good for lead generation.
Where do you start working in another language? (38:07)
People usually start using things like Google translate, which might work for something easy like selling a blue jumper, but it’s crucial to get the translation done professionally. Translation mishaps are easily done, so it’s worth doing it properly. Also, make sure you write good English to begin with – English that can be translated more easily and understood internationally.
Do you think consumers in the Middle East search for products online as we do in the UK? (40:10)
They don’t purchase as much yet but they are avid social media users. If selling there do put your product information up in English and Arabic as people do like to search in Arabic over there.
What is the opportunity in Africa online? (41:12)
There are millions of customers over there. They’re very advanced in their mobile banking, and it’s growing as an online customer base and it’s a great opportunity to get a foothold before local competitors or competitors from all around the world get in there.
How do you work around the ‘Great Firewall of China’? (42:34)
The advice is always if you’re selling into China, host your website within China and have it in Chinese. Note though that many maybe in China prefer to buy in online e-marketplaces, so do you need a website there or to sell through one of these e-marketplaces?
How do you get around the restrictions of having domains in different countries? (44:37)
Go to an international domain registration company – findable on Google. These sites will tell you the restrictions per country. Registries in each country has its own rules and regulations. You can find trustees in each country you can buy for a small amount in order to have an address and therefore a domain in each country.
Is there any practical help via agencies for setting up websites for international trade? (46:52)
There are hundreds of web agencies out there though not all of them do international websites. Ask for case studies of their previous international case studies as a way of checking them out.
Is it acceptable to have a US English site or is it ok to have one that does both? (49:20)
Advice is to have both so you can have better visibility in the USA (via .com rather than and also Americanism are worth adapting to – i.e. pants and trousers.

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