How to Prepare for Expansion into Foreign Online Marketplaces

Global ecommerce sales are expected to maintain steady growth for the foreseeable future, which means that international expansion poses a growing opportunity for your brand’s success. But before you take your brand to Alibaba, Amazon’s international domains, and other foreign marketplaces, you need to thoroughly understand the online landscape within your target markets. Each country has different laws for the use of consumer data, regulatory and customs requirements, tariffs, and more, all of which will determine whether international expansion is currently viable or even advisable for your company.

It’s a lot to take in, but preparing your brand for global online expansion can be broken down into three main phases.

 

1) Research your target marketplaces

Study each country’s trade laws to ensure you can protect your brand’s integrity. Risks range anywhere from trademark infringements to simple packaging violations.

Establish your Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

Even if your brand’s IPR (trademarks, patents and copyrights) are protected in the U.S., they are not protected internationally. There are no universal IPR protections, so consider how to protect your brand and inventions before you begin international expansion.

  • File your IPR’s internationally to ensure protection beyond the U.S.
  • Look for conflicting registrations in new foreign markets. In certain countries, IPR is based on first to file rather than first to use. That means another company or an IPR troll could file a trademark or patent for your product, then charge you for the rights.
  • Consult an IPR attorney for legal guidance.

Understand international requirements for product testing, registration, labeling,  packaging and shipping.

While the compliance process takes time, it is critical. Failing to meet product and labeling requirements can result in your product’s removal from a marketplace and destruction by customs, fines, product recalls or even lawsuits for injury or misuse in extreme cases. Product testing, certifications, and the repackaging process have multiple variables, and rules differ by country, even within the EU.

  • Products must be tested and meet individual country standards, labeling laws, and any other outlined requirements. Safety testing rarely transfers across borders.
  • When shipping products internationally, you need to know quantity, where components and products were manufactured, where they’re going and how you’re moving them. Each factor can significantly affect your margins as you navigate foreign laws and tariffs. 

 

2) Create a framework for selling in each market

Once you’ve readied your legal defenses, prepare your brand for sustainable success by addressing the following questions. Is there demand? Do you have the necessary infrastructure? What’s the competition? Who can help you succeed abroad?  

Confirm international product demand and sales and distribution channels.

Think of launching in a new market like you’re launching an entirely new product or brand, and run through the same checklist you did when you launched your brand domestically. Lack of preparation here can result in stagnant sales or inventory, and it’s not always cost-effective to ship inventory back into the U.S. Create a plan in advance to address excess inventory or limited demand.

Identify appropriate strategic partners.

Select strong strategic partners to gain a clear understanding of what’s required to enter and succeed in a specific market or to help manage logistics, marketing, taxes, distribution, and sales.

 

3) Implement marketplace-specific product marketing

Once your brand is protected and well-positioned, you need to create a plan to manage product marketing. Consider your target audience, how you’re going to market to it, international competitors and the budget required to compete in a new marketplace.

Partner with regional influencers to drive local consumers to marketplaces.

Influencer and social media campaigns are an essential step in holistic marketing. Bloggers and social influencers help increase brand awareness and develop brand loyalty. These key individuals can be geographically or linguistically bounded, so identify and partner with influencers native to each foreign market to promote your brand with local consumers. 

Utilize culturally knowledgeable translators to create effective marketing.

Your search terms in English may be effective, but literal translations of those same terms may not carry the same efficacy in foreign marketplaces. Work with proven translation services to generate high-frequency search terms for each marketplace. The best marketers will utilize translators who have cultural knowledge, empowering you to tap into the cultural milieu of each market so your brand can better build rapport and relevance with local consumers.

Taking these steps will prime your brand for a successful launch and sustainable operation in foreign markets. If you do your homework early and establish key connections, you can take your brand and products around the globe.