Selecting the right eCommerce platform is one of the most important decisions to make once you have analyzed the market, your team’s potential, and other factors described in chapter one. The platform can be an enabler or blocker. It can either speed up the time to market or add a lot of customization work to achieve your business goals.
This Discovery Checklist will help map all sets of requirements that may apply to your business. It’s a compass to help navigate between different eCommerce platforms and their internationalization/multi-site features.
Multiple websites / Multiple domains possibilities
This reasonably basic feature is also the most important if your company is going to run an international eCommerce. The platform must allow you to add many domains (eg. national domains like .com, .co.uk, .nl, etc.) and configure a website under each of those domains. It is best if you can then manage all those websites easily from one place including:
- Running a different set of functionalities on each website
- Having a different functionality configuration on each website
Many eCommerce applications allow you to do this (Magento 2, Shopware 6, Commercetools, Spryker), but there are also some that completely miss this functionality. Others are over-simplified, which means that you need to establish, configure, and maintain many single instances (one for each domain) or that changing the configuration for one language version of your eCommerce affects all other versions installed. Top solutions use the hierarchy of instances, stores, and domain websites which allows administrators to inherit settings. For example, if a template is selected on the instance level and not changed on the store/domain level, then all websites use the same template automatically as it is inherited from top-level settings. Later, if a new website is added, its settings are inherited by default and then can be replaced within the administration panel.
Rolling out to a new country (or countries) is often linked to translation issues. Although all popular eCommerce platforms are available in English, you might find it difficult to find language packs (set of translations) for Asia or Africa. When selecting an eCommerce platform, it is advised to check if all essential translations are available out-of-the-box; if not, you will face a long and translation process—and one which is prone to human error—before rollout go-live. The more popular an eCommerce platform is, the more translations will be ready. Magento and Shopware are probably the platforms with a lot of translations available for both backend and frontend standard (core) functionalities.
Depending on your company structure, many different approaches to the administration panel users and their permissions may be needed. The point is to have the option of recreating the responsibilities by giving permissions and granting different levels of access to the users who will manage your eCommerce. For example, if the HQ will be responsible for creating all the content—no matter in which language version of your website it will be published—then you don’t need special permissions per website for content editors. However, if there is a dedicated team from a unit abroad that will manage the content in their own language, then you should provide them with a set of permissions limited to their language version only.
Sooner or later, you’ll need different functionalities for different markets. Sometimes all you need to do is slightly change your eCommerce platform configuration but—as your business grows and your customers expect service quality to increase—core platform functionalities will eventually not be enough and some custom development or plugin installation will be required. It is good to have a wide range of extensions to choose from, especially for payment and delivery methods as those differ a lot in each region of the world. When selecting an eCommerce solution for international business, two factors should be taken into consideration:
- module availability
- module translations
Some solutions come with a library of extensions to download and install called marketplaces. Magento and Shopware have the largest number of extensions available. Magento and Shopware extensions are often translated into the most popular languages: Spanish, German, and French translations are quite common but some modules will need a translation and for some languages, and hardly any module will be translated out-of-the-box.
Remember that if there is no marketplace or free modules available to download, you will have to develop them in-house or outsource the task of creating each required extension. Selecting a platform like commercetools or Spryker, which don’t have a large library of modules, may result in a rise in cost for each future rollout.
Multiple warehouses for stock management
If your company runs multiple warehouses across the globe and you plan all of them to send products sold via eCommerce, you should select an eCommerce platform that allows you to do that easily. Magento 2 MSI (Multi-store Inventory) is a great example of how it should work. By keeping the stock of each warehouse in the eCommerce platform database, eCommerce operators and helpdesk staff can check stock in many warehouses at once; customers can have their order delivered from the nearest warehouse or delivery time can be recalculated if the nearest warehouse does not have all the selected products available. Multi-warehouse functionality allows you to also connect online and offline sales by keeping the stock of stationery shops in the eCommerce platform. Your customer can check the availability of certain products in the nearest shop and either uses the pick-up-in-store option or just visit the point of sale directly. This option is particularly useful for fashion and furniture retailers.
commercetools use channels to manage both stocks and prices in multiple warehouses. For example, inventory may have a connection to the supply channel which describes from which supplier the stock comes from. Price may also have a connection to the channel. In this case, you can save pricing information of inventory that comes from a specific channel in the system.
Spryker approaches the multi-warehouse issue from a product perspective: each product can have multiple stocks and each of them represents a different warehouse. In this case, it is easy to compare the stock levels of numerous products in various warehouses or virtually ‘move’ inventory from one warehouse to another.
Prices (currency, recalculation, differing prices by country)
If your company is going to sell the same product in numerous countries but with different margins, your eCommerce platform should be made ready for that—especially if you’ve already got different prices for the same product in your ERP as a result of company politics or exchange rates. If the application allows you to sell in many currencies, it will also have some kind of mechanism to recalculate prices. It can be either ‘manual’, allowing the user to set up exchange rates for the default currency and other available currencies in the administration panel, or an automatic system which integrates the eCommerce platform with ERP or a currency exchange service like fixer.io to update exchange rates on a daily basis.
Tax calculation and recalculation tools availability
International tax rules are one of the most difficult topics in global eCommerce. The differences between countries are huge and, if you are selling your products in many different regions—such as the EU, US, and Southern Asia—it may be hard to keep all the taxation rules up to date. Fortunately, some of the most popular eCommerce engines (including Magento, Prestashop, and Woocommerce) can be integrated with dedicated services that will help you with keeping proper tax values. Avalara and Vertex are examples of such services you may be able to use, and you can read more about them later in this eBook. If you are currently selecting an eCommerce platform and are not sure of how to configure taxes before starting a rollout, make sure your chosen platform can be easily integrated with automatic tax updater.
Offering different products in different countries
When running your online store, some products may only be available in their country of origin, or perhaps you have a line of products dedicated to Asian customers only. The eCommerce platform should allow you to easily define a set of products that will be sold on each market. This feature can be found in all modern eCommerce solutions where each country can be treated as a different sales channel and products are configured accordingly. If your company is using some dedicated or less contemporary eCommerce solution, it is advised to check this feature before rolling out.
Product data translation
If you are going to roll out to a country with a different language to that of your default product descriptions, you need to think about translating information for local users. Your eCommerce platform should let you edit product descriptions for each sales channel separately; however, you need to also translate technical parameters or product attributes such as the names of colors, sizes, and so on. Translation also means adapting to the needs of the local market by changing measurements to those used in the specific country. For example, when rolling out from European Union country to the UK or US, you should change product lengths from centimeters to inches and weights from kilograms to pounds in most cases.
Different assets (images, video, attachments) for different languages
In some cases, you may need to display some media on the product page and it is ideal if such materials are calibrated to the audience. If your product page contains a video in French and you roll out to the United States, it would be great to produce an English version. A similar situation should occur with any documents attached to the product page (instructions, certificates, etc.). Be sure that your eCommerce platform allows you to modify files attached to the product for each sales channel. For some file types (images, video) this feature is available out-of-the-box in more complex solutions like Magento, Spryker, and commercetools. Other assets, such as certificates or 3D models, may need an external module or some custom development. If there are a lot of assets and managing them for many different channels is a huge task, you should probably check one of the PIM (Product Information Management) solutions available on the market, like Pimcore or Akeneo. These will help with product management and can be integrated with eCommerce systems to publish products for sale.
Product premieres – getting products ready for publication and dealing with timezone issues
As a producer or a reseller, you may face the issue of a product premiere which is set to a certain date and time. Your eCommerce should be capable of dealing with this. Instead of asking the eCommerce manager to wait until midnight to activate the product page, you can use a scheduler that will activate one or more products on a certain date, as well as deactivating some products when necessary. This change should take place automatically and the local time of each sales channel (domain) should be used to calculate the right hour of the premiere. This functionality can be essential as big brands need to ensure that long-awaited products are not published sooner than the official premiere time and date announced. If you are selling electronics, this is something you should look for when selecting an eCommerce platform. Check Magento 2 and commercetools for insights (you can also use product price scheduler to achieve the same effect in Spryker or use PIM functionalities if you have one.).
One of the key factors when selecting an eCommerce platform is the target group. Some functionalities that are crucial for B2B customers and the majority of applications don’t offer them out-of-the-box. If you are going to sell products to other companies, you should, therefore, select an eCommerce that offers dedicated B2B features or at least allows you to install some modules to cover these requirements. Magento 2 Commerce and Salesforce offer a lot of those features while other applications may need additional modules or custom development to fulfill the needs of B2B customers.
Some essential functionalities your company may need in B2B eCommerce are:
- Sales representatives
- A user account with company structure
- Credit limit as a payment option
- Postponed payments
Groups and segments
Every eCommerce platform offers grouping customers manually but, when running international eCommerce, you will probably be interested in some kind of automation. Although automatic segmentation is often a part of CRM systems, eCommerce platforms can perform it as well. Salesforce can be configured to do it without any additional modules or development, though other platforms will need a module to achieve this. Otherwise, if you have a CRM that assigns customers to groups/segments, it can be integrated with eCommerce to reflect the assignments of customers. If segmentation rules can be set up differently for each market, it is more likely to gain loyal and satisfied customers. For example, let’s say there are 3 customer groups: bronze, silver, and gold. Customers in the bronze group receive no additional discounts; silver customers get 2% off of all the newest products; gold customers receive a 5% discount on the newest products. To move from bronze to silver, customers must spend a cumulative total of 250 EUR on all orders. By spending a total of 1000 EUR, they become gold customers. Now let’s imagine the company is going to roll out to a new market where both earnings and prices are slightly lower. What is more, the brand is not yet popular in the new territory, so the company wants to lower the limits for each group. The rules for the bronze, silver, and gold levels will be different in this new channel of sales and eCommerce platform should be ready to accommodate this.
A similar situation can be faced when using loyalty points. Adjusting points giveaway to the specific market needs can boost your sales and build customer loyalty faster in a new country or region.
Remember that rolling out to EU countries requires adjusting your e-store to GDPR requirements. This involves the need to develop or install modules that allow, for example, the deletion of customer accounts. For popular eCommerce engines like Magento, Shopware, Shopify, or Salesforce, you will find ready-made modules that you just need to install and configure. Other platforms, such as commercetools, will require development to fully adapt to the requirements of European Union law.
Availability of delivery methods/plugins
As mentioned before, delivery methods may also differ, so check if the logistics companies you want to cooperate with provide an extension for your eCommerce platform. If not, you can develop one but this will take more time and involvement from developers. National postal services are a good example. In each country, integration with the local postal service is different and not all of them provide an API that can be used to transfer data to and from the eCommerce platform.
Delivery cost calculation
This aspect varies a lot depending on the country you are delivering to. The bigger the country, the more complicated it gets. For example, the cost of delivery in European countries is usually a flat rate or changes when the parcel weight or length exceeds the standard according to the table rates provided by a logistics company. Also, international delivery is calculated using table rates and those cases can be managed in every modern eCommerce platform; however, when it comes to calculating the cost of delivery by location (distance from the warehouse to the recipient), only a few engines can do it without extensions. Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify, and Salesforce give you this possibility as a standard feature. The calculation is based on postal codes and works best in the United States but can be adjusted if you need to use it, for example, in Australia.
Availability of payment methods/plugins
The availability of payment delivery extensions is important when starting sales on a new market. Some payment providers can be perceived as global (PayPal, Amazon Pay) but, after further investigation, it occurs that people in some regions or countries are used to more local payment methods and may abandon a cart if those are not available at the checkout. Before a rollout, check what payment gateways you should provide and if your eCommerce platform has a plugin to integrate with them. Again, those platforms with the greatest popularity (and largest extensions marketplace) will give you some advantage as you can use something that is already developed.
Running multiple warehouses or selling in a dropshipping model often leads to concern about how to deal with complex orders comprising items from different warehouses to be delivered to one customer. That is why you should give your customers the possibility to split their orders at the checkout, so they can receive part of their order immediately and wait for other goods to be delivered later. This may be an issue if you want to offer a whole range of goods after rollout in your new location but only the HQ warehouse in your native country is stocked with every item you sell. Another advantage of splitting orders is that you can allow your customers to select more than one delivery address, which is very useful in some B2B cases (particularly the construction industry, delivery of office supplies, etc.). Magento 2 Commerce offers this functionality natively but you can also extend other platforms to offer order splitting.
According to ERP integration, two main scenarios should be taken into consideration when rolling out and aiming for a global eCommerce. Your company can have one ERP with one database which will gather orders from every country and every eCommerce channel—so you only need one integration—or you may have a separate ERP in each country, meaning you will need to integrate multiple times. Every integration extends the time to market and may raise the cost of each rollout. More ERPs also means more API calls, so your eCommerce may need a queue to stack packets of information for later processing; in such cases, you should select a platform that has a queue manager implemented. Magento 2 and OroCommerce Enterprise use Rabbit MQ natively. You can implement it in Salesforce or Shopify with a third-party integrator but, if you are using a different platform, you should investigate this possibility before rollout.
Basically, there are two possibilities to provide invoices to customers. One is the generation of invoices via ERP and providing the customer with access to the invoice (via an eCommerce account or as an email attachment); another is generating invoices within the eCommerce itself. In both cases, you should take care of the elements that are placed on the invoice as those are dictated by local law. Depending on the country of rollout, invoices might need to be slightly different; if those are generated in the eCommerce system, then it can be generated differently depending on the recipient’s country. In most cases, this will require some custom development to adjust invoices to local legislation.
This usually covers administration panel users and their roles. When running an eCommerce, you’re either managing orders inside the eCommerce platform itself or exporting them to the ERP for further processing. If you decide to implement the process of order management in the eCommerce administration panel, there will probably be a group of panel users that will take care of orders; therefore, if you are running a global business, only orders from the country for which each of these people is individually responsible should be visible to them. Most eCommerce platforms allow you to assign permissions to sales channels but it is worth checking how this feature works in your case before rollout. A similar test should be run for returns management if you use eCommerce for this process.
Marketing and promotions
Dedicated promotions for users from different countries
Just like products and loyalty points, promotions should be run differently in each country. Although your company will sometimes run a global marketing action and apply the same rules to every market, it is more likely that there will be some changes in the set of products, pricing levels or group of customers that the promotion is set for, so be sure that your eCommerce allows you to configure promotions for each market separately.
Promotion scheduler and timezones issue
The time that promotion starts and the moment it ends should be set for each country separately. It is ideal when you can use a promotion scheduler with time zones included. As described in the premieres section, you may want to start your promotion exactly on the 1st of December but that day starts at a different moment in Berlin to New York, for example. Starting a campaign is often associated with a newsletter/SMS campaign and special content publication; be sure all of those events can be scheduled together.
Content translations (multi-language content)
As with the products section, your content pages should be translated and distributed to various sales channels (domains). It is a good idea to use some kind of advanced editor (a built-in page creator or external, headless CMS, if possible)
Content edition and publication workflows in a multisite environment
If your company needs to cover a process of creating, editing, reviewing, and accepting content, then the tool you use should also have those features. You may be interested in headless CMS solutions like Prismic, Contentstack, and Storyblock. All of them use API to deliver content to your eCommerce and some (like Contentstack and Prismic) can also fetch products from your eCommerce to use as a part of the content.
Publication scheduler and timezones issue
As mentioned before, if you want to go global, a publication scheduler with timezone selection will make your work more pleasant and it will be easier to control a large amount of CMS pages at once.
The hreflang attribute in the website head section tells Google which language you are using on a specific page, so the search engine can serve that result to users searching in that language. Hreflangs—together with alternate images, descriptions, and “alt’s”—will help you to reach better results in SERPs. Each eCommerce engine has it’s SEO settings in its standard version, which can be extended with additional modules. When going global, make sure you can serve different SEO content in each language and monitor your position in local search engines.
Avoiding duplicate content
Remember to avoid duplicate content. For example, if you have your product description ready in English and it is already published, you should not use it as a “default” description for other language versions of your e-shop. It is always better to translate the description to another language and then publish it. If that’s not possible, use canonical tags; this is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Using the canonical tag prevents problems caused by identical content appearing on multiple URLs.
The habits of local customers directly affect the conversion of your store. Therefore, it is worth ensuring proper user experience and introducing UX and UI modification for each language version. Modern eCommerce engines allow content to be served using dedicated frontends. The ideal solution (also in terms of optimization) will be the use of a PWA.
Multi-frontend and PWA possibilities
Progressive Web Applications are still websites but they look and feel like an app, thanks to modern web technology. PWA front ends are usually headless so you can use multiple eCommerce engines to serve data to customers if needed. If your company uses different eCommerce engines in different countries, then a headless PWA frontend is worth considering. You can also run multiple frontends that are different for each country or region. All you need is an eCommerce engine with a powerful API. For large stores with a lot of dedicated functionalities, commercetools is a perfect solution. If your eCommerce is rather simple but you want to start quickly, check out Shopware 6 with a Vue storefront PWA. You can also use Magento 2 with Vue Storefront or PWA Studio if you want to start with something simple and add more functionalities in the future.
Wonect.com is a multinational eCommerce marketplace, based on Vue Storefront, which handles more than 20 different language/currency pairings.
Analyzing various aspects of eCommerce in terms of global rollouts, it is easy to see that—in order to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction and conversion—you need to make modifications per country. This, in turn, can lead to the development of a very complex application with lots of functionalities, each of which will need to be maintained and developed in the future. Microservice solutions are a great help in this case. Delegating different functionalities to separate systems ensures better scalability, easier maintenance, and greater system security. If your goal is to build a global eCommerce business with branches around the world and numerous sales channels, then your company should consider building an entire system of connected applications. A modern eCommerce engine with a headless PWA front connected to ERP responsible for the implementation and invoicing of orders; a PIM system for managing product data, photos, translations, etc.; a CRM system; a marketing automation tool; and headless CMS solutions to manage the content of many websites in different time zones from one place.
Published July 27, 2020