Back in the times of brick-and-mortar domination, the notion of expanding internationally was exciting, sure — but also wildly intimidating. It wasn’t exactly simple to start selling in other countries. Even the brands that partnered with foreign companies so they wouldn’t need to open overseas branches had plenty of hurdles to overcome. How would taxes work? What about returns? How could they protect their reputations from afar?
Then ecommerce came along, and everything changed. Websites are innately international: with few exceptions, we all have access to the same internet, making it trivial for a modern brand to offer its wares to people around the globe. Factor in the immense improvements to supply chain infrastructure (encompassing things like tracking and automation) and you have a recipe for worldwide retail that even small businesses can follow.
It also helps that software like WooCommerce is available for free. Adding the WooCommerce plugin to an installation of WordPress, the world’s most popular CMS, makes it a breeze to start selling online with the potential to hit it big globally. There’s a difference, though, between being accessible around the world and being successful.
If you’re running a WooCommerce store and you want to expand your brand’s sphere of influence, there are various things you can do to help your site perform well around the world (many of them relying heavily on the rich array of extensions available for WordPress). In this post, we’ll go through some of the most important. Let’s get to them.
Add support for multiple languages
How much of the online world do you actually engage with? Probably not that much, and for good reason: there’s just too much for any one person to experience. We all stick to the sites that meet our key requirements, looking for specific topics, styles, functions, and languages. Can someone who only speaks English pick through a Japanese site with Google Translate if they’re sufficiently motivated? Sure — but it’s hard to see why they would be.
If you want to sell overseas, then, you need to add support for multiple languages. This shouldn’t be too hard, thankfully, though you’ll need to get to grips with a WordPress feature called multisite that allows you to create numerous virtual sites on one installation. This is because the first step in getting multilingual with WooCommerce is downloading translated versions of the WooCommerce plugin. You’ll need one site for each translation.
Past that, you’ll need to get your content translated, which is a little trickier. Thankfully, you can turn to services like Weglot (see above): since it has a plugin that’s WordPress compatible, it’s easy to deploy for a WooCommerce store. Much of the translation process can be automated in this way, with some manual work needed at the end to tidy and correct the results. Do all of that and you’ll be ready to cater to overseas shoppers, and even rank in local searches.
Provide various payment options
Each country has a distinct array of popular payment gateways, and you need to take this into account. If you don’t support a payment method that a shopper wants to use, there’s a decent chance they’ll simply leave instead of opting for an alternative. That means doing some research into national preferences and implementing a suitable selection chosen from the range of integrations currently available for WooCommerce (80 at the time of writing).
In addition to this, you need to cater to different currencies. WooCommerce stores everything in a unifying currency, but that doesn’t mean you need to show that currency to the shopper: using the official Currency Converter Widget (see above) will ensure that all your listed prices are seamlessly converted so the end user only sees their preferred currency. This is to avoid any last-minute issues with mistaken calculations leading to carts being abandoned.
Optimize website performance
How good is your internet connection? That really depends on where you live. Depending on the area, the average internet connection can be fast and stable or slow and unreliable. And when you access the internet for shopping, what type of device do you use? Again, the likely answer depends on where you live. In certain parts of the world, smartphones aren’t accessories that make constant companions: they’re primary internet-access devices.
Your WooCommerce store, then, needs to do more than run well on laptops hooked up to speedy Wi-Fi networks. It needs to be run capably on smartphones (even older smartphones) connected to slow Wi-Fi or mobile data networks. If you fail to take performance into account, it won’t matter how good your products are: people won’t buy from you.
In addition to getting high-performance hosting and using a CDN to ensure prompt global delivery, you should consider investing in a theme like MobileStore for the WPtouch Pro WordPress suite (see above). All modern default themes for ecommerce work alright on mobile screens, but this will ensure an excellent mobile user experience. You want as few barriers as possible between arrival and conversion.
Make content more accessible
Let’s say you have your copy fully translated and provided through a store with fully-optimized performance. Will that allow you to sell effectively throughout the world? Well, not necessarily. Even if the language makes total sense to a shopper, it might not have any impact. This is because different people are convinced by different things — and then there’s the matter of complexity. How easy are your claims and product features to understand?
You might make pop-culture references in your copy that many people won’t get, or frame things using analogies that require certain pieces of knowledge. You may also use words that seem fine in some countries but don’t really fit in others. This is where automated translation often falls short. Language is incredibly complicated.
Consider that someone who speaks English as a second or third language may end up on that version of your site (it’s impractical to have a version of your site for every language, after all). For all its faults, something like the Hemingway Editor (see above) can prove very useful here by helping you to trim your copy. Adverbs can add punch to product copy, absolutely, but they add complexity as well, and that complexity can cause problems.
Wrapping up, you may have noticed the omission of a key element in this piece: yes, I’m talking about shipping. Isn’t that a major concern when you’re trying to sell internationally? Well, the truth of the matter is that a combination of smart courier companies, fulfillment networks (such as Amazon’s FBA), and dropshipping services makes it reasonably straightforward to ship wherever you like.
It isn’t the infrastructure that’ll cause you difficulties in the end. It’s the presentation. You can’t take advantage of that infrastructure if you can’t get overseas shoppers to visit your site and order from you, after all, so follow the suggestions we’ve set out here to make some progress towards your global goals.