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International E-Commerce Lessons From Top E-Commerce Sites

Monday, May 6, 2019
5 mins

There are always international e-commerce lessons to be learned from the competition, especially if you want to keep up with current trends. In an ever-changing global economy, today’s best practices can be easily overlooked, leaving unsuspecting e-commerce retailers to play costly catch-up.

The astronomical growth of cross-border e-commerce in formerly miniscule markets is convincing many companies to take the leap. One of the most exciting regions is Latin America, which is forecast to be the fastest-growing e-commerce market through 2021, with 19% growth. Other developing regions like Asia-Pacific are booming too, with 14.2% year-over-year growth expected in the A-P region in 2019.

While the emerging global e-commerce retail market is exciting, the multitude of challenges can be daunting for small retailers. Entering into international e-commerce requires the ability to handle more complex logistics, different tax regulations, and marketing effectively to linguistically and culturally diverse consumer bases. That’s a lot to manage. But with the right preparation and e-commerce solutions, any company can successfully scale their business internationally.

Today, we’re focusing on examples of successful brands in the global e-commerce market and highlighting lessons learned from overcoming the challenges that come with it. From juggling multiple currencies to customer service that doesn’t frustrate your cross-border consumers, we’ve got it covered. Whether you’re preparing to partake in international e-commerce for the first time or are just looking to enter new markets, now is a great time to take these lessons to heart.

5 International E-Commerce Lessons

1. Make Localization a Priority [Nescafé]

Localization—or adapting your website and content to each country’s native language, culture, and currency—is one of the most critical parts of an effective international e-commerce push. A whopping 75% of consumers who shop online prefer to only patronize websites that are in their native language. Just because English is the international language of business doesn’t mean your company should settle for an English-only website for every country you’re selling to.

Broadly speaking, any retailer looking to sell online overseas should consider three areas of localization. Let’s take a look at global coffee and beverage retailer Nescafé’s localization efforts to see how they’re making the experience unique for every country they sell to.


When most people think of localization, translation is what comes to mind. Luckily, there are many services out there that will handle the process of translating your website.

Simply translating the words is not enough, though. For your website to make sense, you also need to ensure other elements like measures (weight and size, for example) and currencies get localized.

Nescafé simplifies localization for website visitors. - image source

Nescafé makes it very simple to choose your country and language. The choice features prominently on the home page, showing a commitment to accommodating their global audience. To properly localize your site, it’s a good idea to create regionally specific second-level domains, such as, which would be the localized site for Australia.

Payment Processing

Credit cards may be the most common way for Americans to make e-commerce purchases, but in other regions, like Latin America, payment processing isn’t as simple as offering a place to enter credit card information.

In Latin America, over 50% of consumers don’t have a traditional bank account. To make sure you can reach as many consumers in each country, do your research to find out how people there prefer to shop and then make those methods available. If you’re selling in Latin America, that may mean providing installment plans, bank transfers, cash vouchers, and more.


Your marketing content should be tailored to the region, from the channels you choose to market through to the content of your marketing messages. When comparing the homepage for Nescafé in the U.S. and Chile, for example, you’ll notice that each site has unique imagery and the copy is tailored to the region.

Nescafé’s Chilean home page differs from other countries like the U.S. - image source

Nescafé’s U.S. home page is also unique compared to other countries. - image source

2. Have Clear Shipping and Return Policies [PCE Instruments]

The stakes for shipping and returns are much higher for international e-commerce retailers, as shipping costs are higher, shipping times are longer, and you have to deal with customs each time you cross the border. It’s also important to keep in mind that e-commerce customers, on average, return twice as many items than customers who shop in-store (20% versus 8-10%).

International consumers are paying a monetary and time premium for your goods. That’s why the second of our international e-commerce lessons is to have a shipping and return policy on your website that clearly lays out the costs and expectations. Take, for example, PCE Instruments, a global scientific instrument manufacturer based in Germany that ships test instruments around the world, including to Latin America. The company clearly identifies shipping costs for each region, the process for returns, and the costs for customs duties.

PCE Instruments offers clear shipping and return policies for its international customers. - image source

Great shipping and return policies translate into more sales. Avoid obfuscation and make these critical policies a cornerstone of your e-commerce site. By making shipping and returns clear and easy, 92% of consumers are likely to remain loyal to a brand. That’s the kind of loyalty that keeps you from having to do the hard work of finding new customers.

3. Invest in Localized Customer Service [Williams-Sonoma]

Providing great customer service can be one of the most challenging parts of international e-commerce. Language barriers, cultural differences, and time zone differences can strain the customer service capabilities of even the biggest e-commerce retailers.

No matter what size your e-commerce company is, localized and in-country customer support can help you compete against brick-and-mortar retailers. The goal is to make it seem like your company’s customer service is in touch with your customers’ experience. According to research, a staggering 88% of consumers say local businesses offer better, more personalized service.

Williams-Sonoma, a multinational kitchenware and home furnishings retailer based in the U.S., offers in-country customer support for several of its large international markets, including Mexico, Canada, and Australia. The company lists country-specific phone numbers and email addresses for customers in these countries.

Williams-Sonoma has localized customer service for its customers in Mexico and other countries. - image source

By prioritizing in-country customer service, Williams-Sonoma has helped cement its foothold as a strong e-commerce player in numerous international markets, including Latin America. The e-commerce brand ranked No. 23 on the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500 List.

Some international shipping companies like SkyPostal can help you provide localized customer service for the logistics process. Between online and phone-based support options, every customer can get the localized support that they need for their shipments.

4. Know How Your Customers Connect to Your Company [Coppel]

It may seem like Twitter and Facebook dominate today’s marketing landscape, but viral social media marketing is not the end-all-be-all of sales generation. It’s important to understand how your customers discover your business. With the right planning and tools, e-commerce companies can understand exactly how consumers find them.

Analytics software like Google Analytics enables you to find out where your customers are coming from—through referral links on social media and email, by directly entering your website, or by doing keyword searches on search engines like Google. This information can help you decide where to invest your marketing budget.

For advanced analytics users, you can use Google Analytics to determine everything from the demographics of your website visitors to the keywords they’re searching to find you. Knowing these things can help you create much more targeted, localized content for your international customers.

This information can also help you create more tailored experiences on mobile devices. In places like Latin America, mobile phones are the most consistent form of online access for many consumers. In 2018, 27.5% of all retail e-commerce sales came from mobile devices.

Coppel, a Latin American department store, is an excellent example of catering your website to your customers. The retailer has adapted its site for mobile devices by simplifying the user experience and making it much easier to browse, effectively capitalizing on the high levels of mobile users shopping their site.

Coppel’s website as viewed from a mobile device. - image source

For e-commerce companies looking to thrive in international markets, investing time and resources into consumers’ mobile experience is a critical part of the puzzle.

5. Champion Your Customers’ Logistics Experience [Forever 21]

Sometimes, it’s the things your customers don’t see that make a huge difference in their international e-commerce experience. The last of our international e-commerce lessons is focused on what happens behind the scenes: logistics.

Finding the right international shipping companies to partner with and taking advantage of strategic e-commerce fulfillment is critical to long-term success. Since logistics can account for 15% of the cost of merchandise sold, prioritizing the best and most cost-effective logistics experience for your customers is paramount.

Logistics is one of the most challenging elements of an international e-commerce operation. In places like Latin America, where the infrastructure is not as well developed as the United States, failing to get the right international shipping support may mean packages getting delayed or lost.

As your company branches out into international e-commerce, one of the best investments you can make is in partnering with a third-party fulfillment center. Third-party fulfillment centers reduce shipping times and costs while specializing in the documentation needed to navigate customs and duties. It’s little wonder that 90% of Fortune 500 companies take advantage of third-party fulfillment centers.

Fast-fashion brand Forever 21 ships clothing to most countries around the world. The international retailer works with partner vendors that enable them to offer more efficient product fulfillment and delivery to customers. Its localized websites for large international markets like Mexico offer country-specific shipping information and promotions, like free standard shipping for orders over MEX$899. Forever 21 also offers Express Delivery as an option for Mexico-based customers. The brand wouldn’t be able to provide this 2-3 day shipping option throughout Mexico without using third-party fulfillment.

U.S.-based clothing brand Forever 21 is able to offer Express delivery to Mexico thanks to third-party fulfillment. - image source

As we detailed in an earlier post, one of the most important international e-commerce lessons for retailers is to find a logistics partner that:

  • Specializes in customs clearance and duty and tax management
  • Provides online, fully trackable parcel delivery
  • Has localized services like customer support
  • Offers fulfillment services to reduce costs
  • Can handle multiple currencies

In other words, your logistics partner should be adapted to the countries you’re selling to, just like your e-commerce website.

Get Latin American E-Commerce Support with SkyPostal

With decades of experience providing logistics support for companies shipping to Latin America, SkyPostal has helped its clients adapt to the challenges of international e-commerce.

Through our work with a diverse set of clients, we’ve learned international e-commerce lessons that will help your business in Latin America succeed today and in the future.

Get in touch to learn how we can help you manage everything from fulfillment to parcel delivery and international returns.