The most obvious challenge is language: your partners, customers, and international distributors expect to see information about your products and company in the language they speak. Localization is the process of adapting your product or service to a specific location or culture. While translation is certainly a big part of the process, it’s not synonymous with localization, since the latter involves not only the written word but imagery, design, and formatting as well. For your website, localization procedures might include decisions about the layout and design of your pages, images and graphics, descriptions of products and services, and so on. Besides your website, you’ll need to localize your catalog and admin panel (in case you expect to hire employees in the destination country).
You should also decide whether to choose a country-specific domain (example.cn) or subdirectory (example.com/cn), both of which have advantages and disadvantages. Although a country-specific domain can prove costly, it will rank higher in local searches. On the other hand, subdirectories are easier to create and maintain, but they do rank lower.
Your website should allow for another language but also currency, which leads to the necessity of maintaining separate prices or price lists for that country.
Moreover, your B2C or B2B ecommerce platform has to account for other country’s tax rules. Before entering a market, consider researching trading standards and regulations, because failure to do so can not only lead to a halt in your international operations but may also have legal ramifications in your country. For example, when entering India, you should think of it as a series of interconnected markets rather than a single state, because 29 of its provinces have different state taxes with their own regulatory and investment environments. Any foreign company looking for expansion into the Chinese market has to consult the China foreign investment catalog that delineates foreign investment projects and describes what is encouraged, restricted, or prohibited. For example, China severely restricts foreign involvement in such industries as petrochemicals, energy, and telecommunications. It is therefore critical to conduct thorough research to understand the regulations in the markets you intend to enter. As mentioned above, each tax law or regulation requires its own specific business logic that needs to be adopted and stitched into your ecommerce solution.
Another challenge is partnering with shipment providers in the destination country and, subsequently, organizing seamless shipments to customers using the local couriers. The same applies to banks and payment processing solutions because different countries tend to have their own financial service providers. Since your ecommerce solution needs to have a payment gateway to communicate the transaction information between the customer and the merchant (you), your platform needs to support integration with different payment providers. For example, popular payment gateways in Europe are BlueSnap, 2Checkout, Klarna (especially in Scandinavian countries), Adyen (particularly in the Netherlands), and Vapulus, among others. Using local shipment and payment providers is essential because your customers will feel more comfortable doing business with you when seeing familiar payment processing systems and shipment companies (which are well integrated with local business processes already).
Your ecommerce catalog, which can consist of different brands, might also need some adjustment for specific countries. Brands can allow you to sell in your region but restrict your operations where they have their own exclusive supplier that represents the company overseas. So whenever you enter a new market, you will need to do a thorough reassessment of your catalog to understand what can and cannot be sold in another country. Needless to say that your ecommerce solution has to account for those interconnections and complexities so that your products can only be shown and sold in the jurisdictions where you have the right to sell them. Instead of having catalogs per each specific country, your solution needs to differentiate between products, categorize them, and display only relevant products for international customers.
Different countries tend to have different workflow management and business practices. What can be approved by a junior manager in the Netherlands might require senior management approval in China or Russia. Therefore, your solution has to allow for different approval workflows and access levels. It must adapt to the cultural differences and business practices of a particular region, on a bigger scale, and to your customer’s specific internal practices, on a minor scale. The more steps there are in an approval process, the more control mechanisms and tools you need to provide your customers to get through ordering: from user permissions and approval tracking to mobile access (so that concerned parties can step in and perform necessary actions anytime anywhere).
Data processing is yet another challenge when entering new markets. In 2020, several data protection acts were enforced, most notably, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US and the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which put an end to free data flow between the United States and the EU. Several other countries, such as the UK and China, are expected to review their current standards or come up with new data protection legislation. As of January 2021, more than 130 jurisdictions around the world had their own privacy laws enforced, with some countries having sectoral coverage, which means that certain industries and trades have their own data protection laws. General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) is perhaps the most famous set of data privacy rules imposed on European countries since 2018, which deals with collecting, storing, and processing EU residents’ personal data. Failure to abide by GDPR can lead to a 17-million euro fine or 4% of a company's annual turnover. Some countries have data localization laws in place, which require data about their citizens to be collected, processed, and stored inside the country before being transferred internationally. For example, in Australia, health records must be kept within the country, whereas in Russia, all personal information should be kept within borders. Monolithic SAS solutions hosted in a single location will not work for companies willing to explore other markets where residents’ data should be hosted within that country’s borders. Then, you’ll need to look at other options when choosing your B2B ecommerce platform.