Ready to take your store international? Read this first.

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♬ Even If They’re Halfway ‘Round The World ♬

More than 40% of online shoppers have bought something from another country. That’s the point of online commerce, isn’t it? You’re no longer geographically bound to a brick-and-mortar store and can therefore find customers who live on all seven continents (well, six - sorry Antarctica).

One of the trickier questions is how far out should you expand? You can have your store open to everyone, but practice is showing us that it may be better idea to target certain regions and establish marketing techniques, shipping partnerships and policies directly for those areas. With big data these days, you can find out quite a lot about where people are shopping for your products (and which markets you might be able to disrupt, too). What’s the easiest way to do that with your ecommerce store?

Open up a couple of Shopify stores in different countries

Shopify Plus makes this ridiculously easy by giving all Plus members three stores off the get-go. They fully integrate into one admin so you can track sales and inventory from the same place.

If you’re not on Shopify Plus, there are two things you can do. The simplest is to add more shipping zones to your existing Shopify account. The slightly more complex version is to open multiple Shopify accounts in different regions. The advantage of doing that is you’ll be able to write directly targeted policies and marketing techniques based on areas.

Keep in mind that this means you’ll have to take care of multiple stores separately, and when you update inventory you have to do it manually for each store. There are apps that can help, like Stitch Labs, which bring together all of your channels and stores more robustly than Shopify can do. Unfortunately, most of the really good inventory synching apps come with a hefty price tag at this time. Still worth considering if you have inventory being ordered, stored and shipped across a variety of online stores.

Marketing Around The World

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re building up an international store.

Focus on branding

You’re now competing not only for the home market but across the whole world. This means you have all the more reason to make your brand stronger, more targeted and have more personality. Standing out in the competition means focusing on how you add value. When you’re branching into new markets, find out what your competition is there. Many companies even use their origin as part of their selling points abroad (think Swiss watches, Belgian chocolate, German cars, or New Zealand honey). Utilising this type of place-based branding can work if your home country is famous for having a particularly entrepreneurial spirit or high level of craftsmanship.

Be culturally competent

Stepping onto others’ toes when it comes to cultural insensitivity can give you a bad rep -- fast. Hold focus groups or interviews with people from your targeted countries to get the a-ok on the text you’re using or any other major interactions. Look up all of your product names in each country and see if there are any mishaps (your unique product name could end up being a political movement elsewhere). There could be plenty you don’t even realise is an issue for diverse audiences.

Break up your targeting

Marketing is often done by geo-location. You can run the same campaign ads on Facebook and Instagram, but choosing to pinpoint exactly where you want those ads to be seen is a way to build up specific areas you ship to.

Similarly, you should consider updating your SEO so that landing pages are location-specific. Often in the back end of your website manager, you can choose specific areas to optimise for.

Customer Service

Since you’ll be operating across time zones, you’ll also need to offer customer service that suits. Consider using some extra help in offering customer service such as an FAQ page and be clear about how and when to reach your office.

Speak the lingo

People absolutely notice if language sounds clunky on a website. A teeny tiny grammatical error can lower your credibility. Although there are plenty of free apps to help translate, it might be worth hiring a native speaker as a freelance contractor to go over your text and make it sound smooth.

New in 2018: Shopify recently announced the release of their first ever multilingual beta in 6 languages: French, German, Japanese, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish. Read more here.

Shipping It Out

One of the biggest deterrents for going international is the fact that you have a few more cogs in the shipping container to deal with. But hey, other people have figured it out and there’s no reason you can’t too.

Know who you’re dealing with

Here are the sites for some of the most common international shipping partners you may be working with. Check out their policies, including their delivery times.

Make sure you write out a page with clear delivery time expectations, and display that information easily throughout the customer’s shopping and checkout experiences.

Return to sender

Dealing with returns internationally takes a bit of research. People in different regions have different consumer behaviour when it comes to returning packages. If it’s easy to handle returns in your home country and you choose to offer free returns, it might not be as easy elsewhere.

The other thing to consider is that every country has different regulations governing trade, including returns. This means some places may require you pay the postage, or may require you accept returns within a certain amount of time. It’s a good idea to check out legislation and market info about returns in your targeted regions, and update your shipping and returns policies accordingly.


When you ship internationally, your products will have to go through customs. You as the seller will need to clearly declare what’s in the box. You will generally need to include destination details and contact information, item descriptions and the value of your products. When you’re writing descriptions, write concisely what it is, what it's used for, the materials it's made from, and the country of origin (for example: toaster, kitchen appliance, made from plastic and aluminium, made in Germany).

Sometimes items get delayed in customs - the more accurate you are on your forms with the stated descriptions and product value, the more likely it will go straight through. If an item is stalled in customs, the customer may be responsible for paying.

Learn more about dealing with shipping issues here.


You’ll need to payments in all the currencies you need

You can pretty easily add a currency converter - but keep in mind that it will just show your customer what they’re paying in their own money. It doesn’t change the money itself, and your customers will still be paying in the merchant’s currency. This risks bringing in a whole slew of fees from different credit card companies and can lead to cart abandonment.

To get around this, you can offer payment gateways that are available in your customers’ home countries, like Apple Pay, Amazon, PayPal etc. Most credit card payments, including through Shopify Payments, offer two credit card rates: one for domestic purchases and one for international purchases. When choosing what payment gateways to offer, be sure to find out what their international policies are.


Sales tax is determined by where you are shipping. When you set up multiple shipping zones from your Shopify admin, sales taxes (including VAT, GST etc) are automatically calculated based on the customer’s address. You can adjust tax rates manually from the Taxes section of your admin.

Ready to start expanding? We’re here to help.

Elkfox can help you grow your business internationally. Get in touch to find out how.