The steps exporters need to consider when transacting business on the internet. This information is part of "A Basic Guide to Exporting" provided by the U.S. Commercial Service to assist U.S. companies in exporting.
Last Published: 10/20/2016
You must lay the groundwork before your company can transact business on the Internet. Potential customers must know who you are and how to reach you. Then, if they want to buy what your company has to sell, you have to facilitate the exchange of money for your product.
 
Are You Ready to Go Online?
  • Who are your target customers? Do they use the Internet?
  • What information would your website provide? How can your customers use it?
  • How does your e-commerce strategy fit into your overall exporting objectives?
  • How effectively can you provide service that is personalized and customized?
 

Selecting a Web Address

Your web address—also known as your uniform resource locator (URL) or domain name—is as important for the international market as it is for the domestic. It should be short, simple, descriptive, and memorable to customers in the target market. Every country (plus a few territories) has a reserved, two-letter country-code domain (e.g., the United Kingdom has the two letter domain “.uk”).

An online exporter may choose to purchase web addresses localized for the target markets. Locally branded web addresses may increase brand awareness and web address recall, and they may even influence brand sales and loyalty. In addition, local search engines may give preference to locally relevant content by filtering search results to include only local country-code web addresses. If your company wants to have a local web address, you must research the rules for the particular country, as registration requirements vary.

If your company is seeking foreign customers, you may also consider an internationalized domain name (IDN). An IDN is a web address written partially or fully in a language-specific script or alphabet, such as Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Tamil, or in English-style letters with features above or below letters, as used in languages such as Spanish, French, Turkish, and Vietnamese. For example, a company called Bright Light Bulbs that wishes to sell in China could have a web address that would use the Chinese characters for “bright light bulbs” in its web address. IDNs allow customers to search and access sites in their native language.

Visibility in Search Engines

Most people use search engines to find information on the Internet, so your website needs to be visible in the necessary search engines—including regional/local search engines catering to local languages. Major international search engines, such as Google and Bing, constantly seek out new websites on their own and catalog the data they find based on the quality, quantity, and perceived usefulness of content. You should perform your own searches of your company and products to see where you appear in search engine rankings. If you cannot find yourself easily on major search engines, you may need to reexamine your website and its contents, either by performing your own search engine optimization (SEO) or by speaking to a web content or SEO specialist.

Additional search engines often cater to either a region-specific language or to a more local population, and are often intended to showcase content in one or more local languages or dialects. For example, Baidu, a leading Chinese provider of web services, runs the most popular search engine in China.

Different search engines find and display sites in different ways. Always research the search engines used in your target market(s), and if necessary register your site with the search engines so it will appear in search results.


Choosing a Web Host

A web host is a company with a server that maintains the files of websites. A variety of free and subscription-based web hosting services are available, including those offered by many Internet service providers. Web hosting services often go beyond website  maintenance to include web address registration, website design, and search engine registration. For some online exporters, it may be most feasible to use a web host in their target market to take advantage of all the localized services the host offers. The location or nationality of the website host does not typically affect accessibility of the site; however, your company should ensure that the servers of the host under consideration reside within a stable infrastructure and are maintained for optimal reliability.


Localizing and Internationalizing Website Content

Companies seeking foreign audiences with their websites will want to either localize or internationalize their websites. They may also provide a mixture of both processes. Localization consists of adapting one’s website to meet the linguistic, cultural, and commercial requirements of a targeted market. Internationalizing a website enables a company to be multilingual and sensitive to cultural conventions without the need for extensive redesign. Localization or internationalization must be part of the online exporter’s corporate strategy for website and business development. Features your company should consider include: 
  • • Language
  • • Cultural nuances, such as differences in color association and symbols
  • • Payment preferences
  • • Pricing in the appropriate currency
  • • Currency converter
  • • Metric measurements
  • • Information on duties and taxes assessed on your product by key country market


Promoting Your Website

Setting up shop is no guarantee that customers will come flooding in. If you want a successful website, you must not wait for people to stumble across it. There are a number of ways to promote your site without spending a lot of money:
  • Send brief stories about your company and website to trade publications that serve the larger industry or business sector in your target market(s).
  • Put your web address on business cards, letterheads, envelopes, packaging, and promotional materials of all kinds.
  • Ask foreign visitors if they’d like to receive occasional “opt-in” ads, which are essentially e-mails promoting upcoming sales or new products. Encourage those visitors who consent to receiving the opt-in ads to e-mail them to a friend or relative. People who agree to receive opt-in ads tend to purchase up to seven times as frequently as other visitors.
  • Consider sending people who visited or registered on your website but did not buy anything a follow-up e-mail with a coupon for a discount on your products and services.
  • Use social media to promote your website, products, and expertise.




eCommerce