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How to grow your online shop across borders


Is world domination on your agenda? Great! At get.shop we love ambitious entrepreneurs. And there has never been a better time for cross-border commerce, with customers becoming more comfortable buying from global retailers.

Going from ‘startup’ to ‘scale up’ can be daunting – especially if it’s your first time trading internationally. But don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. We’ve got top tips to help you plan for the growth of your business.

Let’s dive in.

1. Create your ‘map of demand and supply’

Got a hunch about where to find international demand for your shop? Careful! As Albert Einstein said: “Assumptions are made and most assumptions are wrong”. You might think you know where growth will come from, but there is no replacement for research and hard data. This is why we recommend creating a ‘map of demand’ for your products and/or services. Build your map using these resources:

- Website analytics & SEO tools: hopefully you are already using analytics to track the KPIs that matter. These tools will also help you see how frequently international visitors check out your site – and where they are based. This will tell you about existing customer groups that you can tap into.

- Sector-specific data. Most industries have media outlets that publish regular research about industry trends. Search for recent research reports into the growth markets for your sector. You might be surprised about the countries or regions that are growing in economic strength.

- One-to-one conversations. Interested in a specific country or market? Reach out to contacts in that market and ask for a short conversation. Don’t know anyone in a country? Post a request to a site like LinkedIn. Use these conversations to get a first-hand sense of the market in that country. And don’t forget to ask about local brands operating in your sector, so that you can research the competition.

Using these resources (website data, published data and one-to-one conversations) you will be able to build a map of demand – showing the countries and markets where you are most likely to find a customer base.

Your next step is to create a ‘map of supply’ – establishing how you will meet demand in new markets. As a starting point, do an online search for ‘remote warehouse management services’ for your target countries. These companies are specialists in e-commerce fulfillment. Request a price estimate to establish what it will cost to use their services – and thus give your international customers a professional experience.

2. Research local laws and regulations

Before you commit to expansion, you need to learn about local laws, regulations and restrictions that apply to your products and/or services. For example, if you sell sun protection products, you need to know about SPF regulations in different markets. These laws might affect your ability to sell or might affect your profit margin.

Not sure how to research local laws? Start by looking at the official customs website for your target country. You can also ask your local chamber of commerce or trade association whether they help businesses looking to expand internationally. These bodies may offer grants, advisors or factsheets about international trading. You can use these networking organizations to meet other entrepreneurs – and fire your questions at them.

Last but not least: post questions to online forums, and see if you can grow your network of supportive advisors in a range of countries.

3. Choose the right domain name

To grow your online shop across borders, you need a domain name that appeals to international customers. This is where the .shop domain comes to the rescue! The word shop is understood around the world, including in non-English-speaking markets.

Choose an internationally-recognizable domain like .shop and you are telling the world that you welcome a world of customers. Want to learn more about domains? Check out our post Create A Great Domain In Five Easy Steps.

4. Expand one country at a time

Ready to take over the world? We love your ambition. But there is a strong argument for ‘starting small’ when it comes to international trade. If you start by picking one or two key international countries or regions, you can treat these as places to test and learn.

Each new market brings new considerations when it comes to issues such as tax, shipping and customer service. Expand slowly and you can learn about each country in turn, and make sure you continually act on feedback.

5. Create an international shipping plan

The one thing that tends to hold people back from selling internationally is the challenge of shipping. But there are many online resources to help you evaluate options, timings and costs - and ensure a seamless customer experience.

The key is to have a strategy about three key elements:

- Customs, duties and tariffs - for each country you ship to.

- Packaging for international deliveries (and think about the sustainability of packaging – this can have a positive impact on customers).

- Returns policy – if you are a small startup, you might not be able to pay for returns shipping, but this might prevent customers from shopping with you (or from leaving positive comments about your brand online).

Ask remote warehouse companies (see above) about these three aspects of shipping - they will be able to give you great advice.

6. Talk to a specialist accountant

Tax and exchange rates: subjects that make people want to bury their heads in the sand. But here’s the good news - accountants love talking about these things. So make their day! Either ask your current accountant or seek recommendations for accountants who have experience in international e-commerce.

7. Use social media to acquire international ambassadors

Nearly all social media platforms operate across borders. So use social media to ask questions to customers in your target locations. Find out about local preferences and competitors. And offer incentives to these customers so that they promote your shop when it launches in their country.

The world can be your oyster – but do your research first!

Want to learn more about international expansion? Check out the stories on the get.shop blog about entrepreneurs going global. And if you’ve got a story to share with us, we’d love to hear how the .shop address is helping you reach new customers. Get in touch!

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