Gone are the days where you needed an in-house army of developers to create a globally-equipped ecommerce website that sells to consumers around the world.
The rise of the micro-multinational is upon us. Many Shopify merchants have grown from a small one-region store, to serving global customers, dramatically increasing their profits along the way.
This process is broken down in detail below. We’ll share some specific examples to show you how other ecommerce store owners have transformed their business with this step-by-step process.
Why expand your store?
There are a number of benefits to expanding to multiple countries. Some are obvious, while others might not have occurred to you.
Make more sales by expanding into new regions
Most notably, expansion allows you to grow your sales by expanding your customer base. If you’re only selling in one country, you’re limiting your store’s capacity to reach larger markets. Even if you offer international shipping rates, the cost is is often prohibitively expensive for customers in other areas.
By expanding into new regions—especially with local options for shipping and currency—you automatically enable a lot of new people to buy from you.
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Accept payment in the local currency
While you can show various currencies in one store, you can only accept funds in one currency—your store’s default.
Here’s the problem: If Australians want to buy from your American store, they have to pay in US dollars. Your conversions will, almost without exception, be less than they would if you could offer a local currency option.
Most folks don't want to pay in a different currency. While you might make an exception for your absolute favorite store, if given a choice, you'd probably choose a store that offers your local currency. Paying in a different currency is messy, especially for business purchases, and often more expensive than your local currency. Offering the local currency can increase your sales.
Quad Lock Case is a perfect example. They expanded from a one-region shop (USA/global store) to localized versions across the USA, Europe, Australia, and the UK—and they saw massive increases in purchases as a result. The increase was almost instant and has lead to thousands of new orders.
Target local customers in advertising
If you’re using Google Adwords or Facebook Ads to target specific audiences and generate traffic to your store, offering a local option in your advertising will set you up for more effective targeting.
For example, rather than wasting money sending Canadian customers to your US Shop where they can’t pay in local currency (and are therefore less likely to complete a purchase), you can send them directly to your Canadian shop instead.
Done right, creating local stores can increase your return on investment with paid advertising. Ideally, you’ll spend less, and convert more.
Offer local shipping and logistics
Having local stores allows you to offer certain shipping options to local customers. For example, Erstwilder created an announcement bar at the top of their website to show one set of shipping options for Australian customers, and another set for international customers.
To sweeten the deal, a “You are $X away from Free Shipping” prompt provides a second reminder to add another product to the cart for free shipping.
More control over your products
Want to offer products to customers in a certain country, but not in another? Because you’ll effectively be managing individual shops that are linked together, you can manipulate and manage the inventory however you want.
Now that we’ve covered the main benefits of why you might like to set up regional stores, let’s get into the execution.
How do I set up multiple region shops?
To illustrate, let’s fast forward to the end result. If you follow this plan, you will end up with something like Quad Lock Case: An Australian Store, a European Store, a United Kingdom Store, and a USA / Global Store, which serves any country which hasn’t yet been localized.
Each of these stores has its own inventory, currency, domain, and backend shop.
Of course, you could create just two countries, or ten—it’s up to you. So far, the most successful companies I've have worked with have 2 to 6 localized shops. You want to create balance between making the stores easy to manage and maximizing your total number of customers.
Most likely, if you’ve been in business for a while, you already know which countries could be good candidates for expansion. You can use information such as:
- Where large numbers of your customers buy from.
- Where you get a lot of inquiries from (“Do you ship to country X?”).
- Your abandoned cart reports and Google Analytics to see which markets are underserved or frequently abandon their purchases.
As long as you already have one store, you have the baseline for your expansion. From there, you’ll need to take the following steps.
1. Get another Shopify account
To keep things organized, I like to register them with the region in the Shopify store name.
For example, if your current shop is yourshopname.myshopify.com, I like to register yourshopname-ca.myshopify.com for Canada, yourshopname-au.myshopify.com for Australia, and so on.
Customers won’t see this, so it’s not critical, but it will help to keep your systems neat on the backend.
2. Get another domain
There are two main options here:
- Use a separate domain
- Use a sub-domain
Using a separate domain means something like yourshop.com as your ‘main’ site, yourshopusa.com as your USA shop, yourshop.ca as your Canada shop, etc. This approach can also work, as long as the branding and everything else is set up correctly.
Using a subdomain means you would end up with yourshop.com as your ‘main’ site, ca.yourshop.com for Canada, au.yourshop.com for Australia, and so on.
I prefer this approach because it reassures customers that the domain is legitimately part of your brand.
3. Duplicate your shop
There are a lot of steps involved here, and it will take some work, but you don't have to do it all in one sitting. Here’s the step by step process, which can be repeated for multiple stores:
- Duplicate your theme. Go to Admin > Themes and click “Export Theme”. Then upload that into your new shop.
- Duplicate your products. Go to Admin > Products and click “Export”, then “Export All”. This is assuming you want to show all your products on your second site (otherwise you could choose to just duplicate a few products). Then import them into your new shop.
- Localize your pricing. You might like to update your pricing from your first shop to your second, depending on the region. After you’ve imported them in the step above, you can adjust the pricing on the second shop, either via the admin or the CSV if you have a lot of products.
- Localize your general settings. On your new regional shop, revisit the General Settings (address, phone, etc.), currency, and timezone and ensure they are set up the way you want them to be.
- Migrate all your page content. There is no shortcut or export for this. To move your page content from your original shop to your new regional shop, open the two sites side-by-side.
- Next, click on Pages and work your way down the list, flipping into HTML mode, copy, and paste into the new site. (Copying in HTML mode ensures the pages will look exactly the same).
- After migration, to avoid being penalized by Google, be sure to implement hreflang, as outlined by Google here. Hreflang is a tag you can add to each page on your respective websites (add it to theme.liquid in the <head> section to make sure it's on every page), which tells Google that your websites are connected. In other words, hreflang is required to make sure that Google understands that your Canadian website is for Canadian customers, and your US website is for US customers—without penalizing you for having two sites that are alike. Do not skip this step. Here’s a great article explaining the implementation.
- Localize your page content and ensure links to your store are all local links. You may want to localize the language (from US spelling to UK spelling for example), change the contact details on your contact page, and ensure that any internal links are correctly pointing to your new shop.
- For example, if you had an internal link to your Contact Us page pointing to yourshop.com/pages/contact-us, you’d need to update this when you copy it across, so that it doesn’t point back to your main site, but rather to your new contact page.
- As a general rule, it’s good to use relative URLs, which means removing the ‘main’ part of your URL—just set the link as /pages/contact-us instead of yourshop.com/pages/contact-us.
- Re-install any Apps onto your second shop, and configure them.
- Connect your payment gateways and Google Analytics so you can track traffic.
4. Use an IP redirect to direct traffic
Now that you’re going multinational, you may want to use an IP redirect app to detect your visitors’ location and point them to the right shop.
For example, if a Canadian customer visitors your USA shop, you could show them a message saying “Looks like you’re in Canada. Want to visit our Canada store so you can see pricing in CAD and receive cheaper shipping?”. You can either ask them this in a popup or a top bar, or just push them to your Canada shop automatically.
5. Update Google's Search Console
You should also choose the country you want to target, in Google’s Search Console. For more information on exactly how to do this, please see Google’s recommendations here. It sounds a bit complex, but should only take a few minutes to do. You’ll see something like this, which will allow you to set the country.
6. Tie off any loose ends
This last step will depend in your unique situation. There may be some other areas to test and check. Some common ones are:
- If you’re running paid ads from Facebook or Google Adwords, you may want to create new tracking codes for the unique shops and their corresponding advertising campaigns.
- Create a separate Google Analytics Profile.
- Set up an email campaign to your customers, letting them know that you’ll be opening a new regional shop. If you can get fancy with it, even better. For example, filter your mailing list for Canadian customers only, and send them a specific campaign to inform them you’re opening a Canadian shop especially for them.
- If you’re using a shipping or fulfillment company, talk to them about setting up a local presence, and create corresponding shipping rates in your new Shopify store.
- If you use customer service software such as Zendesk, you may need to connect that to your new shop and create some new rules so you can identify the region the customer is coming from.
From there, your new shop should be mostly set up. Once you activate your IP Redirects, you can start pointing traffic between the shops, and activate your advertising.
Real world examples
Below are some real world examples of some of our clients’ stores who have seen tremendous growth based on this strategy.
Shhh Silk Pillowcases has an Australian and USA website. They offer payment in Australian dollars or US dollars, and have unique control over their inventories. Local shipping rates help keep all shipping affordable for local customers, as well as improving customer loyalty with unique messaging.
- The aforementioned Quad Lock Case have seen massive growth since launching their presences in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and the USA. They’re on track to have more local stores launched in mid-2016.
- When Cultiver launched in the USA, they saw tremendous uptake in the first six weeks and it’s still ongoing, after having run a single Australian store prior to branching out to two regions.
- Erstwilder uses provides local and international shipping information to encourage upsells.
Now, it would be remiss of me not to outline the potential downsides and implications of growing your website into multiple regions, as well as some common objections and questions.
Am I ready to expand?
Only you can decide this based your business position and comfort level, but here are some guidelines:
You might be ready to expand if:
- You feel your business is ‘well established’. This could mean you’re already making a full-time income (or close to it) from your site. The premise here is that you probably don’t want to overextend yourself with extra management and costs until you’re sure your business and product are viable. In other words, we find that established business are a great fit for this. As an example, most clients we’ve worked with on expansions like these are doing $10,000 or more per month in revenue.
- You have enough revenue to support running multiple stores, even if it’s just an experiment. If you’re living dollar-to-dollar and still ‘proving your concept’, you might prefer to wait until you’re more comfortable and have some buffer in your revenue stream before expanding. This helps you to manage the downside, making sure your business won’t suffer if the expansion doesn’t take off as quickly as you’d hoped.
- You’re seeing lots of sales from a particular country outside of your main location. For example, if your business is primarily focused on the USA, but you’re seeing lots of sales in Australia, this might be a good indication that an Australian store could be worth opening.
- You’re seeing very dedicated, loyal, and/or high-spending customers in other regions. As per the example above, if Australian customers are willing to pay high shipping costs (and pay in US dollars) to get their hands on your products, chances are good that if you give them a local option with cheaper shipping costs and local currency, they’re even more likely to buy.
You might not want to expand if:
- You’re still in the ‘proof of concept’ phase for your business, and aren’t 100% sure whether there’s a need in the market for your product.
- You won’t have the bandwidth to manage multiple locations. For example, if you’re already working 60 hours per week in your business by yourself, there’s a risk that if you open a second store and have additional orders to process, additional customer inquiries to answer, and so on, your business could suffer. Best to get some help in place, or at least have a ‘success’ plan for what happens if the second store takes off.
- You don’t have enough revenue to support a second store, or you’ll put yourself in an uncomfortable position financially. Rough costs are outlined above—if they seem like a stretch for your current situation, you may like to wait until your first store is more established.
Won’t it be a pain to manage?
You’ll be managing multiple inventories, inquiries from customers in different regions (and potentially different languages), as well as local content. There is definitely more administration involved—but if done well, the increased revenues and profits can easily pay for some extra time and/or staff to help manage your newly-invigorated micro-multinational.
Isn’t it more expensive?
You will also need more than one Shopify Subscription, multiple versions of the apps you’re using, and more support time. The key question here is: will this pay for itself?
As with all apps, if it isn’t making you money, ditch it.
As an example, let’s take a hypothetical store on the Shopify plan that runs five Shopify Apps at $10/month each, with a product that nets $25 in profit. This would mean:
- One store: $79 + (5 x $10) = $129 per month.
- Two Stores: $129 x 2 = $258 per month
If this store sold only six additional products in one month, they would be ahead. It’s likely they’d make much more once the marketing was set up.
Of course, this is only example—each store’s plan, apps required, costs, and product pricing is different, and your mileage may vary. But, the above example should help to show how quickly this can pay off as an investment.
You can do a break even analysis on your store to see if how many products you would need to sell in order to break even on the expansion.
What happens if it doesn’t work?
In my experience, if you persist, often the results will be great—but, regardless, the risks are low, since you’re just setting up a web infrastructure. If you expand to a new country, and two months down the road you decide it’s not taking off, you can easily revert back to the original strategy. Retire the second store, and stick with the original shop.
Overall, there will be more work involved, and a few extra costs too—but it could also lead to additional revenue and profit?
Given the low risk (a few hundred dollars at most) and massive potential payoff, I believe this is a strategy that many business owners would benefit from considering. Overall it might take you a few weeks to set everything up and launch.
Expanding online can be a great way to quickly test new markets and experiment with different pricing and shipping options—and it opens you up to new markets, languages, customer bases, and revenue streams.
If you have specific questions, fire away in the comments and I will do my best to respond.
About the author: Tristan King is the founder and chief developer at Blackbelt Commerce, the world’s highest-rated Official Shopify Experts. Check out their Country Selector for Shopify.