Localizing and Scaling up eCommerce in Europe
A Brief Guide to Success by WeScale
If you are curious about localization and scaling your business in multiple countries at the same time, you’ve come to the right place.
Lately we have received a lot of questions about how to localize businesses in Europe; why companies should do it; what localization brings to the revenue and work side, and other really important queries around this topic.
With these questions in mind, we developed this guide to help companies through the process of localizing their marketing, and to share some important information we’ve learned from our journey.
This article took a lot of blood, sweat and tears – not only in writing it but as a reflection of our experience generating over 130M€ in revenue across Europe with our bespoke approach to localization. We will keep this guide as up to date as possible as we continue to grow and learn new ways to help our customers succeed.
We’re going to walk you through a lot of information, so get a snack and let’s get started. 🚀
What is Localization in Europe?
The first question we always get is “what is localization?” and it’s a fairly simple idea. We love to call it the GLOCAL approach – going global with a localized approach. This means we treat every country as a unique market (because it is) while also keeping the bigger – more global – picture in mind.
We use this approach because localization has been proven to:
- Increase revenue and profitability;
Open new market opportunities;
Expand audience size at the country level; and
Build a more substantial local presence around community and branding
What is the Added Value of Localization?
The next question that usually pops up is: “Every country in Europe is different! How could we possibly provide services to every country based on their local culture and language??”
Truthfully, it’s a fair question. Targeting all of Europe, in English, means one language for customer support, websites, ads, influencer and email marketing, etc. It’s certainly an “easier” approach to your marketing strategy but we challenge you to ask yourself some tough questions: Do you think a one-size-fits-all solution is the optimal way to increase your revenue and build your brand? Do you really believe this approach will build a strong presence in your local market or will inspire meaningful experiences and word-of-mouth recommendations from your existing local customers?
At WeScale, we believe that for a business to successfully scale up, it is essential to understand your local market while also maintaining an international presence.
And you don’t even have to believe us – the numbers speak for themselves:
According to CSA Research, 75% of people want to purchase products in their native language and 92.2% want to make purchases in their local currency.
To support this, we recently co-created two eCommerce stores that reached eight-figure returns with the power of going GLOCAL:
The first increased their revenue from 0 to 50M€ in four years by expanding their localized presence within 10 markets.
The second one increased revenue from 0 to 40M€ in just two years within six markets.
Additionally, with our other selected partners, we have expanded their reach across Europe by localizing their approach, reaching seven and eight-figure revenue with their stores.
Localizing the WeScale Way:
When we use the GLOCAL approach, we test each new market with English-language websites and ads to build a trusted, international brand and create a global tribe around your business. Once we see momentum, we capitalize quickly by jumping straight into localization to position you as a stronger player in the local market.
To do this, we increase brand presence through localized stores, logistics, customer support, and marketing to become a solid local brand. With increased visibility comes increased revenue, profitability, omnichannel presence, social proof, community, and branding.
On the flip side, we also work with a lot of small businesses with a significant local presence trying to expand to new markets to broaden their potential audience size, increase their revenue and profitability and create a global community around their products and brand. We approach their expansion into new markets the same way.
Are you with us so far? If so, let’s continue with some actionable steps to take your business GLOCAL.
🚀 Step One: Choose the Market
Choosing where to expand can be a challenge. We recommend the following steps to help streamline the process:
a) Analyze the Traffic from your English Webshop
If you have an international store, analyze where people come to the website and buy products from, whether they’re direct purchase, influencers, PR, or organic traffic.
b) Analyze Competitor Traffic and the Significant Players in your Niche
One of our favorite ways to choose a market is to use Similarweb to analyze and understand the strengths of competitors and bigger players. With Similarweb, we can easily understand the breakdown of traffic within a country including its sources and much more.
c) Look for Untapped Opportunities
The great thing about Europe is that there are multiple options for the size and types of markets to expand into:
There are big markets, such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Poland with populations of over 20M that enable you to tap into 10-30M€+ yearly in a single market.
The mid-sized markets, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Belgium have 10-20M people and provide an interesting opportunity to expand your localized efforts.
There are also smaller countries with populations of less than 10M that allow savvy businesses to capitalize where competing companies may not consider.
(For reference, here is a list of European countries by population)
WeScale Tip: If you are a small business from a smaller country (less than 5M people), and you make between 200K€ and 300K€ per month, our advice would be to first try and tackle 2-3 mid-size markets to create a more substantial presence before expanding into larger markets. We’ve also seen considerable similarities in purchasing behavior based on market size and purchasing power (GDP per capita), so that might be a good tip for you, based on where you start.
WeScale Disclaimer: while these are our general predictions, there is always room for exceptions. For example, we experienced 20M€ revenue in one country with a population of 10M and abysmal performance in a different, larger market – so the moral of the story is there are no hard and fast rules, you can create them and we can help!
d) Run Tests with an International page
This step is optional based on your experience and budget but we wanted to share it anyway.
We recommend creating Facebook ads (if this is your preferred channel), in English, with regional targeting (Europe, European Economic Area, etc.) and using your international website to understand the purchase intent of a particular country.
The metrics to look at are:
- Revenue generated
- Number of purchases
- Conversion rate
- Abandonment cart rate
- Add to cart rate
- Time on site
WeScale Tip: We usually go two rounds with this kind of assessment:
- We look at regional targeting to define 3-5 “winning” countries.
- Then we target these 3-5 first-round countries to narrow down the list to 2 or 3 ideal markets.
When this is ready, it’s time for translation. Let’s scale!
Oh no, wait, we’ve forgotten to tell you something REALLY important.
🚀 Step One, Actually: (ALWAYS) Do Your Research.
In the past, we’ve tried many ways to quickly expand to new markets, and we always come back to this first, crucial step:
“Do your research first!”
We’re not sure why, but this step sometimes gets left out, and it can cost you down the road.
We’ll share a practical example with you; maybe it resonates:
Five years ago, when I was two years into eCommerce and marketing, I had just started discovering the opportunity to expand to other markets. Before that, I was only advertising in Slovenia and saw that sales were flattening out over time. I wanted to expand into Germany because it’s a big market with a lot of potential customers. The tactic was to localize the language on the website and in ads, then watch the sales skyrocket in the analytics. Surprisingly, the sales were high, mostly coming through the COD (cash-on-delivery) payment option. I believe we sold like 5.000 units in only 5 days!
This is where the story takes a turn: the result was that 70% of the products sold were returned to the warehouse because people didn’t know about/weren’t used to the cash-on-delivery option (which is popular in Slovenia, but not in Germany). Customers in the German market wanted to pay with the methods they were used to (such as Kauf auf Rechnung, Sofort, etc. which are must-haves in Germany). When we got feedback from the customers that returned their items, it was abundantly clear that we missed the mark – these customers were expecting to receive the product and pay for it later with Klarna like they were used to.
This really made it clear to us that every country has unique characteristics, and success rides on understanding these particularities. Since then, we have learned that there are many other small things to successfully implementing a local campaign and that doing the research first was the most important step to make sure nothing was missing in the customer journey.
We definitely learned from our mistakes, so in the next section we’ll go through our lessons learned so you don’t make them too.
a) When in Doubt, Google it
This one might seem obvious, but we can tell you from experience that in many cases, people just don’t do it (we don’t understand it either).
What to look for:
- Purchase behaviors (we will touch on this more in the next section);
- The bigger local players in the eCommerce world, not only in your niche;
- Local eCommerce competitors;
- Local preferred digital marketing channels. Here you can analyze the diversification of different channels – for example, how strong is Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Email marketing, Viber, WhatsApp, SMS, etc. Don’t panic, you don’t need to use them all, it’s just information to understand what the other players are doing in the market so you can choose the right platforms for you.
WeScale Tip: We create a folder on our Drive called “Research” to gather all the information in one place so the whole team can view it and update it at any time.
b) Use Ad Spying Tools, Organic Social Media, and an Ad Library
It’s always smart to see what marketing tactics the local players are using. Our advice here would be to analyze:
- The number of ads run by competitors to understand their presence.
- The Creatives. Here you can see:
- The type of creatives that they use: photos, video, gifs, etc.
- Are they studio, lifestyle shooting, or user-generated content focused?
- Localization: if they localize and how they localized them.
- The speed, colors, and formats of creatives.
- Communication across different posts and ads based on the purchase funnel. Here you look at:
- If someone is following the store on social media as a community member.
- Cold audience communication for people that don’t know the brand/products.
- Re-engagement communication for people that engaged with social media in the past.
- Retargeting communication for the people that leave the website without buying the product.
- Retention communication on how they keep the existing customers engaged and coming back to the store.
Ok. You’ve made it this far. Good work! We’ve covered a lot of ground – we’ve looked at the what and why of localization, how to choose new markets, and we’ve reminded you to do the research (ALWAYS). Now we want to show you how to prepare your business for localization. You may want to stretch for this.
🚀 Step Two: Localizing your Marketing and Website.
We want to share with you the main areas of localization to look for when going GLOCAL with your eCommerce store and marketing assets.
We’re going to start at the top with language, then move through checkout, and end with marketing because as we’ve learned, the biggest problems usually appear in the lower parts of the purchasing funnel.
a) Using Language to Your Advantage: Local Copywriters > Translators
We find that the true voice of a brand is best captured by those who have first-hand experience with the target market. When localizing, we always recommend working with local copywriters to maintain the authenticity of the marketing and to make sure nothing is (literally) lost in translation.
WeScale tip: Make sure to check multiple websites, email marketing, social media, and ads from different sources to catch the authentic voice of your target market.
b) Payment Providers
Payment methods are super important because if you want to play as a local player, you obviously want to offer the same purchasing experience expected from all the local stores.
Here are some examples:
- Cash on delivery is crucial in some Eastern European markets, Italy, etc.
- Klarna is critical to Germany, Sweden, etc.
- One of the must-haves in the Netherlands is iDEAL
- PayU is used in Hungary and Poland etc.
This information is easily obtained from the biggest local stores in the market as well as in local industry reports regarding the popularity of payment methods.
c) Shipping Method and Speed
The second crucial option after payment is to look at shipping methods.
Some countries prefer a particular logistic partner, especially if you offer COD or have a high return rate. Check bigger local stores to see what they use, and keep in mind that your target audience might love it if they have multiple delivery options to choose from. For some countries (like Germany) it’s a huge upside to have fast shipping because it’s a common option in the other stores and is expected within the market. This ties back to doing your research – understanding expectations around delivery times in each local market gives you an advantage to onboard new customers seamlessly.
d) Installments options
Installment Payment Systems might also help your conversion rate if this is a standard in the market and the AOV is high enough.
Here is a comparison of different services that offer installments:
e) Money-Back Guarantees
Confirm the usual standard for money-back guarantees within the target market and how/where it is communicated to the customer. (It might be on the home page, in the sticky bar, product page, during checkout, etc.)
Keep in mind that in some countries and/or niches the timelines for money-back guarantees vary in length. Moreover, depending on your product, also consider including the option for customers to upgrade their purchase to an extended guarantee.
There’s not much to say here: every market is different so we strongly advise you to learn about the local taxes from a professional.
g) About the Company
Understanding how locals view companies in their markets helps businesses build credibility when they are looking to expand. For some markets (like Germany) that are more “safety-first buyers,” they expect to know a lot about the company e.g. the story, when it was founded, the team, the culture, the vision, etc.
h) Reviews and Local Trust Certificates
When your potential customer is scrolling on their mobile through your website, two of their main concerns are usually:
- Social proof
To tackle safety, make sure you have your trust badges and payment options icons, and try to include some local certificate badges and/or famous media badges (local + international) where you were featured. You can find ideas from the local stores, magazines, online articles, etc.
Concerning social proof: one of the crucial things you need to do is to add local reviews from Influencers, customers, publishing companies etc.
WeScale Tip: Combine the product-based reviews with general store reviews, posts on social media (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube Influencers, etc.), online articles, and third-party review sites (Trustpilot is popular in many countries) because this enables a 360-degree overview of the business.
i) Customer Support Communication Channels
The trick to this is a good understanding of what the key communication channels for customer support are. Do they expect to message on the messenger or email directly? Maybe there is a standard for mobile phones or WhatsApp?
WeScale tip: Start with one (preferably email) and then try to test additional communication channels.
Step Three: What About Marketing?
We have a lot to say about our tactics for localizing marketing efforts – so much, in fact, that it might need its own article.
That said, we would still love to share some of the main areas to focus on and our tips on how to get started.
Content Creation, Influencers, and Creatives
The idea is to localize the content as much as possible using as many avenues as you can. You can find our tips for this in these two articles:
For emails, make sure you use a local copywriter for the communication and to start the local automation flows as soon as you launch the first round of ads.
To start, we recommend these four automation flows using Klaviyo:
- Welcome series
- Abandonment cart
- Abandonment checkout
- Post-purchase flow
Paid Social Ads
For paid social ads (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, etc.), our first strategy is usually to start with the best-selling creatives and copies from the existing markets, reviewed and adjusted by the local copywriter.
The next move is to test the concepts you researched from local competitors r to find some local winners in the market.
WeScale tip: Make sure to cover the whole sales funnel with re-engagement, retargeting and retention ads from the start to target people at the different levels.
You can learn more about our advertising funnel here.
Paid Search ads
Make sure that you have your branded search, dynamic search ads, and generic ads running on Google (at least) because any push on the paid social side will create a demand that boosts search volume around your products and brand name.
We always recommend starting with your best-selling products from the existing markets because you already know the creativity and the communication that works.
If you have a huge range of products, we highly recommend creating a shortlist to test the new market (maybe start testing with a dedicated landing page) so you can move fast and then consider adding additional products as your brand gains recognition.
WeScale tip: Analyze the best-selling product categories and products at the local level on a weekly/monthly basis.
We have seen that in many cases, it might turn out that some products/categories popped up from others, and there is a huge opportunity to scale.
In Conclusion: Go GLOCAL, It’s Worth It!
We know this was a long article but we really wanted to share some of the main lessons we’ve learned on our journey with our amazing clients. We’re still learning every day about what works for a specific businesses – yet our results speak for themselves and we’re pretty confident that the tips and tricks we’ve given you here are a great place to start.
If there are two things you should take away from this guide it’s this:
- There are big, untapped opportunities in localization, and do your best to localize as much as you can (step-by-step).
- Start your localization efforts by harnessing the local language to your advantage; go through the checkout options; and move through to the website and marketing localization tactics.
So now that you know, what’s the next step for you?
Our goal is to create the ultimate guide to localization so we promise to add more content around webshops and marketing in every round of updates. If there is something you think we should add to our list, feel free to email us at: [email protected]
If you want to learn more about our current work and the lessons we’re learning, follow us on social media or join our email list to be a part of our journey:
Happy scaling! 🚀
WeScale Extra Tips:
To wrap up this article, we want to share with you a couple tips that have enabled us to scale even higher in local markets.
Later in your journey, we recommend hiring a local CRO agency or local eCommerce specialist to review your website and marketing so you can upgrade your localization efforts and boost sales.
As just one example, we hired a local agency to consult for us and the recommendations they made for a local market helped us scale one client’s monthly revenue from 120K€ to 180K€ and increase their CR from 1.7% to 2.4% in less than two months.
It’s also really important to ask customers, site visitors, and/or the local community for their feedback – whether it’s about introducing new products or improving the website or understanding the personas, or really anything else you are struggling to understand or want to upgrade.
Here are our top three tools for gathering feedback:
Enquire – Post-purchase survey
Typeform – for creating your own surveys for your email list(s) or social media community