Help with expanding your e-commerce overseas

LOOKING to expand your e-commerce business into the overseas market? Scottish Enterprise is running workshops in international e-commerce – the next round of which are in January and February - offering practical advice, solutions and support.

Picture: PA

Kristell Clunie, of the trade and investment team for Scottish Development International (SDI) - the international arm of Scotland’s enterprise agencies – explains what attendees can expect.

We have recruited trainers who are experts in the field of online business for the overseas market. We start off with an overview of how international e-commerce works, to give a broad understanding – looking at things like which countries use which search engines, which use the web the most, which shop online the most.

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You need a specific strategy for targeting overseas markets – even e-commerce companies who are doing well in the UK need help with this - and this is what we cover in these workshops, starting with the practical considerations. For example, there’s the question of translation. If everything in your site is in English it won’t get very high up the rankings in the international versions of Google.

However, it may not be economically viable, or worthwhile, to translate the entire site. Sometimes just translating keywords is a better strategy – these will still be picked up by non-English language search engines. There is also the risk that if the site is entirely translated, customers will most likely expect the people at the other end of the phone to be fluent in the langauge used. Smaller companies do need to stay realistic and avoid raising expectations too high.

Selecting international markets

We cover how companies should go about selecting their international markets – the strategy we recommend is focusing on one market initially, putting all your efforts into that, and then once you have that going well, move on to the next. Technically, yes, once your site is online it is up there for the whole world to see, but in reality this is not the case – people don’t really see it unless it has been targeted to them, by managing to get it a decent place in the rankings in foreign versions of search engines. We can help companies look at which factors should influence their decision on where to start – the place with the highest demand for your product is usually the best starting point.

We also look at the cultural aspects of what businesses should be doing when looking to move into overseas markets. For example, when targeting the US market, there is less to alter - a few small tweaks of language is usually enough. Companies which sell shortbread and other biscuits will need to change the name to “cookies”, or at least add it in as a keyword, as those searching for biscuits in the US are looking for something else entirely. Similarly, when corresponding with customers, for example about shipping times, the word “fortnight” will not mean anything to US customers.


When it comes to expanding to the Chinese market, as another example, companies need to be aware that China uses different search engines, not Google, and the results displayed by them are checked by the Chinese government for anything disrespectful or offensive. There are design and content considerations for selling to the Chinese market too – incorporating red could be a good idea, as it’s considered lucky there.

Another consideration with China is that of copies and fakes. Some companies who have attended our workshops have refused to ship products to certain Chinese buyers, as research has indicated they will almost certainly be used to make replicas.

This is another benefit of attending the workshops – the chance to learn from other business owners who have experience of branching into overseas markets. The workshops are very collaborative forums, where companies will talk about pitfalls they’ve experienced, and what has worked for them in overcoming them. People tend to be very open, even about problems they have had, and really are keen to learn from each other, despite the fact that they are effectively each other’s competition. In a market as small as Scotland, the chances are they will already all know each other anyway.

These workshops are open to all, but are primarily targeted at beginners and newcomers to international business – perhaps small to medium-sized companies which are already thriving in the UK market, or individuals who have just joined a larger operation and need to get up to speed. The workshops are suitable for all sectors, although if there is demand, we are happy to run subsequent sector-specific workshops. The workshops are also about making business people aware of who Scottish Enterprise are and what we can do for them, most of which is free of charge.

There are five workshops coming up in January and February - on 13 January in Stirling, 14 January in Aberdeen, 4 February in Glasgow, 11 February in Edinburgh and 18 February in Dundee.

They are free (just register for a place beforehand) and last four hours – feedback from attendees, who are mostly from smaller businesses, said it wasn’t practicable for them to be away from their businesses for more than half a day - but there’s a lot packed into that time, including the use of interactive website demonstrations and case studies.

• For more information, including how to register for any of the upcoming e-commerce workshops, visit