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1. What is international expansion?

International Ecommerce Expansion: Unlock Global Growth

The potential for global growth has never been more accessible for ecommerce businesses.

International expansion is a powerful strategy that can open a world of opportunities, allowing businesses to tap into diverse markets and reach a wider audience.

In this article, we will explore the main benefits and challenges of international expansion, uncover the most common market entry strategies, and explore how to create a robust international expansion strategy. Get ready to unlock global growth for your ecommerce business.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • International expansion provides significant benefits for ecommerce businesses, including increased sales, higher revenue, brand recognition, and customer loyalty.

  • Understanding market entry strategies is crucial for successful international ecommerce expansion. Each market has unique characteristics, consumer behaviors, and regulatory requirements that need to be researched and analyzed.

  • Thorough market research, planning, and execution are necessary to overcome the challenges associated with international expansion and establish a strong presence in foreign markets.

  • Developing a well-crafted expansion strategy is essential. It should outline goals, target markets, and tactics for entering foreign markets, competition, cultural differences, and logistical considerations.

  • Print on demand can play a pivotal role in international expansion by streamlining product distribution and reducing costs. It eliminates the need for inventory and warehousing, offering faster delivery times and localized products.

What is international expansion?

International expansion is the process of venturing into foreign markets and selling products or services to customers outside of the domestic market. It involves adapting business strategies, considering cultural differences, complying with regulations, and establishing a strong global presence.

International ecommerce growth and statistics


Despite the many challenges online retailers had to face during the coronavirus pandemic, global ecommerce sales showed a remarkable growth rate of 27.6% in 2020, reaching over $4 trillion, as reported by eMarketer. Several national markets experienced significant double-digit growth in ecommerce sales in the international market, with Latin America exhibiting a 36.7% increase in online purchases, followed by North America with a 31.8% rise.

In terms of national and regional rankings for online retail sales, China, the US, and the United Kingdom emerged as the leading countries. In 2021, China accounted for a 52% share of the global ecommerce market, followed by the US at 19% and the UK at 4.8%.

It might come as a surprise to some that only six ecommerce companies hold a whopping 58% share of the global ecommerce market. These companies are Taobao.com (15%) and TMall.com (14%), both owned by Alibaba Group, Amazon (13%), JD.com (9%), Pinduoduo (4%), and eBay (3%). On the other hand, major retailers such as Rakuten, Walmart, VIP.com, Sunning.com, Apple, and Shopee collectively hold only 5% of the market share. This proves that in spite of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global retail ecommerce sector has maintained its resilience, with the major players growing in sales and revenue and continuing to dominate the international ecommerce scene.

Seven benefits of international expansion

02_Seven benefits of international expansion

When contemplating international expansion, it is crucial to keep in mind the myriad of benefits it can offer to your ecommerce business.

1. Expand your customer base and increase revenue

Expanding your business internationally allows you to reach customers from different countries and regions, each with its own unique needs and preferences. By catering to these diverse customer segments, you can tap into new markets and significantly grow your customer base and revenue.

2. Diversify your customer base

Relying solely on one market can be risky, as changes in the economy or consumer behavior can have a significant impact on your business. However, expanding internationally allows you to spread your risk across multiple markets. This diversification helps to stabilize your business and protect it from potential downturns in any single market.

3. Enhance brand recognition and perception

When you expand into new markets, you have the opportunity to introduce your brand to a whole new audience. By providing high-quality products and services, you can build a positive reputation and gain the trust of customers in these new markets. This increased brand recognition not only boosts sales but also opens up potential partnerships and collaborations with other businesses.

4. Tap into emerging markets

International expansion allows you to tap into emerging markets with high growth potential, providing an edge over competitors. 

While some markets may be saturated or experiencing slower growth, other countries may be experiencing rapid economic development and increased consumer spending. By expanding into these emerging markets, you can position your business as a pioneer and take advantage of the untapped opportunities they offer.

5. Foster business innovation

Each country has its own unique business practices, cultural norms, and consumer behaviors. By immersing yourself in these new environments, you can gain valuable insights and fresh perspectives that can inspire innovative solutions and approaches. This exposure to different ways of thinking can fuel creativity within your organization and drive continuous improvement.

6. Cultural exchange

When you expand internationally, you have the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This cultural exchange can lead to a deeper appreciation and understanding of diverse perspectives, values, and traditions. By embracing and respecting these differences, you can build strong relationships with customers, employees, and partners around the world, fostering global collaboration and cooperation.

7. Boost customer loyalty

Customers appreciate when businesses make an effort to understand and cater to their specific needs. By adapting your products, services, and marketing strategies to suit the preferences of different markets, you can create personalized experiences that resonate with customers on a local level. This attention to detail and commitment to customer satisfaction can build strong brand loyalty and encourage repeat business.

Five challenges of international expansion

While the benefits of international expansion are enticing, it is essential to address the challenges that may arise along the way.

1. Adapting to cultural barriers and language differences

Global businesses must take into account the diverse cultural backgrounds and languages of their target markets. Understanding and adapting to these differences is crucial to effectively communicate with customers and tailor products or services to their specific needs. For example, in some cultures, the concept of personal space may differ, requiring businesses to adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.

2. Navigating legal and regulatory frameworks

When expanding internationally, businesses must familiarize themselves with the legal requirements of each market they enter. This includes understanding tax regulations, employment laws, intellectual property rights, and import/export regulations. Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal consequences and damage the reputation of the business.

3. Establishing efficient logistics and supply chain operations

Expanding into new markets often requires businesses to develop or adapt their logistics and supply chain operations. This includes finding reliable local suppliers, establishing distribution networks, and ensuring efficient transportation of goods. Additionally, businesses must consider factors such as customs clearance, warehousing, and inventory management to meet the demands of international customers.

4. Building a strong local presence and trust in foreign markets

Entering a foreign market requires businesses to establish a local presence and build trust among the target audience. This can be achieved through various strategies, such as partnering with local distributors or retailers, hiring local employees who understand the market, and engaging in community initiatives. Building a strong local brand presence and reputation is crucial to gaining the trust and loyalty of customers in foreign markets.

5. Managing currency exchange rates and mitigating financial risks

When operating in multiple countries, businesses must navigate the complexities of currency exchange rates and fluctuations. Fluctuations in exchange rates can impact the profitability of international operations and affect pricing strategies. To mitigate financial risks, businesses often employ hedging techniques, such as forward contracts or currency options, to protect against adverse exchange rate movements.

By acknowledging these challenges, businesses can tackle them head-on and pave the way for successful international expansion.

Five most common market entry strategies for global markets

03_Five most common market entry strategies for global markets

Now that we understand the benefits and challenges, let's explore the five most common market entry strategies for international expansion.

1. Exporting

Exporting involves selling products directly to customers in foreign markets.

Exporting can be a great way for businesses to enter global markets because it allows them to reach a wide range of customers without the need for a physical presence in the foreign market. This international ecommerce strategy is particularly suitable for businesses that have unique products or services that can easily be transported across borders.

However, there are some challenges that businesses may face when exporting. For example, they need to consider the logistics of shipping their products to different countries, as well as any trade barriers or regulations that may exist. Additionally, businesses need to be mindful of cultural differences and adapt their products or marketing strategies accordingly to appeal to customers in different markets.

2. Joint ventures

Another strategy is to establish strategic partnerships or joint ventures with local businesses, leveraging their knowledge and networks. This strategy can be particularly beneficial for businesses that are entering markets where they have limited knowledge or experience.

By partnering with local businesses, companies can tap into their expertise and established networks, which can help them navigate the complexities of the foreign market. This strategy also allows businesses to benefit from the local partner's existing customer base and brand reputation.

However, it's important for businesses to carefully select their partners and establish clear agreements to ensure that both parties' interests are aligned. Additionally, businesses need to be aware of any legal or cultural differences that may impact the partnership and take steps to address them.

3. Licensing

The third strategy is licensing, where businesses grant foreign entities the right to produce and sell their products or use their intellectual property. Licensing can be an attractive option for businesses that have valuable intellectual property or technology that they want to leverage in foreign markets.

By licensing their products or intellectual property, businesses can generate revenue without having to invest heavily in setting up operations in foreign markets. This strategy also allows businesses to benefit from the local licensee's knowledge of the market and distribution channels.

However, businesses need to carefully manage their licensing agreements to protect their intellectual property and ensure that their brand is represented appropriately in the foreign market. They also need to monitor the activities of their licensees to ensure compliance with quality standards and avoid any potential damage to their reputation.

4. Franchising

The fourth strategy is franchising, allowing businesses to expand through a network of independent franchisees. Franchising is a popular market entry strategy for businesses in industries such as fast food, hospitality, and retail.

Franchising offers businesses the opportunity to rapidly expand their presence in foreign markets by leveraging the entrepreneurial spirit and resources of their franchisees. This strategy also allows businesses to benefit from the local knowledge and expertise of their franchisees, who are often well-connected within their communities.

However, franchising requires businesses to carefully select and train their franchisees to ensure that they adhere to the brand standards and deliver a consistent customer experience. Businesses also need to establish effective communication channels with their franchisees to maintain alignment and address any issues that may arise.

5. Foreign direct investment

The fifth strategy is direct investment, which involves setting up subsidiaries or acquiring existing businesses in foreign markets. Direct investment can be a more complex and resource-intensive market entry strategy, but it offers businesses greater control and the potential for higher returns.

By establishing a physical presence in the foreign market, businesses can better understand the local culture, customer preferences, and market dynamics. This strategy also allows businesses to build relationships with local stakeholders and adapt their products or services to better meet the needs of the market.

However, direct investment requires businesses to carefully assess the political, economic, and legal risks of the foreign market. They need to consider factors such as government regulations, labor laws, and tax policies that may impact their operations. Businesses also need to invest in local talent and resources to effectively manage their subsidiaries or acquired businesses.

Each strategy offers unique advantages and considerations, and businesses must carefully select the one that aligns with their goals and resources. It's important for businesses to conduct thorough market research and seek expert advice to make informed decisions about their market entry strategy.

How to create your international expansion strategy step-by-step

04_How to create your international expansion strategy step-by-step

Embarking on the journey of international expansion requires a well-formulated strategy that takes into account various elements. Let's break down the process into 10 essential steps:

1. Conduct market research and identify target markets

The initial step in crafting an international expansion strategy involves conducting comprehensive market research to identify potential target markets. This phase is crucial as it lays the groundwork for all subsequent decisions, helping to pinpoint which regions are most viable for expansion.

Conduct thorough market research to identify markets with high growth potential, favorable consumer behavior, and minimal competition. Analyze factors such as economic indicators, demographic trends, cultural alignment, and regulatory environment.

Secondary researche.g., market reports, articles, and public databasescan give insights into a market's socioeconomic climate, consumer behavior, and existing competition.

Assessing market size, customer purchasing power, and infrastructure can also provide valuable insights. Additionally, consider the scalability and suitability of your products or services in different markets.

2. Understand local preferences, cultures, and regulations

Understanding local laws and customs is critical in international expansion as it determines how well your business aligns with the new market. Ignoring these factors could lead to failure to connect with customers, legal difficulties, and even reputational damage.

To understand local preferences, conduct customer surveys or engage local market research firms. These tools can reveal information about consumer habits, trends, and tastes in your target market. 

For culture, immerse yourself in the society and explore its customs, values, and traditions. This can be achieved through literature study, hiring local cultural consultants, or visiting the region.

Use translation tools like Google Translate or professional translation services to quickly and accurately translate your website content, product descriptions, and customer communications. Although not perfect, these tools can provide a good starting point for understanding and bridging the language gap.

Additionally, be prepared to provide customer support in multiple languages, either through hiring bilingual staff or using translation services. Prompt and effective communication in customers' native languages will foster positive relationships and address their concerns, leading to higher customer satisfaction.

Navigating the regulatory landscape is equally important. Seek advice from local legal advisors or consultants familiar with the business laws and regulations in the area, including tax laws, labor laws, and any sector-specific regulations.

3. Assess the competition and identify areas of differentiation

Assessing the competition is crucial to understanding the market dynamics and uncovering unique opportunities for a competitive edge.

Analyzing the competition involves studying their business models, product offerings, pricing strategies, and market share. A popular method for this is through a competitive analysis matrix, which allows for direct comparison across key business areas. Also, consider looking at online customer reviews and social media feedback to understand their strengths and weaknesses from a customer's perspective.

After studying the competition, identify what sets your business apart. This might be superior product features, exceptional customer service, advanced technology, or even a unique brand story. Knowing this can help you position yourself effectively in the market and create a compelling, unique selling proposition (USP).

By comprehensively assessing the competition and identifying your unique qualities, you can strategically enter a new market, offering something that existing competitors do not, and increase your chances of success.

4. Select the appropriate market entry strategy

Choosing the right market entry strategy is an essential step in expanding globally. This decision shapes how your company interacts with the new market, impacting risk, control, and investment levels.

To recap, there are several common market entry strategies:

  • Exporting

  • Licensing

  • Franchising

  • Joint ventures

  • Foreign direct investment

Each strategy has its advantages and risks. Therefore, consider factors like your resources, risk tolerance, market knowledge, and long-term goals. It’s beneficial to seek advice from experts or consultants experienced in international business to make an informed decision.

5. Create a robust financial plan and establish a budget

Your financial plan provides a blueprint for your entry into a new market and helps manage risks associated with financial uncertainty.

The plan should include all costs related to market entry, such as setup costs, marketing and advertising expenses, staffing costs, regulatory and legal fees, and ongoing operational costs. It's essential to also factor in currency exchange rates, tax implications, and potential hidden costs unique to the market.

Simultaneously, project expected revenue based on market size, pricing strategies, and sales volume forecasts. You can use this to calculate break-even points and potential return on investment.

A well-planned budget will guide your spending, ensure you allocate resources efficiently, and help you monitor financial performance. Remember to incorporate some flexibility into the budget to accommodate unforeseen costs.

6. Localize your marketing and sales strategies

Localizing marketing and sales strategies ensures your brand messaging resonates with the target audience, leading to higher customer engagement and improved sales.

This process involves adapting your marketing and sales tactics to suit the local market's cultural norms, language, consumer behavior, and preferences. A one-size-fits-all approach might not work due to the vast differences across global markets.

To localize effectively, translate all marketing materials accurately, but ensure the translated message maintains its intended meaning and tone.

Adapt your product and marketing campaigns to align with local events, holidays, or traditions, and consider the most popular and effective sales channels in the region. It could be digital platforms, brick-and-mortar retail, or a combination.

For a deeper understanding, consider collaborating with local marketing agencies or hiring local staff with a nuanced understanding of the culture and market dynamics.

7. Establish effective logistics and supply chain processes

Establishing effective logistics and supply chain processes ensures your business can deliver its products efficiently and reliably in the new market, which directly impacts customer satisfaction and business reputation.

This involves determining how you'll transport goods, managing inventory, and handling warehousing needs. Furthermore, you need to consider customs regulations, local infrastructure, and any potential trade barriers or tariffs.

Working with a global print on demand provider, like Gelato, can significantly streamline these processes. With production hubs all over the world, Gelato can fulfill and deliver your orders closer to customers, minimizing transport time and costs.

To establish effective logistics, partner with reliable logistics providers with expertise in the target market. They can navigate the local landscape, helping to reduce costs and improve efficiency. For the supply chain, consider local suppliers to cut down transport costs and time.

Implementing technology, like supply chain management software, can also aid in coordinating and monitoring these processes, providing valuable real-time data and enhancing efficiency.

8. Regularly evaluate and adapt your strategy

Regularly evaluating and tweaking your strategy ensures your business remains responsive to changing market conditions and can optimize operations for continuous growth and profitability.

Evaluation involves routinely monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) like sales volume, market share, traffic, customer satisfaction, and profitability. This data should be compared against your initial objectives and forecasts to assess if you're on track to meet your goals.

If performance deviates significantly from projections, it's crucial to understand why. This could involve reassessing market conditions, customer feedback, competition, or internal operations.

Based on your evaluation, adapt your strategy as needed. For example, if a marketing tactic isn't resonating with customers, consider refining your messaging or trying a different channel. If costs are higher than expected, investigate ways to improve efficiency.

Ultimately, international expansion isn't a one-time process but a journey of continuous learning and adaptation. Regularly evaluating and adapting your strategy helps you respond effectively to changes, optimize operations, and stay competitive, ensuring sustainable success in the new market.

How print on demand can aid international expansion

05_How print on demand can aid international expansion

Print on demand (POD) is a revolutionary solution in the realm of international expansion.

POD enables ecommerce businesses to create and sell customized products without inventory or large-scale manufacturing, including wall art, clothing, accessories, and drinkware.

For businesses expanding to new markets, POD offers immense benefits, including minimizing the risks and costs associated with stocking inventory for multiple markets.

POD also allows businesses to offer localized designs and products that resonate with the target audience. Moreover, it localizes production by printing and shipping products to customers in various countries through a network of production hubs.

By embracing POD, businesses can unlock a world of possibilities and scale their international operations seamlessly.

Expand globally with Gelato platinum

A world of opportunities awaits those brave enough to venture beyond their borders.

International expansion can empower ecommerce businesses to tap into global markets, broaden their customer base, and achieve unparalleled growth. However, this journey is not without challenges.

By understanding market entry strategies, developing a comprehensive expansion strategy, and leveraging tools like print on demand, businesses can navigate the complexities and unlock the potential of international markets.

Gelato's print on demand platform effectively breaks down barriers to international trade by simplifying product creation, fulfillment, and shipping.

Our access to more than 130 production hubs in 32 countries allows businesses to sell custom products to customers across the globe, turning your international expansion dreams into reality.

Don't let borders limit your business potential - start selling with Gelato today and become a global ecommerce sensation.

International expansion FAQs

What is international expansion?

International expansion refers to a strategy where a business extends its operations beyond the borders of its home country. This involves adapting products or services to meet the cultural, societal, and market needs of international audiences. The goal is typically to tap into new markets and customer bases, diversify risk, and capitalize on growth opportunities.

What is an international expansion strategy?

An international expansion strategy is a strategic plan a company uses to grow its business internationally. It outlines the new markets to be targeted, entry strategies, localization methods, and resource allocation. At Gelato, our strategy is focused on identifying regions with a high demand for our services and strategically placing our production hubs for optimal efficiency.

What are the five ways to expand internationally?

There are various ways businesses can expand internationally: exporting (selling products produced in one country to residents of another), licensing (permitting a foreign company to manufacture a company's products for a fee), franchising (allowing a foreign company to sell products or use the company's business model and brand), joint ventures (partnering with a foreign company to share resources and knowledge), and foreign direct investment (purchasing or starting a new business in a foreign country).

What is an example of global expansion?

An example of global expansion is Netflix's transformation from an American DVD-by-mail service into a global streaming platform.

Netflix expanded its streaming service worldwide gradually, starting with Canada in 2010, followed by Latin America, Europe, and eventually most of the globe by 2016. Each new market requires understanding local content preferences, regulations, and competition.

Today, with over 200 million subscribers across more than 190 countries, Netflix's diverse content library includes movies and TV shows produced in many different languages to cater to its global audience.

What are the challenges of international expansion?

International expansion has several challenges, such as understanding different market dynamics, legal and regulatory compliance, cultural differences, logistics and supply chain complexity, and currency risks.

How to succeed in international expansion?

Success in international expansion relies on a well-crafted strategy, an understanding of the target market's culture and consumer behavior, robust legal and financial structures, a strong local workforce, and efficient logistics. At Gelato, we achieve success by localizing our services, aligning with local regulations, and leveraging our extensive network of production hubs for efficient delivery.


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