For the past few months, we’ve discussed how businesses in Hawaii can survive and thrive amid the pandemic. As a business owner on Maui, I’ve witnessed the resilience of small business owners time and time again throughout the past year.

The best-performing businesses could see tourism was going to plummet and stay there, and adjusted their operations accordingly. This involved hosting events that complied with restrictions, targeting the local customers in their backyard, and most importantly, adopting e-commerce to open up new streams of revenue.

A fantastic example of this is Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke‘anae, which used a Maui County relief grant to open an e-commerce platform and start selling their products to the mainland U.S. As many similar businesses shut down, Aunty Sandy’s began to thrive, shipping their products all over the continental U.S.

This post takes e-commerce a step further, discussing how to expand your e-commerce platform to attract international customers. This could mean regaining some of the international customers your business once enjoyed… or appealing to new ones.

Also Read: 3 Common SEO Mistakes Every Business In Hawaii Should Avoid

Why You Should Consider Expanding Your E-Commerce to International Customers

While traditional business is restricted by geography, e-commerce isn’t. The good news is, almost every business can venture into e-commerce at some level.

Even Aunty Sandy’s, which deals primarily in perishable banana bread, found a way. They began to sell Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread mix, shipping the correct ingredients, proportions, and instructions… so that customers anywhere could make their famous banana bread for themselves.

Because of this move, they sell products to people all over the country, instead of only those able to come to their shop.

But we can dream even bigger than one country.

Anyone in the world with an internet connection and a couple of dollars (or pesos, rupees, yen, euros, etc.) is now your prospective customer.

And it’s IMPOSSIBLE to reach them how we used to. While some Americans are starting to visit Hawaii again, international tourism is still down by 99% from last year. No, that’s not a typo. You can see for yourself.

This means that international customers are not coming to you, and won’t be for years to come. So, to sell to people abroad, you have to do it online. If done well, you can gain millions (or even billions) of potential customers.

Also Read: 3 Practical Ways Local Businesses Can Adopt E-Commerce

How To Adapt E-Commerce For International Customers

Here are the first few steps to attracting international customers to your e-commerce store.

  • Choose Your Target

You can’t reach every audience at once, so you need to start small. There are hundreds of possible countries to target, representing thousands of cultures and languages. So, choose just one demographic to begin with.

It could be a group of people who frequented your store before the pandemic… or something new entirely. You could try to appeal to people living in Japan, or Spanish-speakers in South America, or someplace in Europe. The possibilities are nearly endless.

The main point is to choose one and stick to it because it will require some investment before it pays off.

  • Develop Content For the Target Language and Culture

Once you have a target demographic, you must have content appealing to them. You should have web pages, social media posts, and blog content in the target language. Not only should you translate what you already have, but you should develop new content that appeals specifically to the culture you want to reach.

You may not know the language, but you can easily hire somebody who does. For whatever country you choose, there are writers who will happily translate and create content in that language, oftentimes for a lower cost than you’d expect. It pays off too when you start to reach your new audience.

  • Use Hreflang Tags to Clarify Your Audience

This may seem a bit technical at first, but it’s so, so worth it to understand. A Hreflang tag is a label attached to your web content identifying the audience.

Wikipedia does something like this, depending on the language the page is in. English pages have an “en” tag. Japanese pages have a “ja” tag. German pages have a “de” tag, and so on.

Having the correct tags will help a customer understand your page is for them… and even help your page show up in searches originating in that language. You can get really specific with them by combining tags. For example, you could target English speakers in Germany by using the tag “en-de”.

For all your content, make sure the Hreflang tags line up with the intended audience. Here is a free guide for changing them on websites powered by WordPress. If you’re using something other than WordPress, a quick Youtube or Google search can help you learn how to do it.

In all this, it’s important to start small. Pick a target and stick to it until you have plenty of content and web pages that appeal to them. Make sure the tags reflect the kind of person you want to attract. Soon, you’ll start to see orders come in from your new audience, and you’ll be able to confidently say you run an international e-commerce platform!

If you want help making sure your Hreflang tags, SEO, and website are set up to score international customers, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Further Reading: 3 Pivots For Hawaii Businesses In 2021



Photos Courtesy of George Pagan III and Brett Zeck

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