International e-commerce: 3 Things that make you go hmmm

If you thought you knew everything there is to know about selling online to an international audience, here are three topics that may give you further food for thought:

1. International SEO

Search Engine Optimization can present a bit of a headache even when you are only selling in the domestic market. Most popular keywords and tags relevant to your website need to be carefully identified and applied, and that is just the easy bit. This is also true for international SEO.

Google, although extremely popular in English speaking countries is not the only search engine you should consider. Ever heard of BaiduYandex or Seznam? If you are hoping to sell to China, Russia or Czech Republic, you should!

Similarly, the keywords that you are using to attract the local customer will not necessarily work internationally. Research is needed to establish the buyer behavior in your target export markets, what are the keywords they use and in what combination – the phrases, expressions and colloquialisms tend to vary from market to market. Take into account local nuances which can exist, even in the same language, an example being Austrian German vs Swiss German vs German German.

Beside the impact of language and local search engines, here are some other issues to consider:

  • Domain Strategy -  Pros and cons of using a generic TLD (e.g. .com) vs. use of multiple sites geo-targeted to local countries (e.g.
  • Site Hosting -  Hosting sites in target country and use of content delivery networks for improved performance/customer experience
  • Local links - Focused promotion of site within target country, driving targeted users and improving local search performance

2. Credit Card Fraud

Unfortunately, Credit Card Fraud is quite rampant in the international online selling business arena. A fraudster will use a stolen credit card number to buy legitimate goods from an unsuspecting seller. The seller will not get paid for the merchandise, but he or she will have to pay the credit card fees and, even worse, lose the merchandise because it has been shipped to the fraudster.  Small businesses are particularly vulnerable as every loss of merchandise and costs really affect the bottom line.

Here are a few tips on how to deal with this particular issue:

  • Ask for customer ID verification. For suspect orders or large orders, ask the customer to fax or e-mail a form of identification to rule out usage of a stolen card.
  • Be sceptical. Is there anything unusual about the order, such as large quantities of the same product or peculiar delivery instructions?
  • Do a BIN look-up. The first 6 digits of a credit card are called the bank identification number (BIN). They tell you which bank has issued the credit card. If the issuing bank is located in a country that is different from where the order is originating, you should ask for further verification.
  • Purchase fraud-detection tools. Many credit-card providers and payment gateways offer effective fraud detection tools that are very affordable. Use those tools.

3. EU Distance Selling Rules (DSR)

Distance selling involves communication between a supplier and a consumer where they are not in each others physical presence. This includes sales made online via an e-commerce website, where a physical distribution of the product has occurred (e.g. downloadable products are not subject to these rules). The European Directive for Distance Selling binds the Irish E-commerce sellers to these rules.

For example the Directive spells out rules regarding how the VAT is to be charged, but also what the consumer rights in relation to distance purchases are. If a supplier fails to comply with legal obligations, he or she is then exposed to the risk of criminal prosecution and fines of up to 3,800 euro.  Consumer protection organisations can bring proceedings in the High Court to enforce the Regulations - it is therefore important that the e-commerce businesses fully familiarise themselves with their obligations.



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