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Choose a multi-store setup in Shopify Plus to localize your global e-commerce by Bob Rockland

Are you considering expanding your e-commerce business to a new region or country? Once your business starts growing, it could make sense to expand to new markets. In July 2021, over 27% of all traffic to Shopify stores came from international buyers. If you are thinking about selling your products across the globe and looking for the right Shopify Plus setup to make this move, this is the blog for you.

Code rocket-1

Think big, start small

We speak with e-commerce entrepreneurs who are eager to grow their webshops internationally every day. In the globalised world we live in, the prospect of going international is appealing. Especially young, starting webshops want to start selling to everyone, everywhere immediately. We see the more experienced entrepreneurs, first perfecting their skills with a single shop before making the move to another country or region. Don’t invest before validating that your brand resonates with target consumers. Initially, you need to test, learn, and iterate.

It is a common mistake to assume that you can simply translate your store to launch in a new country and be equally successful in this new market. At Code, we believe localisation is by no means translation. So, no shortcuts! Going international is no small feat, you should put in the effort of localizing your customer experience. 

Going global on Shopify Plus: these are your options

While Shopify is the absolute best SaaS e-commerce solution out there, there's still quite some complexity in selling internationally.

First things first, if you believe it's time to start selling internationally on Shopify, the best option is to use Shopify Plus. It’s built for merchants who want to scale. 

If you are on Shopify Plus, there are numerous ways to sell globally:

  1. Single Store setup
  2. Multi Store setup
  3. Headless setup
  4. New: Shopify Markets

1. Single store setup

A simple and fast option is to continue using one storefront regardless of where your customer comes from, and layer on Shopify’s multi-language and multi-currency functionality. This is a simple solution to go international on Shopify Plus, but it has some serious limitations.

We believe this setup is not an optimal long-term strategy, but it can be a good option to start experimenting with this setup to test the waters in a new country and develop a multi-store approach if you are ready for the next level.

Pros: Simple, cheap and fast solution to validate your business in a new region.

Cons: There are quite some limitations with this setup. The most important ones are that you won't be able to offer different products for different markets and further localize your customer experience. You will depend on language apps that can be buggy and seriously damage your site performance. And finally, most Shopify apps (still) do not support multilingualism, so they won’t be compatible (this is a big con if you ask us).

2. Multi-store setup

With a multi-store setup, you have multiple versions of your storefront and can redirect customers to their local version of your store. If you are on Shopify Plus, you can add up to 9 storefronts to your account without paying extra.

While your stores operate as separate businesses, giving you full control over products, pricing, payments, shipping, marketing, and more, you can connect all of the stores to your main site to centrally see sales performance and reporting.

The multi-store setup is a proven method we have applied for customers like O’Neill, Ti Sento Milano, Rosefield Watches, Gisou and MUD Jeans. And we see some of the largest merchants on Shopify Plus like GymShark and Allbirds do it exactly the same way. In the rest of this blog we will dive deeper in this set-up.

Pros: 100% flexibility in terms of content, pricing, shipping and more.

Cons: You will need to manage multiple stores, meaning you need to invest resources and budget for local apps, integrations, and content management (of course, localizing your store is hard work. But the effort will be worth it).

3. Headless setup

Another solution to consider is a headless approach. Headless e-commerce means you completely decouple the backend from the front-end. This allows you to create a fully customized e-commerce platform. We get that a single, headless store that’s able to power 20-30 different language/currency combinations can sound really appealing, but going headless isn’t a decision to take lightly. Ask yourselves why would you decouple or ‘de-SaaS’ Shopify?

We like to see Headless as a Ferrari. Yes, you will get extreme performance, but you will pay a high price for purchase and maintenance, and you really need to know how to drive. If you are ready to invest in a thorough preparation and an extensive development project, this might be the solution for you. But remember the pros need to outweigh the cost, time and effort.

Pros: Headless is superfast and the flexible architecture will give you a level of extreme flexibility on the front-end. This means you can get really creative with your UX.

Cons: Headless comes at an enormous cost and effort if you compare it to a multi-store setup. You will need custom connections for integrating apps, technologies and to transfer localized information, translation and prices across your apps. This will create extra development work and adds more project management complexity. Finally, seeing headless as a guarantee for better site performance is a misconception.

New: Shopify Markets

Recently, a fourth option came up! Shopify just announced Shopify Markets, a new solution to remove the complexity of international commerce and help merchants sell on international markets from a single Shopify store. Read all about the features here.

Some of our stores got early access to test this new option, so keep an eye out on this page for updates.

4 reasons to sell internationally with a multi-store setup on Shopify

  1. Tailor your store for local audiences and purchasing habits
  2. Localize your Sales, Marketing and Service channels
  3. Offer local currency and payment options
  4. Compliance and taxes

1: Tailor your store for different audiences and local purchasing habits

Having a separate Shopify store for each country or region is a great way to make sure your site and offering are localized for each target audience. You can optimize each store individually which means you can make its content and offers extremely relevant to the intended audience. 

Think about local keywords, country-specific offers, localized site design based on cultural differences, local domains and URL structure, local shipping providers and creating relevant content for your local audience.

Allbirds localizes their hero-image for each region through their multi-store setup:

2. Localize your Sales, Marketing and Service channels

By managing multiple local online stores you can set up a local sales, marketing and service strategy to fit the needs of your specific region or country. Think about local social media pages linked to your 

local Shopify store, local apps (for example, in Germany Trusted E-Shops is preferred over Trustpilot), and service channels in the right language.

Catering to the specific needs of your audience in a market is extremely important. The image below shows two Shopify Stores: same brand, different country. You can almost play Tetris with the difference in age of people interested in the product.

3. Offer local currency and payment options

33% of international visitors will not even consider making a purchase if their local currency is not offered, so this is crucial if you want to sell internationally. Local Shopify storefronts allow you to not only offer your local currency but also local payment options like Amazon Pay, Klarna or Sofort Banking.

To ensure that your international buyers are guided to their local site, you can install Shopify’s Geolocation app. This intelligently identifies where your customers are shopping from using their IP address and ensures they view your local store. We always recommend our clients to show a friendly pop-up which asks visitors if they would like to go to their local store instead of forcing them to go there.

4. Compliance and taxes

Depending on where you are going to sell, there is a chance you will be dealing with different tax rules and other regulations you will need to follow. Setting up multiple stores allows you to make sure that your business is compliant. For example, most USA stores display products exclusive of all taxes,

and add them at the checkout based on where the customer is shipping to. While other regions, like Europe and Asia Pacific, typically mandate that products are displayed including taxes. Another example regarding compliance is that Solden is only allowed during specific periods in Belgium.

Common objections we hear about managing multiple storefronts

For most e-commerce managers or business owners, operating several Shopify stores sounds a bit overwhelming. No need to feel that way! It should not keep you from expanding your business. We have gathered a list of the most frequently heard objections. After reading this, we are sure you will run your multi-store e-commerce business with confidence.

“But then I have to change my homepage like 5 times?”

When we talk about using multiple storefronts, one of the objections we hear very often is that it sounds complicated and time-consuming to maintain the content of multiple stores. Do you really need to change your hero image or homepage like 5 times? Yes you should! Localizing your store is hard work. You should put in the effort to create a localized experience, it will pay off in revenue and conversion growth. The overhead of maintaining separate stores in Shopify doesn't require large teams, either in terms of marketing or development resources.

“How can I sync my product information?”

Syncing your product information across multiple stores is actually quite easy. There are multiple ways to do this but we prefer these two approaches to sync products between multiple storefronts:

  • For smaller merchants and/or just a few SKU (10-100) we would recommend using an application like Stock Sync. You will use one of the stores as a ‘mother store’ and sync with the other smaller stores through a sync app. In this case it is not beneficial to purchase a PIM.
  • For bigger merchants and/or many SKU’s (1000+) we would recommend using a professional PIM (Product Information Management) like Akeneo PIM. You can manage all your product information in the PIM and our integration with Shopify will take care of the sync. We’re happy to explain more about integrating with your PIM or other third party logistic or fulfilment partners. Just drop us a line.

“Do I need to purchase each app per store?”

This objection is partially true. Most apps you will need to purchase per storefront and generally this will lead to additional costs. However, the most expensive apps have often committed to packaged pricing for Shopify Plus merchants with several stores and there are some apps you only need to buy once and you can add as many Shopify stores as you want, like Customer Service app Gorgias.

Take Klaviyo, the app itself is free and you are charged for using the service. From the perspective of having separate stores, there are hardly any impacts on costs in this example. Klaviyo ensured it is easy and effective to use multiple accounts and switch and copy flows between shops. Yes, it’s a bit more work but in the end you will be more successful because you can localize your emails and use different flow strategies. Finally, needing to purchase apps per store also allows you to be flexible and use natively the best possible app or integration for each market (for example use Loyalty Lion in the UK and Smile in Germany).

“Can I get an overview of all my stores and customers?”

Getting an overview of multiple stores used to be difficult, but is improving fast. In Shopify Plus you are able to view your stores and users. We are expecting to find a ‘customers overview’ there soon too. We stay close to Shopify to hear when more options are available.

“Isn’t managing multiple stores way more expensive?”

Setting up a new local store will cost roughly one day to launch. The cool thing is we can make sure we keep the features of your shops in sync (if you want). Also maintaining multiple stores won’t cost you a dime more. Same goes for the Shopify Plus fee; prices will stay the same for your first 10 stores. So in the end, you will only need to invest in multiple apps and resources to manage your content. But we see that offering local experiences pays off massively with our clients.

“What about my SEO?”

Make sure that you are setting the hreflang tags on each page. This is true no matter what platform you use for your website and is the most reliable way of telling Google what language the page is written in. You'll also want to list all of your language options to tell Google which URLs you have, so they can detect the individual URLs for each Shopify store. Finally, make sure you're also using canonical links to tell Google which is the canonical page when you have duplicate pages in the same language.

“Will my customers be able to mix and match language and currencies?”

Yes, your customers will be able to browse both language and currency (if you use Shopify Payments). If you aren’t using Shopify Payments, it’s a great alternative to open a European store to cater English speaking clients in whatever country. This is exactly what we did for clients like eu.rosefieldwatches.com or eu.oneill.com.

Need help setting up multiple storefronts?

If you ask us, a multi-store setup is the most flexible and powerful way to go international on Shopify Plus and localize your e-commerce. But, we would never lie to you: localizing your global e-commerce can be challenging. Having separate online stores, means you’ll have separate accounts, orders, items, and inventory data to worry about. But there’s a solution for every problem and localizing your e-commerce brings a world of opportunity. Code has loads of experience to build the right integrations and keep it all straight. We are happy to help you successfully manage your business.

Of course, there is no one size fits all and there are exciting new developments in Shopify to consider. We will keep you updated!

Read this Playbook by Shopify if you want a complete guide about global e-commerce. Seriously, this guide covers everything.

Bob Rockland
Written by

Bob Rockland

As co-founder and CCO of Code, Bob helps e-commerce brands to build & scale on Shopify Plus. Fun fact: Bob likes the ever-changing world of Shopify and e-commerce so much that he also runs a Shopify Plus store in 2 countries with his partner.

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