When considering going international, a business has numerous things to take into account. From shipping and warehousing, taxes and laws, team structure and data segmentation – going global affects everything.
Whilst cross-border commerce is not for the fainthearted, it is full of excitement and opportunity. The trajectory for most brands’ growth includes going global, and ecommerce makes this increasingly achievable.
But what are the options for going international with Shopify? This is the question I’ll explore in this article, providing in-depth insight into the reasons you might opt for (i) Shopify Markets (single store option) or (ii) expansion stores (multi-store option).
I’ll look at the pros and cons of both options and what a brand needs to consider when making this decision for their business.
You might want to leverage both options in your ecommerce internationalisation strategy, trialling global selling using Markets, with a view to creating an expansion store later down the line if it proves to be a profitable venture. I’ll talk more about this approach in my conclusion.
Internationalising on Shopify with expansion stores
Going global as an ecommerce business on Shopify Plus historically required a multi store approach, also known as expansion stores. These are separate Shopify stores that function independently of one another.
This autonomy allows your brand to operate in different markets, with each store adhering to region-specific regulations and requirements.
A multi-store structure can give retailers greater control and flexibility in their approach to each individual market, especially if they have different products, price points and promotions across each region. International personal grooming brand and Swanky client Wilkinson Sword makes use of expansion stores for this reason.
Whilst this independence opens up endless possibilities and offers extensive flexibility, it can also create huge complexities.*
The key challenges of expansion stores include:
- increased time managing stores;
- higher tech stack costs;
- duplicated integrations, eg. to ERP;
- migration of theme, data and content to new store; and
- a requirement to have a bank account in that store’s currency.
So, when Shopify Markets was announced in September 2021, it changed the game for ecommerce internationalisation, especially for brands wanting to test a new market without committing to the extensive requirements of a multi store approach (more on this later!).
NB: on Shopify Plus you can have 10 Shopify stores for free. If you are on another plan, then your Shopify costs will be duplicated per store, e.g. on Advanced a new store will be $299. Costs of other tools vary, but they are not all strictly double. It is worth reaching out to your tool’s client success manager to see if there are any offers for multiple stores.
*It’s worth mentioning here that Swanky has developed an innovative backend solution that enables multiple expansion stores to be managed from a single code base, thereby reducing complexities and creating huge efficiency gains. Read our article for the details about this multi-store codebase solution.
Shopify Markets is a single store route to internationalisation for ecommerce businesses. This allows you to manage many of the elements involved in cross-border commerce from just one Shopify store.
Practically, this means that from the Shopify Admin you can:
- manage multiple currencies;
- display different prices per market;
- manage local domains (with automatic SEO optimisation);
- show the right currency and language based on buyer location; and
- control duties and import taxes.
As well as centralising backend functions, Shopify Markets enables a localised experience for international customers. On the frontend of your site, customers view translated content, region-specific checkout forms, and more. This allows customers to interact with a brand in the context of their region, thus increasing brand awareness and scale on a global level.
When Shopify Markets entered the Shopify ecosystem it caused a stir and made cross-border ecommerce far more accessible and affordable because it streamlines the internationalisation process.
Shopify Markets is available on all Shopify price plans. Head to Admin, Settings, then Markets to check it out.
However, Shopify Markets isn’t a silver bullet.
In many ways, Markets is an excellent solution for many ecommerce brands. But as we mentioned at the start of this article, international growth affects every part of a business. It is, by nature, a complex task.
Therefore, there are still use cases in which Shopify Markets cannot provide the functionality a business requires. In these instances, it could make more sense to have multiple separate stores.
Reasons to consider expansion stores over Shopify Markets
Let’s look at the situations in which we’d recommend considering expansion stores over Shopify Markets:
1. Shopify payouts needed in multiple currencies
If you need to be paid in USD in your US store and GBP in your UK store, this isn’t yet possible in Shopify Markets and would require you to use expansion stores.
NB: It is on Shopify’s roadmap to remove this limitation in the future.
2. Complete localisation of store
If you want complete localisation of your store, for example, the ability to create very market-specific content or campaigns, you should consider expansion stores.
3. Complex rules for pricing, shipping, tax, warehousing, etc.
If a business has complex rules around these areas, I would highly recommend considering expansion stores. An example of this would be having a catalogue of products with different tax requirements.
Here at Swanky, we could certainly build a bespoke solution to cater for these requirements within Shopify Markets. However, it may become overly complicated to the point that expansion stores would offer a simpler solution.
4. Discounting and promotions
When using Shopify Markets, discounting and promotions will apply to all regions simultaneously. If you require more flexibility than this and wish to create region-specific promotional campaigns, you will need to use expansion stores.
5. Reliance on third-party apps
Shopify Markets is a Shopify solution. Therefore, not all third-party apps are supported in Markets. If your store has a major reliance on third-party apps for important functionality, check their compatibility with Shopify Markets. If they are not compatible, or compatibility is limited (and those limitations are too significant) you will likely need to use expansion stores.
6. Email translation requirements
Emails are far harder to translate than the frontend of a site; an email must be sent through Klaviyo to be translated. If sending emails through Klaviyo is not possible, the email can’t be translated (except for Shopify transaction emails which can be translated through Shopify’s Translate and Adapt app).
The next best option available is for your email body to contain multiple languages. The main limitation here is found with third-party tools that send emails to customers, e.g. for review requests after purchase. If you don’t wish to send emails containing several languages like this, and can’t send them through Klaviyo, you will have to use expansion stores.
7. Regions are managed independently
If your market regions are managed independently, by independent teams, it makes sense to use expansion stores. This allows separate teams to maintain autonomy.
8. Shopify Payments is unavailable in a region
Much of Shopify Markets’ functionality is reliant on Shopify Payments. But, Payments isn’t available in all regions. Therefore, if your business is based in a region where Shopify Payments is unavailable, much of Shopify Markets will not function and the multi-store route is your best option.
Recommended approaches for internationalising on Shopify
On the whole, Markets is an amazing tool to reduce barriers to internationalisation. Yes, it has certain limitations, but it offers retailers a more accessible, and cheaper, option for cross-border ecommerce. Shopify Markets is an especially good tool for testing the market fit of a business in a new region.
However, brands serious about expansion should consider a multi-store approach. As we’ve explored in this article, expansion stores offer endless flexibility and can therefore provide a more robust and sustainable solution to internationalisation.
But they do come with a higher price tag. This is caused by extra development time, the cost associated with duplicated apps and integrations, and the ongoing management time this approach demands.
With all this in mind, there are three approaches we would recommend to brands exploring globalisation:
- Utilise Shopify Markets to serve a new market from a single Shopify store.
- Create an expansion store specifically for a market which can be managed independently.
- Start on Shopify Markets with a view to create an expansion store in the future dependent on performance, customer experience, or other metric.
It is this third approach where the strength of Shopify Markets lies. This option allows you to ‘test the waters’ and trial selling in another country. You can afford to take on the limitations of Markets because it is far cheaper. Once you have then proven the market is profitable, consider investing in an expansion store and a team to manage it.
To see some of our internationalisation expertise in action, check out the case study on our ecommerce website design and development project with global hair care brand Bouclème. In this instance, we actually made use of both Shopify Markets and an expansion store.
The future of Shopify Markets
It’s worth noting that Shopify Markets is still relatively new to the ecosystem. It launched in September 2021 and Shopify continues to incorporate new functionality to Markets. This means the platform is constantly evolving and its constraints are changing.
For example, it was announced in Shopify Winter Editions ‘23 that product lists per market (i.e. the ability to sell different products in different regions) would now be available in Markets.
Similarly, third-party apps are developing to better support Shopify Markets. These tools are becoming more powerful and better able to integrate with Markets as time goes on.
Leaders in Shopify Internationalisation
It is not hyperbole to say that Swanky wrote much of the rule book when it comes to internationalisation on Shopify Plus. We were one of the first Shopify agencies to take globalisation seriously and have since helped brands expand their business globally with great success.
To learn more about cross-border ecommerce for your business, check out the latest version of our Internationalisation Ebook.
Or get in touch to ask how we would recommend using Shopify Plus for your brand’s international expansion.
P.S. Our Internationalisation Ebook is now available in French too.