Shopify’s stratospheric rise as the number one e‑commerce platform for growing businesses means that there are now, more brands than ever, that want to sell internationally using it.
The international brands using Shopify range from new start-ups that found success and scaled, to established enterprises looking to gain from the benefits of Shopify Plus.
For these growing brands, the prospect of going international is appealing. However, despite the globalised world we live in, there’s still a lot of complexity in selling internationally. We’re here to guide you through it.
International and Shopify
From this point forward, we must make an important decision between two types of Shopify architecture. With both, we are going to end up with international support but there are pros and cons of each. So, let's get into it.
Single-store with Shopify Multi-currency
The simplest solution is to use Shopify’s Multi-Currency product - if you can. The 'if' is the big question, as there are a number of limitations, which we’ll get to below.
The user experience is slick - a customer can browse your store in a number of currencies and/or languages and add to cart. In the background, you receive payments in your chosen currency because Shopify does the conversion for you.
Pros: Simple, you only need one store which makes it easy to test new regions.Cons: Not all apps are compatible, price rounding (see below), you can't control the currency conversion, and pricing will fluctuate over time causing confusion for some repeat customers.
With multi-region, you create a store instance for each currency, and each of these are hosted on a different url.
e.g. yourstore.com, eu.yourstore.com, ca.youstore.com
The pricing and checkout is in the base currency of that region e.g. eu.yourstore.com would be in EUR. The main drawback here is that you need to maintain several instances of your store.
Pros: Better SEO, as you have a store per region. More flexible in terms of content, design, product offering, pricing etc.Cons: Every store would need it’s own apps and integrations, you need to sync content between stores and you need to be able to deploy theme development updates to all stores.
If you're using Shopify, it's important to note that the overhead of maintaining seperate stores is less than that of other e-commerce platforms and doesn't require large teams, either in terms of marketing or development resources.
Now let's tackle each element of selling internationally.
Not selling in a local currency is a big conversion killer. So how do you sell in multiple currencies on Shopify?
Multi-currency is the first of the 'multis' you need to do to go international on Shopify. The recurring question each time is whether you go with:
A single-store with Shopify Payment’s multi-currency
Multi-store with a store per currency
Either way, you should end up with a currency selector like this:
The above is a 'native' control but you can stylize your dropdown more, like these:
Clicking on the relevant currency will if you're using...
Shopify Multi-currency, change the store to that currency.
Multi-store, redirect you to the relevant store.
We recommend that you use geo-IP detection to work out which country the customer is in so that you can route them to their most local site.
You may also want to introduce a warning for customers that are browsing a foreign currency or region, to let them know you have a local site, as below.
Now here are the 3 options for showing prices in different currencies to your customers.
Multi-currency Option 1: Estimated price
It's pretty crude - the big turn off here is that as soon as the customer gets to checkout, the store reverts to the base currency, which they will need to pay in. This will put off a lot of customers, who will be charged an FX fee by their bank for shopping in another currency. And it feels, well, foreign.
Since Shopify have launched their multi-currency offering, this option is not an attractive first step to international as it once was.
Shopify Payments multi-currency tends to be the preferred alternative for those wanting to sell globally from a single store. With this, you can pick from a list of over 130 different currencies, which you want your store to be available in. Customers can then shop in one of these chosen currencies throughout their full purchase journey.
We mentioned before that this works by either customers choosing a currency from a selector, or by your store recommending one, should you opt for geo-IP detection.
As of September 2020, those with a Shopify Payments multi-currency store also have the flexibility to add additional, ‘international domains’. These are specific domains that take customers to a ‘version’ of the store that’s pre-configured with particular currency and language combinations. For instance, if a brand has a significant amount of customers in Spain, they might set up es.yourstorename.com that will point those customers to their store, populated in Spanish and EUR. Learn more about using international domains when selling internationally with Shopify Payments multi-currency.
Lastly, if opting for Shopify Payments multi-currency, you should note that the conversion rates of the currencies you offer will depend on whether you use automatic currency conversion or manual exchange rate conversion. Find out more about setting currency conversions with Shopify multi-currency.
Shopify Payments' Multi-Currency back-end
When Shopify Payments and multi-currency are enabled, you will see a currency section once you go in to ‘Manage’ on Shopify Payments.
You'll then see each enabled currency:
You can’t set ‘floor’ or minimum prices for each currency, but you can set rounding rules in each currency, which keeps your prices looking neat even when they fluctuate day to day. The rounding options below are what you can set for each currency.
Shopify charges a small fee for every currency conversion. This is dynamically added on top of the converted price that the customer pays, so it doesn't affect your margin. It will make your foreign currency prices slightly higher than the spot rate though, so keep this in mind.
For example, if the store is in USD ($), you can set rounding rules for all other activated currencies. If you choose 0.99 for GBP, the GBP pound sterling prices will always look like £X.99. Note that again, this is after the Shopify Payments conversion fee has been added.
A typical set-up for rounding might be:
EUR round up to €0.95
JPY round up to the nearest ¥100
USD, CAD, AUD, NZD, SGD, HKD round up to the nearest dollar.
GBP round up to the nearest pound.
Base price x currency FX rate + conversion fee + rounding rule = local price
An example with a USD product where the customer is shopping in GBP:
$10 x 0.81 (USD/GBP exchange rate) + 0.15% (example Shopify conversion fee) + 0.87785 (example Shopify rounding rule to 0.99) = £8.99 local price
The complexity here comes if you are selling wholesale in to these markets and have MSRP and RRPs. You may not be able to keep to your own agreements with Shopify's rounding rules. Equally, after the conversion fees, your pricing regionally may not be as competitive as retailers for your own product. A multi-region architecture allows you to have full control over your pricing.
With that said, if you aren't also using a wholesale model alongside DTC, Shopify multi-currency is a superb option.
The conversion fee is taken out before the rounding is done. A worked example:
Product price in-store currency (for example, USD) $10.00
Multiply by the currency conversion rate (for example, 0.867519) €8.68
Add the currency conversion fee (for example, 1.5%) €8.81
Apply the rounding rule (for example, round to €0.90) €8.90
This is how Shopify is charging you for currency conversion. You will need to factor this into your financial models and compare against alternatives for processing foreign currencies.
You could consider using shipping rules to hedge against this but that would rely on you watching currency changes and updating your rates to different countries accordingly.
Currency risks with Shopify Multi-Currency
If you sell in different currencies, there are currency risks no matter what.
With Shopify Payments, we can isolate four risk areas when you convert foreign currencies:
Manually captured payments -during the gap between authorizing and capturing the payment, during which the FX rate may have change
Refunds -during the gap between charging a customer and refunding them.
Chargebacks -during the gap between charging a customer and having to pay the chargeback.
Chargeback resolution wins -if you get a chargeback and you win the dispute resolution, you’ll have the payment captured again at the current FX rate.
In all cases above, the risk can go either way. If the foreign currency gets stronger between authorizing and capturing the payment, for example, you will receive less in your base currency when you get your payout.
Getting paid out
Shopify will do the currency conversion for you before your payout, so you’ll receive your payout in the currency of the country where your store/business is located. Canadian businesses have the option for Canadian dollars (CAD) or United States dollars (USD). Danish businesses can be paid in either Euro (EUR) or Krone (DKK).
Shopify charge processing fees that vary depending on the card type and if it’s domestic or cross-border. You can ask for a breakdown of these from your Shopify Plus Sales Rep.
Multi-currency on Shopify POS
Shopify POS only uses your base store currency. You cannot sell in multiple currencies in any Shopify channels, including the Wholesale channel, with Shopify multi-currency. If you need to do that, you'll need to go multi-store, explained below.
SOFORT, iDEAL & other international payment methods
Most payments online are via credit and debit card but many countries still have broad usage of alternative methods. SOFORT and iDEAL are payment methods widely accepted online in Europe, for example.
Shopify does support SOFORT except in Germany. You can learn more about using SOFORT with Shopify here.
Shopify does support iDEAL, a Dutch payment method.
This is a huge step forward for Shopify in the European market, but you may want to look into the popular payment methods in the markets you wish to launch in, to ensure they are available on Shopify Payments.
What's the alternative? Using a seperate Shopify store per currency.
Here at We Make Websites, most of our international clients will opt for a ‘multi-store architecture’ which looks like this.
Using this approach, each currency is within a separate Shopify Plus store catering to a geographical region. This gives you full control over how you set prices, payment options and basically everything you can think of that needs configuring on a Shopify store. A typical setup as above might compromise of:
UK store, GBP currency, at brandname.com
US store, USD currency, at us.brandname.com
EU store, EUR currency, at eu.brandname.com
(see URL section below for much more detail on this)
An alternative might be to have a different EUR store for different languages you want to cater to.
As you’ve no doubt guessed by now, this also means maintaining several stores. We add syncing apps and/or middleware to keep the stores inline so you aren’t having to duplicate effort on each store.
Some things do become more difficult when maintaining a multi-store architecture, such as installing apps on each store or keeping collections up to date. Product IDs are also out of sync between stores which could cause problems with apps that work across your stores and with redirections.
However multi-store has a nice benefit in that you can merchandise specifically for each region.
Shopify POS with multi-store
Since Shopify POS only works in the base currency of a given store, with multi-store you could have POS active in different countries if you have different stores for each region. You could also plug in a third party POS.
Currency risks with multi-store
Above we specified four areas you have currency risk when selling via Shopify Payments. With multi-store, each store's payment gateway is plugged in to a bank account in the local currency. This means you have full control over when you choose to convert currencies, and may be able to do it wholesale through a bank.
Having said that - there is still currency-risk, perhaps even more, when you are in control of when to convert your currencies.
You will also need a bank account in each base currency.
Multi-store or Shopify Multi-Currency?
Normally this decision comes down to whether you require full control over your pricing in each currency, or if you are happy with rounded FX based conversion. If not, it's time to get more advanced and use a multi-store architecture, which does have benefits but is more complex to manage.
Is Shopify Multi-currency right for you?
Can you live without full price control?
Are you only using Shopify POS in one currency (or not at all)?
Do you need to control when currencies are converted?
Can you live without SOFORT payments outside Germany (niche I know)
If you've answered YES to all the above, Shopify Multi-currency via Shopify Pay would work.
For bigger businesses that want full control over their international presence, we typically develop an international multi-store architecture that will provide global reach with local optimization. Otherwise, Shopify Payments is the easier option.
Once you can actually sell in different currencies, it's time to get your content in order.
First off let's get one thing clear: don't automate translations! Brand tone of voice for a DTC is more important than speaking the right language. So if you want to sell in different languages, make sure you have a native speaker do the translation. And that native speaker needs to "get" the sensibilities of your brand, so they should be a professional copywriter.
For managing content in multiple languages on your Shopify store, there are a couple of ways.
Multi-store - the 'native' way
Again, our old friend multi-store, so each store represents a different language.
Each running it's own Shopify store. Since each store needs to be on a different URL (subfolders are not supported) you might end up with:
You'll have 100% control over everything. If you want to create a product in Spanish, just create it using Spanish words. Least amount of hassle (assuming you know Spanish), simplest for SEO and no additional apps required.
The frustration here is that all stores that share a language - e.g. brandname.com and ca.brandname.com are both in English - may have duplicate content so you need some easy way to manage it. There are a few ways to do this, described below.
Note that with this approach the store admin can be set to the local language on each store, which could be useful if you have different local teams managing each.
Using language apps with a single store
When Shopify announced the Translations API in 2019, the announcement included two big pieces of news:
Pages are rendered server-side, which is way better for SEO. Before this, the page loaded, and was then translated on the front-end by the app.
Subfolders are supported for multi-lingual with a single store, so for example:
The Translations API originally launched with 3 supporting apps but we recommend Langify V2 because it is the only one that allows for the importing/exporting of translations.
If you're going to use Langify, you need to get to grips with PO/MO files. They stand for Portable Object and Machine Object respectively and are basically a way of mass-managing translations. You have to export all of your products via Langify as a PO file and open it using the POedit app where you then input all your translations, before converting it to an MO file and uploading it back to Langify.
It's better to do this than try directly in the Shopify app, you can lose a lot of work if you accidentally close your browser/throw your computer out the window in the laborious translation process.
Language apps vs multi-store
If you have reams and reams of content, dozens of languages and no appetite for language-based stores or manual processes and are a brand whose e-commerce team is already too busy (most brands) then Langify may not be much better than taking the multi-store route. With that said, it's the best of the bunch when it comes to apps and it's cheap at $17.50 a month.
Whichever way you choose - make sure that for SEO reasons 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, with something like the following, for each site URL:
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.
A note on emails
With a multi-store approach, you have the flexibility (but also the chore) of setting up emails in each language.
With apps, we know that Langify allows you to translate transactional email content but not marketing emails, those would need to be translated via your Email Service Provider (ESP).
Again, don't automate translation
Just to repeat... there is no option here for automating translations. We throughly do not recommend this. If it's your only option, rely on the user's browser to translate the content.
To the entrepreneurs out there...
If someone can please make a translation web app that is intuitive, fast, well supported, well documented and allows you to upload your translations in bulk without a bunch of import/export/convert faffing then you will make a lot of money (and please let us know).
URL structure for international on Shopify
Now that we've covered the options for multi-language and multi-currency, we can discuss URL structure.
The options are all below, going from easy to hard, and less locally optimized to more locally optimized.
Too easy - Shopify Payments Multi-currency in one language only:
A decent starting point...
Store #URLLanguageCurrency1brandname.comEnglishMulti-currency via Shopify Payments*
Easy - Shopify Payments Multi-currency with Multi-language app:
A nice option if you can use Shopify Payments and can accept the limitations of Shopify Multi-currency.
Store #URLLanguageCurrency1brandname.comEnglishMulti-currency via Shopify Payments*brandname.com/frFrenchAs abovebrandname.com/deGermanAs abovebrandname.com/itItalianAs abovebrandname.com/esSpanishAs abovebrandname.com/jpJapaneseAs abovebrandname.comEnglishAs above
Note that all the URLs above are actually the same store.
* Base currency would be of your choosing and converted by Shopify as explained in the multi-currency section above
Hard - Multi-store and Multi-language app...
Here, we have a seperate Shopify store per base currency, which gives you full control over pricing and currency conversion, and each store makes uses of an app like Langify using the Shopify Multi-Language API.
Remember full control still means you have currency risk - it's just that you manage the risk now.
As mentioned above, with this approach the store admin can be set to the local language on each store, which could be useful if you have different local teams managing each.
Store #URLLanguageCurrency1brandname.comEnglishUS Dollar (USD)2uk.brandname.comEnglishPound Sterling (GBP)3ca.brandname.comEnglishCanadian Dollar (CAD)ca.brandname.com/frFrenchCanadian Dollar (CAD)4eu.brandname.com/frFrenchEuro (EUR)eu.brandname.com/deGermanEuro (EUR)eu.brandname.com/itItalianEuro (EUR)eu.brandname.com/esSpanishEuro (EUR)eu.brandname.com/itItalianEuro (EUR)5jp.brandname.comJapaneseYen (JPY)
Hardest - Multi-store for each currency and language combination:
For the power users, here each combination is a different store. Remember you get 10 Plus stores within your contract, so there's no incremental hosting cost, but you have to maintain content across these stores.
That could be frustrating when updating your English content, below, brandname.com and ca.brandname.com are both in American English (and uk.brandname.com would be too if you chose not to translate to the Queen's English). There are options for syncing content across stores and reducing the burden here, but it's a consideration.
Use canonical tags to point Google to one page where you have duplicate copies in the same language e.g. the brandname.com and ca.brandname.com options below.
Again, with this approach the store admin can be set to the local language if needed.
Store #URLLanguageCurrency1brandname.comEnglishUS Dollar (USD)2uk.brandname.comEnglishPound Sterling (GBP)3ca.brandname.comEnglishCanadian Dollar (CAD)4ca.fr.brandname.comFrenchCanadian Dollar (CAD)5fr.brandname.comFrenchEuro (EUR)6de.brandname.com/deGermanEuro (EUR)7it.brandname.comItalianEuro (EUR)8es.brandname.comSpanishEuro (EUR)9it.brandname.comItalianEuro (EUR)10jp.brandname.comJapaneseYen (JPY)
Redirecting to deep links
Ideally, if your customer lands on a specific product page and they are not in the right region, you want to suggest going to the more local region store and you want to land the customer on the respective product page, to avoid them having to find the product page again.
Redirecting between stores in the same language is easy, assuming the product handles (based on the names normally) are the same. But when you're redirecting between different languages, that becomes harder. The URL slugs will vary between the stores.
ERPs and other integrations
We typically find that good middleware can ease the burden of integrating multiple stores and can even help with syncing content. An example architecture is below.
Speaking of which; eventually, you'll want to store inventory regionally. Shopify now supports up to 20 different locations per SKU. You may also want to look in to a more complex inventory management solution like an Order Management System (OMS), Warehouse Management System (WMS) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
Obviously taxes vary country to country, and state to state in the USA. Some of these tax regimes are fairly idyosyncratic... in New York for example, there is the NY sale tax clothing exemption whereby garments and footwear under $110 per item or pair are exempt from the New York State 4% sale tax... so with that in mind, we recommend fully integrated tax compliance solution called “Avalara Avatax”. Avalara is easy to set up and has complex tax rules that will protect your customers and business.
Inaccurate tax calculations can result in delays in shipping, fines and penalties from regulatory authorities, plus reduced profit margins, so it's important to get it right. We suggest you seek legal counsel and accounting advice regarding tax when launching into new territories.
A quick note on sales tax - the US adds sales tax at checkout, whereas most other countries 'price in' sales tax, such as Value-Added Tax (VAT).
This is a big consideration as it means storing your prices either inclusive or exclusive of sales tax.
This may different per store, so your US stores may have prices inputted exclusive of sales tax, whereas your UK and EU stores may store prices inclusive of sales tax. Good middleware can handle this, or a bit of spreadsheet magic whenever you update prices.
So finally, you need to think about international shipping. The question then becomes, how best to fulfil? There's a few considerations here.
Per region shipping rules
Make sure you do your research on what is required when shipping to different regions and whether your products call under any problematic categories like "dangerous goods".
Also keep in mind that packaging needs may be different internationally and that your products are often going to be travelling a longer distance.
International Shipping apps
You need to have thought about your shipping matrix, how much you're going to charge based on weight, destination and so on before you can decide on the best app.
For apps, we generally use ShipStation, as they seem to integrate with everything - but their coverage is US and UK and Australia only. AfterShip and Shippo are also good options.
Shipping apps are only as good as their carrier integrations and even the best shipping apps are useless if you're shipping out of a poorly supported country like Italy or India or if you're contractually obliged to use a regional or poorly-supported carrier.
It's all very well to use an amazing shipping app but do not forget returns. The best shipping apps have returns built in but you have to use them for fulfilment if you want to use their returns platform. If you can't do that, Clicksit & Returns Manager are our go-to easy installs for the UK and Return.ly for the US.
Warehouses are where your products are stored before they are delivered to your customers. Finding the right international warehouse for your e-commerce business can be very complex but crucial to global growth.
Choosing the right international warehouse is tricky, and a huge amount of trust is required. You are very likely to come across cultural differences, language barriers, and new rules and regulations for each country you deal with.
It’s a lot to keep on top of and can be overwhelming, but, this process can be optimised by integrating third-party logistics. 3PL’s make international shipments run smoothly by taking care of your distribution and fulfillment tasks without input from you.
3PL’s are the middlemen, they receive, hold or transport your products but never take ownership of them. They are, however, legally bound to your inventory and are responsible to fulfill required tasks on your request.
Inventory management across the globe
Inventory management is about predicting how much inventory you need to fulfill orders online depending on a variety of factors. This becomes even more complex when going global and you might need to adjust your inventory management technique.
To enable you to adapt to international shipping times, customs and additional landed shipment costs, your re-ordering process and economic order quantities might need to change.
It’s important to consider the different holidays across the globe when working with international suppliers, their busy times of year could be completely different to yours and therefore, impact your inventory management.
If you plan ahead and get in sync with your suppliers holiday schedule, your re-ordering and inventory lead time will run more smoothly; preventing you from missing sales.
You should also consider automating your inventory management instead of doing it manually.
Local customer support
Obviously once you start getting international customers, you're likely to receive international customer support requests. Your team may need to handle to requests in other languages.
One more consideration is the various data protection regimes that exist. In the EU, we have GDPR, and in California we have CCPA, and other US states are following with own data protection laws.
Whilst there is a lot of overlap between these, and a lot of is just good practice, again, we still suggest speaking to a lawyer to ensure you confirm to the local laws where you sell.
Final note on Shopify Multi-store
You'll notice that multi-store architectures keep appearing through the discussion on multi-currency, multi-lingual, tax and shipping.
As of today, it is without a doubt the most flexible and powerful way to go international on Shopify, but is just more complicated and expensive.
The decision for your business is whether you can accept the limitations/simplicity of a single-store with Shopify multi-currency, or if you need full control over price, payment options, SEO, URL, native content and so on.
Alex is Co-founder at We Make Websites, the go-to Shopify agency for global commerce. We Make Websites design, develop and optimise e-commerce websites for the fastest growing brands on the planet, with teams in London and New York. Alex is an international speaker on ecommerce, brand and business growth.
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