The digital revolution has made international commerce more accessible than ever before.
The ability to sell across borders has never been more important as merchants aim to futureproof their business and reach their global potential.
With platforms like Shopify leading the way, businesses, regardless of their size, have the world at their fingertips. Whether you are a new start-up with dreams of conquering the global market, or an enterprise business looking to expand your customer base in new markets, finding the right platform to suit your product and business needs is crucial.
As a result, Shopify has developed tools and features designed to simplify the global selling process. Two primary tools available to merchants are Shopify Markets and Shopify expansion stores.
Here, we'll dive deep into the unique aspects of each and outline the considerations for e-commerce businesses planning for international growth. We will look at similarities and differences, pros and cons, and features and functionalities of both options for international expansion.
The tale of two powerful tools
Shopify Markets provides an integrated feature for international selling tools within the Shopify platform. It offers localised shopping experiences with localised marketing, local payment methods, centralised management, and automated tax calculations. However, it may present limitations in customisation, potential performance issues, and a dependency on the Shopify sellers' ecosystem.
Expansion stores involve setting up separate Shopify stores for different regions. These allow greater market share, brand recognition, and deep market customisation. But they come with increased operational complexity, potential inconsistency in brand experience, and higher initial costs.
Both options integrate seamlessly with popular shipping carriers, offer powerful analytics tools, and give access to the Shopify ecosystem's resources.
Here's a list of what we'll cover to help you fully understand both options for going global and decide which will be right for your business:
- What is Shopify Markets?
- What is Shopify Markets Pro?
- What are Shopify Expansion Stores?
- Key Similarities and differences between Shopify Markets and Expansion Stores
- Pros and Cons of Shopify Markets and Shopify Expansion Stores
- Shopify Markets and Expansion Stores Features and Functionality
- Key considerations for your International Expansion Strategy
1. What is Shopify Markets?
Launched by Shopify in September 2021, Shopify Markets is a global commerce management tool, enabling merchants to identify markets, set up, and sell products in multiple regions from a single store. It provides tools to localise shopping experiences, such as product pricing, languages, payment methods, and taxes.
This cross-border management tool by Shopify is designed to simplify cross-border selling for ecommerce businesses, regardless of their size or status. Like any tool or platform, it has its pros and cons which we will dive into later on.
Shopify Markets is still relatively new and not without limitations. But the ease and accessibility of setting up Markets is becoming an appealing option for brands who want to test out new markets, or expand their potential overseas with little financial investment.
There’s no doubt that further improvements to Shopify Markets will feature in Shopify’s long-term development roadmap, and the release of Shopify Markets Pro is testament to their commitment to improving the global eCommerce toolkit further. We fully expect that Markets functionality will continue to thrive and improve in future.
2. What is Shopify Markets Pro?
Released in Q3 of 2022 for use only by merchants based in US (at the time of publication), Shopify Markets Pro further expands the capabilities of Shopify Markets functionality.
Shopify Markets Pro is an advanced set of tools for managing international sales through Shopify, powered by Global-e, that is available to merchants in the Continental United States. It enables merchants to scale and optimise their international markets directly from the Shopify admin.
When using Markets Pro, Global-e takes on the role of the merchant of record, handling the legal and regulatory responsibilities of selling in different regions or countries. This includes remitting taxes, accepting local payment methods, and managing duties and import taxes. This allows merchants to sell internationally without the need for their own tax registration in each country.
Discover more in Shopify’s comparison table on Shopify Markets and Markets Pro features.
3. What are Shopify Expansion Stores?
Shopify expansion stores refers to the strategy of setting up individual Shopify stores for different regions or countries. This approach allows businesses to customise and fully localise each store according to the unique demands and preferences of each target market. Again, as with Markets, Shopify expansion stores route to going global has its own pros and cons, which we will also expand on later. First, let’s look at the key high-level similarities and differences of the two options.
4. Key similarities and differences between Shopify Markets and Expansion Stores
Let's first explore the similarities between Shopify Markets and Expansion Stores
Consistent Branding Across Markets
Shopify Markets and expansion stores both aim to deliver a consistent branding experience. They are instrumental for businesses that are venturing into new geographic territories or creating subsidiary brands. The goal is to ensure that customers receive the same brand impression and experience, no matter which store or market they interact with.
Unified Management System
One of the primary benefits of Shopify is its centralised dashboard. Operations for both Markets and expansion stores are managed from this central hub. This consolidation allows businesses to manage everything, from product inventory to customer engagement, in one place, enhancing efficiency and streamlining processes.
Customisation for Local Relevance
Recognising the significance of market-specific customisation, Shopify provides tools for businesses to tailor their approach to align with local tastes, cultural nuances, and trends. Businesses can adjust their pricing, promotions, and marketing strategies to resonate with customers in specific locales.
Integrated Shopify Ecosystem
The Shopify platform facilitates seamless integration across its ecosystem. Regardless of whether it's for reaching new global markets through Shopify Markets or for catering to niche segments via expansion stores, the integration with Shopify's applications, payment systems, and other functionalities is smooth. This integration ensures uninterrupted operations and enables businesses to maximise the capabilities of the Shopify environment.
Built for Growth
Scalability is a core aspect of both Shopify Markets and expansion stores. They are designed to accommodate business growth, allowing for adjustments in scale to meet fluctuating demands, market shifts, and other dynamic factors. Such adaptability ensures that businesses can pivot or expand without the need for extensive changes or system reconfigurations.
Businesses operating multiple markets or stores can utilise shared assets like product visuals, descriptions, and other content. This not only mitigates duplicative work, but also promotes uniformity in the way products and services are presented to customers across different platforms.
Comprehensive Merchant Support
Shopify's dedication to merchant success is clear with its global commerce offerings. Merchants receive specialised support along with access to educational materials and tools that aid in mastering the expansion of their digital footprint, helping them to fully leverage the capabilities provided by Shopify Markets and expansion stores.
Now we've explored the many similarities of the two Shopify plans, let's examine the main differences between them.
4 key differences between Shopify Markets and Shopify Expansion Stores
1. Centralisation vs. Customisation
Shopify Markets offers a centralised dashboard from which you can manage multiple international markets. This can be beneficial for less complex businesses looking for an out-of-the-box, straightforward approach to global expansion.
Shopify expansion stores require more hands-on management, with separate dashboards for each store. However, this granularity offers more depth in terms of customisation to cater to local tastes and preferences. This allows you to offer a fully localised user experience, which can help gain more trust in new markets and improve conversions.
2. Operational Complexity
Operating with Shopify Markets is relatively simple. You get a consolidated view of all your sales, making it easier for businesses new to international markets.
Managing multiple expansion stores can be more complicated. Still, it might offer a clearer picture of which markets are performing the best and which require more attention.
3. Budget Considerations
With Shopify Markets, you're primarily paying for one main store, albeit with some additional costs depending on the regions and features activated.
Shopify expansion stores may demand more substantial investment, as you're essentially running multiple stores, each with its associated costs.
4. Risk Diversification
Expansion stores allow businesses to spread their risks. If one store in a particular region isn't performing well, it won't necessarily drag down the overall performance of all stores. Conversely, if using Shopify Markets, international SEO could be affected by how well the main store is performing – this is great if it’s ranking well, but not so good for international if it is not performing well in the home market.
Now we’ve explored the key similarities and differences, let’s compare pros and cons of each of our two options.
5. Pros and Cons of Shopify Markets and Shopify Expansion StoresPROS
Shopify expansion stores
|Localised experience||Local pricing, multiple languages, payment methods, and duty and import taxes||Businesses can tailor offerings to local tastes, preferences, and demands|
|Ease of use||User-friendly interface that simplifies international selling|
|Centralised Dashboard||Manage multiple storefronts from a single dashboard|
|Automated Tax/Duty Calculation||Automatically calculates taxes, duties based on customer location|
|Currency Conversion||Offers products in local currencies with guaranteed rates|
|Integration with Shopify Ecosystem||Seamless integration with other Shopify tools and plugins||Seamless integration with other Shopify tools and plugins|
|Increased Market Share||Potential for higher sales and revenue through multiple locations|
|Brand Recognition||Increased visibility can boost brand recognition and trust|
|Diversified Risk||Reduced risk due to spreading operations across multiple locations|
|Economies of Scale||Potential economies of scale in procurement, marketing, etc.|
|Real Estate Appreciation||Properties in prime areas may appreciate in value|
Shopify expansion stores
|Limited Customisation||Might limit customisation for unique market strategies or campaigns|
|Local Market Knowledge Requirement||Merchants need deep understanding of local markets||Requires understanding of local market conditions|
|Performance Issues||Potential for slower website load times|
|Reliance on Platform||Heavy reliance on Shopify ecosystem – doesn’t support all third party apps|
|Unsupported Regions||Might not support every country/region|
|Operational Complexity||Managing multiple stores increases complexity|
|Inconsistent Brand Experience||Risk of varying service or product quality across different stores|
|Market Saturation||Risk of market saturation and cannibalisation|
|Increased Overheads||Higher overheads related to managing multiple locations|
|Dilution of Focus||Resources spread across multiple locations can divert attention from core operations|
6. Shopify Markets and Expansion Stores features and functionality
Our handy table compares the features and functionality of Shopify Markets and expansion stores at a glance.
Feature / Functionality
|Shopify Markets||Shopify expansion stores|
|Purpose||Simplify international selling from one store||Separate storefronts for different regions or markets|
|Store Management||Centralised: Manage all regions from one dashboard||Decentralised: Each store has its own dashboard|
|Localisation||Custom pricing per market, languages, payment methods, taxes||Full customisation per store based on region needs|
|Advanced Customisation||More limited due to a unified storefront||High: Each store can be uniquely customised|
|Setup Complexity||Relatively easy: Integrated into existing store||More involved: Set up each store individually|
|Cost Implications||Single Shopify fee and potential added feature costs||Separate Shopify subscription fee for each store (first 9 expansion stores included in Shopify Plus plan)|
|Inventory management||Unified for all markets||Individualised or integrated via third-party apps|
|SEO & Domain Strategy||Single domain with potential subdirectories||Each store can have its own domain strategy|
|Marketing Approach||Unified with localised adjustments||Individualised marketing strategy per region|
|Integration with Apps||Single set of apps for the whole store||Different apps can be integrated into each store|
|Currency Handling||Shopify Payments handles multiple currencies (certain countries not supported)||Each store can handle its primary region's currency|
|Tax & Duty Calculations||Automated based on the customer's location||Needs setup for each region/store or integrated apps|
|Performance||Potential latency if serving too many regions||Optimised for the specific region/store|
|Flexibility||Adjustments based on broad regions||Fine-tuned adjustments for specific market nuances|
|Support & Learning Curve||Steeper due to handling multiple regions at once||Learning curve per store, but more focused|
|Territory Expansion||Add new regions within the same store setup||Requires setting up a new store for each new region|
7. Key considerations for your International Expansion Strategy
Which is the right strategy for your business? When looking at the pros, cons, features and functionality of both Shopify Markets and Shopify expansion stores, you should also consider the following factors to ensure you make the right choice as part of your global business expansion strategy.
- Business size and capacity: Small businesses might find Shopify Markets more manageable and cost-effective. In contrast, larger enterprises with resources to manage separate stores might benefit from the flexibility of expansion stores.
- Degree of market localisation: If you wish to deeply embed your brand within the local culture and provide an entirely localised experience for your international market/s, expansion stores are the right option for you. If you only need to make minor tweaks and adjustments, then Shopify Markets could suffice.
- Inventory considerations: Shopify Markets offers central inventory management, but if you have distinct inventory management needs, expansion stores offer much better control.
- Budget: Evaluate the ROI of investing in multiple stores versus a singular, multi-regional platform. Operating multiple expansion stores does require more investment (e.g. separate subscription fees, apps, or third-party integrations for each online store). Conversely, Shopify Markets allows for internationalisation within your existing store's cost structure.
- Operational capacity: Are you willing to manage the intricacies of multiple stores? Or do you prefer a more straightforward, unified approach?
- Growth strategy: Consider your long-term strategy. If you plan to expand into several international markets, starting with expansion stores can offer better scalability.
- Risk appetite: Diversifying through expansion stores can provide a safety net against localised challenges, ensuring that problems in one market don't impact your entire international venture.
While both Shopify Markets and expansion stores offer robust solutions for selling internationally, the right choice heavily depends on your business' unique needs and goals.
It’s vital to assess your resources, growth plans, and market strategies before deciding which is the right route for you. Remember, flexibility and adaptability are key in the dynamic world of ecommerce. Choose the option that fits your current situation and aligns with your vision for global expansion.
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