Going international with Shopify

Storefronts, headless and things in between

This article was written by Johan Staureby, February 8th 2021.

Disclaimer
This article was written to help merchants understand the options and limitation using Shopify for an international audience. This article does not consider how Shopify Apps might add functionality which can solve one more of the issues mentioned.

Let me know if anything has changed making the article information out of date.

Article index

  • Are you ready to go international?
  • Internationalisation using a single storefront
  • Internationalisation using multiple storefronts
  • Internationalisation using multiple storefronts with localised payment options
  • The can all — no limitation setup with Shopify PLUS

Currency bank accounts
Accepting payments in multiple currencies only available with Shopify Payments, which rules out accepting currency payments to seperate currency accounts. https://community.shopify.com/c/Shopify-Discussion/Presentment-Prices/m-p/1049164/highlight/true#M224365

Are you ready to go international?

All merchants will at some point start thinking about selling to an international audience. Unfortunately this has always been one of Shopify’s weak points — as they have not been supporting a native multi language and multi currency setup.

Luckily this has recently been addressed and new features have been added.

However, there are still some issues which prevent certain shops from going international without adding a substantial overhead to the operation.

Before we dive into the actual comparison it’s important to also think about how you will be handling international customers.

  • Will you be able to offer customer service in the localised languages?
  • Are your shipping prices competitive when shipping abroad?
  • Are your marketing team ready to handle marketing in different languages?
  • Do you need to set up local companies for tax reasons or to offer localised payments?

So before you start to consider the technical requirements - it’s important to also asses the cost of running a multi language operation as well as the projected increased revenue targets.

This is a top level overview

At the moment of writing the following is currently possible using a single and multiple storefronts in Shopify:

Internationalisation using a single storefront

What is possible

  • Translating a storefront — using either localised domains or adding a language paramater to the url (domain.com/dk/)
  • Selling in multiple currencies as long as you commit to Shopify payments.

What is not possible

  • Using localised payment options, as multiple currencies are only offered through Shopify payments
  • Using localised (fixed) pricing where product prices differ based on the individual markets

Who should use this approach?

  • Merchants who wants to keep things as simple as possible and who are willing to accept the tradeoffs listed above
  • Merchants who are willing to postpone additional needs (Shopify is addressing this, but there is no ETA or roadmap)
  • Merchants who wish to keep running cost low

This gets you pretty close to a multi language storefront which can service international customers.

However you still rely on apps to handle translations of products, email notifications etc.

Internationalisation using multiple storefronts

What is possible

  • Translating a storefront — using either localised domains or adding a language paramater to the url (domain.com/dk/)
  • Selling in mutiple currencies as long as you commit to Shopify payments.

What is not possible

  • Using localised payment options, as multiple currencies are only offered through Shopify payments
  • Using localised (fixed) pricing where product prices differ based on the individual markets

Who should use this approach?

  • Merchants who are willing to go the extra mile despite the overhead that a setup with multiple storefronts adds.

Internationalisation using multiple storefronts with localised payment options

If you want all of the above, and also want to offer localised payment options using Shopify Payments — then you need to set up local businesses and register storefronts for that specific company.

Here is the Shopify documentation stating that local business are required to enable localised payments using Shopify Payments.

https://help.shopify.com/en/manual/payments/shopify-payments/faq#can-i-accept-debit-cards-on-shopify-payments

Drawbacks using a multiple storefront approach

  • You need to pay for apps used on all storefronts
  • Storefronts come at an extra
  • Your customer data will be stored in seperate storefronts — leaving a task (and strategy) to extract and comine this data if required
  • Maintaining themes in multiple storefronts
  • Tracking needs to be maintained in multiple themes (which can also be positive, but it adds complexity)
  • Development overhead — you need to have your storefront maintained and serviced by a technical resource / partner
  • Syncing inventory across shops adds complexity
  • For high performance stores you might need a custom inventory service to avoid overselling.

The can all — no limitation setup with Shopify PLUS

If you want to leverage the benefits of Shopify — primarily being a powerful cloud ecommerce API — which provides rock solid uptime and scalability — then the ultimate setup using Shopify is with a headless setup.

This allows you to create a frontend/storefront with full control (as you can run the frontend on your own cloud architecture) and still use Shopify as an ecommerce backend, which handles orders, transactions and payments.

TIP: It is not possible to manipulate product prices (upwards at lest) with Shopify, which means you cannot create a product with a price without a counterpart product in the backend — which means that manipulating the price realtime for b2b or currency scenarios is not possible without using Shopify scripts and some heavy post order processing to make sure that things are logged correctly.

You could extend the headless setup with multiple storefronts for directing orders using different currencies.

Going headless

Going headless comes with a commitment to a long term ecommerce architecture — as you (the merchant) becomes dependant a technical team (inhouse or external) who can operate and maintain the setup involved.

From a cost perspective it would mostly be relevant for shops which are looking at optimising the last mile, or who have advanced needs but want to utilise Shopify as an ecommerce backend.

Headless comes at the cost of not being able to use Shopify Apps which adds frontend/theme functionality — but this is in many cases a good thing as this removes the quality assurance to the developers (instead of store owners who might test apps and break things)

Headless also adds the possibility to run a better release strategy as you do not rely on Shopifys theme development workflow which is broken from a source control perspective.

Conclusion

If you have a roadmap which includes an international marketing strategy and the marekting spend to invest entering new markets, then it’s important to research how to implement this using Shopify.

If you want to go international as a service and brand strategy or because of expect to enter and grow new markets on a long term perspective — then it might be worth investing in a future-proof setup which includes a headless architecture, essentially building a backend service architecture where SAAS services can be replaced when new and better things come around — without breaking the customer facing frontend and setup.

Where does that leave you?

It all depends… :)