It’s no secret the pandemic has massively accelerated eCommerce, driven by consumers seeking products they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Even now that restrictions have eased, that trend looks set to stay. And as shoppers have taken to buying online in mass, geographic barriers have also started to disappear.
During 2020, outbound cross border eCommerce sales in the UK rose 57% in 2020, according to the online retail association IMRG. That included a mix of EU and non-EU markets. Although EU demand was higher in the last three months of 2020 – possibly driven by the holiday season and pre-Brexit rush.
However, even accounting for the complexities of Brexit cross border eCommerce is set to continue growing. Prior to the pandemic, analysts at Forrester estimated cross-border shopping will make up 17% of eCommerce in 2023, with sales of US$736bn globally.
As consumers’ shopping habits have shifted online, that market is only going to get bigger. Here are some of the ways retailers can make the most of this growing market.
Simply by having a website, you instantly have access to global custom. But the key is being selective about your target markets to maximise sales, which requires some research. Once you’ve decided where demand is most likely to come from, you have a few options.
Marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay can be a good way of testing the water for product demand and you may decide to list in the local language on those platforms. Alternatively, you can take greater ownership of the sales process by launching your site in a local domain, in that country’s language. Doing so will also boost your ranking in the local search engine results. Another option is to sell your products through a third-party website, via their existing in-country sales and marketing networks. The Department for International Trade has a useful tool to help you find the right online marketplace for your chosen country and sector.
However, it’s not just language you’ll want to think about, but also culture. It’s important to know where there’s a gap in the market for certain products – which can differ significantly even when two countries share the same border. Obviously certain items might not go down so well in some locations, such as selling ice in Antarctica!
This is where working with someone on the ground in your target market might be helpful, as you’ll be able to make the most of their local knowledge. That could include adapting the layout of your page to appeal to local tastes, as consumers can transact in different ways. Or promoting products around national holidays. Taking time to gain an appreciation of the culture can have a big impact on sales.
Clearly it makes sense to quote prices in the local currency, but when doing so it’s a good idea to round figures up – as random numbers can put people off. Also make sure your site recalculates prices in line with the latest exchange rates, as you don’t want to be left significantly over or under charging. You should also be upfront about how much it is going to cost, so there are no surprises with export fees and customs duty costs on the doorstep. In fact, it might be a good idea to seek advice on the local regulation around sales taxes.
Remember that not all cultures are as comfortable using credit cards as the UK. So you’ll also want to incorporate a range of payment methods, so customers can transact using their preferred method. Using a global payments service such as PayPal can help, as it accepts most currencies. While buy now, pay later methods such as Klarna are also becoming a popular method across Europe and America.
When it comes to distribution, there are a number of couriers with established international shipping networks and can offer advice on getting your goods safely into the hands of your customer. You might decide to ship directly or via a fulfilment centre.
There are also a couple of practicalities to consider. For example, if you want to offer free shipping – as an incentive to buy more – decide your threshold, as obviously the courier costs will be much higher for international shipments. It’s also a good idea to decide what type of returns policy you want to introduce, thinking about the logistics of how they will return the items and who will pay the courier costs. Being upfront about those hidden complications will help win repeat custom.
Lastly, don’t forget to advertise clearly that you ship internationally. A lot of selling overseas is down to winning customer trust: ultimately they want to know they’re dealing with a company that can deliver the goods.