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According to the research institution eMarketer, UK retail e-commerce sales are expected to top £60 billion by the end of 2015, with revenue from outside of the UK the fastest growing part of this total.
And according to Internet Retailer Magazine the rate of this growth will continue in 2016, with the USA, China, Japan, Germany, France, Russia, Canada and Australia all proving particularly attractive territories for cross-border online trade.
So how can a UK retailer, with no physical footprint overseas, take advantage and begin to successfully export?
Demand Versus Emerging Markets
There is a very simple trap to fall into when thinking about Internationalisation of your website: let's ship to everyone, everywhere! However, this is not necessarily the best approach.
It's important to use existing data to formulate your strategy rather than look to follow a trend that might not actually be suitable, no matter how tempting it may initially seem. For instance, there is much discussion of rising demand for global products from emerging e-shopping markets such as Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, China and Spain, with consumers in those countries more than willing to order from international websites.
However, identifying the markets you want to target should be weighed against the existing demand for your product in that territory (search traffic, existing international traffic to your website), along with how well positioned you are to service that customer base in terms of merchandising, competitive shipping costs and handling customer service enquiries.
Google Analytics provides a simple way of understanding your traffic sources, and that's a good place to start.
- If you have promising volumes of traffic visiting from Germany, for example, then what devices are people using to view the website?
- What are smartphone adoption rates?
- Is there a sufficient search demand for your products in that territory?
- Are there simple routes to sell your products to German consumers - established marketplaces, for instance, Amazon.de?
- Paid Advertising?
- Local Affiliate Networks?
In Germany, the answer is a resounding 'yes', but it doesn't come without its own challenges. Running a Product Listing Ad via Google.de would require your content to be translated into German, for instance, and the price would need to be displayed in Euros.
Is that the case in all the countries you currently attract visitors from?
Ok, so I'm driving lots of traffic from Germany, I can sell via Amazon.de, and I’ve set up paid search campaigns on Google.de. I'm good to start, right?
Maybe not. Even if your brand is widely known in the UK, brand equity may need to be built from the ground up in a new market. There are many considerations, for example, how does your brand name and imagery translate culturally? Causing offence through not exploring all connotations will more than likely result in failure.
Be Prepared for the Long Haul
As with all e-commerce growth strategies, half-baked effort will provide half-baked results. Let's take Australia as an example - what are the operational and marketing considerations for retailers looking to sell to Australian consumers?
- Customer Experience
- Language and Currency - With Australia there is no multi-lingual consideration, but accepting Australian dollars will tailor your offering for the local market
- Conversion Optimisation - Does the website offer personalised content for the territory?
- Domains - Use a sub-domain or register the local domain?
- Driving Traffic & Reaching New Customers
- Understanding the local market - device adoption rates, what are conversion rates on smartphones, tablets?
- Which channels? Email marketing, search - paid and organic, social media, affiliates and established marketplaces should all be investigated
- Branding - does your branding translate well outside of the UK?
- Seasonality - does your product mix translate? For example, a fashion retailer who is promoting Autumn/Winter stock in the UK is unlikely to drive full price conversions to Australian consumers who will be in the middle of their summer.
- Pricing - how do you compare with local and other international sellers?
- Order Fulfilment and Shipping
- Competitiveness - how does your shipping service compare? Can you get your products picked and packed and on its way to your new customer in a time-frame that makes it worth them ordering the product from overseas? Is the price point for delivery going to cover your own costs while remaining attractive against the competition?
- Reliability - are you confident that your existing courier network can deliver on the promise you have made to the consumer?
- Distribution - are you legally allowed to sell your products in the country you are shipping to? Are there restrictions - either from a manufacturer or potentially even government regulations/compliance?
- Customer Service - are you able to offer the same levels as you would to UK consumers? How will you handle returns?
- Exchange Rates
- Fluctuation - how will you monitor and safeguard against the risk of ever changing rates? How can you protect your margin?
- Fraud & Payment
- Does your payment service provider offer any additional screening or advice against fraudulent transactions that might not be as easy to spot?
- Methods - do any alternative payment methods exist? Is PayPal or Pay with Amazon a prominent option?
Unfortunately there is no magic wand. E-commerce may feel like a constant cycle of test and measure, and that will certainly be the case as you venture into the uncharted waters of international e-retail. However, it can still be a great way of generating growth for your business, and as you master all of the considerations discussed above, expansion into new countries can happen more efficiently each time you identify a new opportunity.
Entering International Airspace
So there’s plenty to consider then, but fortunately here at Docnet we have plenty of experience of confidently navigating international waters with our retail partners and keeping them safely on the straight and narrow.
So Manchester to Sydney in less than 2 hours?
Our retail commerce platform has helped retailers all the way from taking their very first Euro, US Dollar and Japanese Yen all the way through to establishing a profitable global online customer base.
We recently took less than two hours to deploy a new front end website aimed at the Australian market for one of our fashion retail customers. This used the same template as their existing UK offering but crucially gave them the ability to merchandise it for the Australian summertime (while the UK website is geared towards Autumn/Winter product) and launched with a local domain and pricing/currency defaults to the Australian dollar.
Talk to us to find out more.
John Coyne, Commercial Director 0161 8390 101