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4 Tips To Successfully Expand Online Retail Sales Internationally

By Bronto


By Saima Alibhai - Managing Principle Consultant at Bronto

With non-essential consumer retail spending expected to slow due to rising food and fuel costs and record inflation, understanding the opportunities available beyond the UK market has never been so important for British brands.

New technologies for shopping gives consumers around the world more opportunities to search for and purchase unique items from afar than ever before, while simultaneously making it easier for businesses everywhere to expand their international presence. In fact, cross-border online sales are expected to more than double in the next five years.

All in all, it’s the perfect time for brands to consider more internationalisation as part of their overall growth strategy.

How can you tell if global expansion would be good for your business? Because you’re in business.

Whether you’re a giant retailer or a small manufacturer, global online expansion is a great way to counteract conservative domestic spending.

But it’s not as easy as throwing a switch. Understanding how to capitalise on selling opportunities outside of the UK means cleverly using customer data, delivering exceptional customer experience and focusing on hyper-local market entry.

Here are four tips to help you expand your online retail sales internationally.

There’s more opportunity than you realise

Many consumers abroad are open to buying online from across their borders, but have yet to make a purchase, and that represents a huge opportunity. For example, our research shows that 77 per cent of US consumers are open to shopping across borders, but only 27 per cent have done so. That’s fifty percent of American consumers waiting for the right reason, incentive and/or opportunity to buy British.

If you’re looking to drive more revenue through cross-border commerce, America is a prime example of untapped opportunities. UK footwear brand Chipmunks and lifestyle brand Joules are just two of the many UK brands capitalising on the opportunity of international ecommerce expansion this year, but brands must take time to understand new markets.  

A gradual approach to going international is often the best. When ASOS wanted to have a broader sales base, they started by making international shipments available from its UK website in 2006, which helped identify the potential in various markets.

They watched their traffic, saw where shoppers were coming from and used it for insights into what to do next. Using this data to pinpoint where to go first, ASOS launched its French, German and US websites in 2010. Now, they provide local sites (with currency) for seven foreign countries including the US, Russia and Australia.

So, what should you be doing to take advantage of the opportunity? Here are a few key items to consider for your global expansion.

1. Recognise the value of your uniquely British product

Recent research into the cross-border shopping habits of customers revealed that owning unique merchandise was the main driver (over 60% of respondents) for purchasing from overseas vendors. For international ecommerce shoppers, recognise that your products’ country of origin makes it a compelling offering for many consumers outside of your home market, but that’s not all you must consider.

Use unique products to the home market (i.e., they’re not carried by American or German department stores) to create differentiation and catch the attention of consumers, offering them something they cannot find locally, even from importers.

That doesn’t mean you must create something special for those international markets. Simply recognise what products aren’t already sold via department stores and/or importers and promote them as something unique.

2. Remove any barriers to purchase

Uniqueness is a big reason why consumers make purchases across borders, but let’s look at some reasons why they don’t complete those purchases. That same survey asked shoppers what made them not purchase from foreign online shops. As you might expect, the top reasons are related to paying for their purchase, a worry about unreliable shipping logistics and costs and, finally, an overly burdensome return process.

To succeed, you must be prepared to understand and address the obstacles that prevent customers from making international purchases in the first place. This will help ensure that your brand is positioned to overcome these challenges, reduce hesitation and complete sales.

One easy way to alleviate an international customer’s anxiety is to localise the shopping site. When an international shopper visits your online store, do they see the product value in their local currency, or do you expect consumers to make the currency conversion themselves? If you sold something in a foreign physical store, you wouldn’t price it in British Pounds, so don’t do that online either.

It’s also important that you support local online payment options. Solely using British payment systems to close a sale in the US or Canada can mean missing out on the sale altogether.

Similarly, retailers should consider the cost and speed of delivery which is an increasingly vital part of any ecommerce strategy. Consumers don’t just buy with their wallets – they look at their watch, too, whether in the store or online. Everything from shipping time, costs, ease of returns, weekend delivery and accessible collection points (including door-to-door) all play a part in abandoned baskets.

For your online shoppers, make your delivery and returns options crystal clear. This will put customers at ease, something they need when purchasing abroad. It will also help build your brand’s reputation for providing exemplary customer service. Not only have consumer expectations increased, your competition is only too happy to fill the gaps you leave.

Setting up country-specific websites, now made far easier with the growth of commerce platform technology, will also help build trust with consumers more quickly.

And you want to ensure that all aspects of the purchase, such as shipping costs, delivery time, data security and return policies are clearly addressed early in the purchasing process. If you have a physical presence, exploit the advantages of your “local” brick and mortar stores by offering ‘click and collect’ or ‘buy online, return in-store’ options for added customer convenience.

3. Resonate with a personalised local approach

Just as individual customers have different tastes; shopping habits and preferences also differ from country to country. To successfully expand your sales internationally, you should eschew the “one size fits all” approach, instead try to understand the consumers within each individual market.

With so much customer data available through analytics and technology, there is no excuse for not gathering and using data to create a better marketing strategy that includes a personalised and relevant customer experience. If you can’t find any data, commission your own research. Don’t go into a market without understanding the consumers.

Don’t leave anything to chance: preferred fashion styles, payment preferences, shopping frequency, return ratios and much more must be considered. Don’t forget that even within countries, there can be vast contrasts within the “single” market.

For example, when ASOS entered China, they offered Chinese consumers one fashion range per season, as this is the strategy implemented successfully in the British market. But China’s geography encompasses multiple climates, resulting in a demand for contrasting clothing at the same time. By understanding that “local” doesn’t just mean a different national strategy, you’ll be more prepared to succeed on a larger scale.

4. Be flexible

Whether you’re building a physical presence or merely a better online experience, you’re going to run into a few bumps along the way to expand your online retail sales internationally. Sometimes, overcoming those obstacles will be a matter of research, planning and execution. Other times, though, you may have to change course.

Undertaking any international ecommerce expansion is never easy and certainly not guaranteed, but paying attention to details like customer experience, localisation and ‘Brand UK’ should get you off to a great start. Ultimately, your success will come down to understanding the individual market and consumer tastes and reflecting those local preferences in your marketing strategy.