Insurance · 23 February 2018

Royal Mail reveals secrets to export success for ecommerce entrepreneurs

Britain’s ecommerce economy is said to be worth £130bn

Despite technology democratising international trading for ecommerce entrepreneurs, many of Britain’s small online retailers are struggling to expand the global side of their business.

According to new research from Royal Mail, one in three ecommerce business owners sells exclusively to a UK market.

HMRC figures put the value of UK exports at £29.6 billion for December 2017 alone, demonstrating the sales opportunities for smaller ecommerce businesses.

The study also looked into how online retail businesses are operating in 2018. Some eight in ten sell via their own website, but over half have succeeded in building shop fronts on marketplace platforms such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

Meanwhile, four in ten ecommerce entrepreneurs had a physical store as well as an online presence, highlighting the popularity of a “bricks and clicks” approach to business.

Some retailers had even found luck with more traditional ways of trading. A fifth were making sales over the phone while 14 per cent still advertised goods in catalogues.

Looking to the future, over half wanted to test out new sales channels. The value of exports was also understood, and almost two-thirds planned to increase international sales revenue in 2018.

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Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson for Royal Mail Parcels said ecommerce was becoming “increasingly globalised” and urged online retailers to expand the international side of their business.

“There are currently more than two billion internet users in 200 countries, with nearly 100 million of them in English speaking countries. It is a particularly good time for UK businesses to explore exporting options, given the current state of the pound.”

To help online retailers tap into the £130bn ecommerce boom, Royal Mail outlined seven steps which could help owners make products more competitive and build customer relationships overseas.

Seven steps for export success

  1. Make your delivery charges affordable

Retailers should offer affordable delivery to overseas customers, otherwise they won’t buy. The cost of carriage should not exceed one third of the price of the goods and free delivery is an attractive option for many customers. 

  1. Be clear about customs charges

Most non-EU shoppers are concerned about customs charges – many websites have intimidating warnings, suggesting that customs charges can often be prohibitive. However, sales within the EU incur no customs charges at present.

  1. Make sure international payment works

Most international buyers use MasterCard or Visa and Maestro is becoming increasingly popular. Also consider offering Paypal.

  1. Translate your website

If you have identified a target market overseas that is non-English speaking, then translate your website and make sure it is searchable in the target language.

  1. Convert prices

Create a tool that will translate your prices into euros, dollars or the currency of your target markets.

  1. Provide customer support

Unless targeting a country where a majority of the population can speak English (e.g. Sweden, Netherlands), it is important to offer some degree of support in the local language. Offer an email, phone number or live chat support and remember to consider time differences.

  1. Check out the local competition

Make sure you understand the local pricing structures, service expectations and nuances of your target country.

Now find out the top five retail technology trends set to emerge in 2018

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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