The founder of ecommerce website builder Actinic, Marc Schillaci, explains what you need to do to become a successful digital exporter.
According to data from Euromonitor, the UK has the world’s most developed online retail market. So it is surprising that only 36 per cent of etailers in the UK export internationally, compared to 73 per cent in Belgium, the top European exporter on the ecommerce market.
The growth potential of international online sales in UK is incredible. The UKTI “Do More Online” campaign set up in 2015 was a great idea as it encouraged UK small business owners to trade internationally online as part of the government’s “Business is GREAT” initiative which aims to help businesses develop an online presence.
Moreover, according to the latest statistics from Motionpoint, the UK market is currently highly popular with European buyers – half of UK site traffic for fashion etailers comes from the EU, with France and Germany in the lead, followed closely by Italy and Spain. Here are the key steps to take before you seek to make the most of these opportunities.
(1) Plan and Prepare
Study the ecosystem of your target country
- Investigate the competition and opportunities: Whether international or in your home country, competition is one of the first things to consider when launching an ecommerce site. Many factors may vary from your home market, including the total market size for your products, the price, the purchasing power of the local population, etc. Spare a thought for distance, too. No man is an island, but the United Kingdom is, so if your stock is centralised in the UK, consider the logistics challenge.
- Legality and fiscality: We might be able to play with words, but we don’t suggest you play with international laws. It’s not just about sales – opening abroad comes with new rules, not just laws and tax implications but customer service prerequisites too.
Don’t forget to check consumer rights legislation in any territory you are thinking of selling to, either – for example, returns and refunds requirements. It is also necessary to consider customs rules, as items shipped outside the EU will need the customs declaration CN22 or CN23 attached to the parcel. Selling across the EU should be a lot easier than further afield, as within the European Union, legislation is increasingly standardised, but it will still need looking into.
When starting out, focus on products that are easy to export. Weight is clearly an important criterion – the lighter the load, the cheaper the shipping, this will help you to stay competitive. Some items from your catalogue will not be competitive with what’s available in your target country so it’s not worth your while putting them forward.
Select the “right” area: It’s probably advisable to limit yourself to Europe to start off. As we’ve already seen, it’ll be easier, legally, logistically and to manage your inventory.
(2) Get your shop in order
You’ve done your research, created an international development strategy, now it’s time to put it all into action and start selling in your new markets.
Adapt your prices and offers
An international adventure will also involve making changes to offers and means of payment. Payment habits differ in every country – in the Netherlands 60 per cent of payments are made by direct debit, while in the Czech Republic, 50 per cent of transactions are cash upon delivery. To succeed internationally, you need to consider local payment expectations and habits.
Customer support and potential returns
You already know the importance of quality customer service and there’s no reason for your international customers to receive anything but your best. Reassuring site visitors is perhaps even more important when you become international. Spare a thought for time zones too, for timely responses to customer service queries. If you want to retain your customers, being able to support them in their own language is also a major plus.
(3) Spread the word
Your development strategy is in place, your site is multilingual and every detail is covered to the nth degree – now you need to market and promote your site.
Use a little marketplace magic
To create an international following, what better place to start than marketplaces?
To gain greater visibility, you generally can’t go wrong with the old favourites, Amazon and eBay. If you create a European account with Amazon you can publish your catalogue on every European version of the site.
An international presence will mean reworking your SEO. Be aware that associations may vary from one country to another. Some search terms can give great results in one country and turn up nothing in the next. So use the Google Keywords tool that lets you identify links between keywords and implement new strategies
A social media presence to seal the deal
Spreading your wings and going global also involves putting some time into, the now inescapable, social media networks. Translating your pages (professionally) will be proof that you’re present and ready to progress in your new market, another way of gaining potential customers trust and spreading news of your brand’s arrival.
Marc Schillaci is CEO and Founder of Actinic
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