Over a third of UK retailers have seen online sales to overseas customers grow by more than 40% in the past 12 months.
That’s according to a recent IMRG study into the opportunities for e-retailers when it comes to trading across borders.
Retailers that have developed localised websites, meanwhile, have experienced a median increase in online sales of 100%.
The average increase was 91% – and the highest was a staggering 300% – so it shows the benefits of companies immersing themselves in true site localisation rather than just simply shipping to a particular country.
In other words, localising the customer experience for a country may immediately double your online sales there, even before you really start to target your new audience with specific marketing campaigns.
In a nutshell
Website localisation is the process of adapting the content of your website for audiences in other countries around the world.
The number one aspect of this is language translation. Translating your written content is vital if you want your business to be visible on the international stage, not just in your domestic market.
Other aspects of website localisation include everything from design and pictures to text size and choice of font.
Business-to-consumer ecommerce sales around the world are expected to reach a staggering $1.471 trillion this year, according to research firm eMarketer, up nearly 20% on the figure recorded in 2013.
A total of $2.356 trillion is predicted in 2018 – so the future looks bright.
This means there are plenty of opportunities for UK retailers to grab themselves a slice of the expanding pie.
North America – the US and Canada – will remain the leading region in business-to-consumer ecommerce sales share this year, accounting for around one-third of the dollars spent on digital purchases worldwide.
Asia-Pacific, however, is forecast to take over the mantle and become the leading region for ecommerce sales in 2015, leapfrogging North America. Western Europe will follow behind in third place.
Off the beaten track
Less-developed markets may offer easier opportunities for you to penetrate rather than trying to tackle countries such as China, France, Germany or the US, where local and international competition is already intense.
The likes of Mexico, Brazil or Russia are all worth serious consideration as possible destinations to exploit, while Macedonia, Ecuador and Azerbaijan are among the fastest growing markets in the world.
One thing to think about, however, is that most countries, especially outside Western Europe, are not homogeneous when it comes to ecommerce, as certain cities account for the vast majority of online purchases.
Internet spending in Russia, for example, is mostly concentrated in the powerhouses that are Moscow and St Petersburg.
It’s estimated that duo makes up 60% of ecommerce sales in the country, even though they only represent 15% of the total population. Put another way, Moscow and St Petersburg joined together make up a ‘country’ that is roughly twice the size of Belgium with twice the online spending per head.
You should therefore not take national level statistics at face value. It pays to dig a little deeper beyond the surface.
But it’s not just Russia. The pattern of ecommerce concentrated in major cities is typical in developing online markets. A local operation confined to just a handful of cities, with its implicit simplification of logistics and related challenges, could well be the ideal opportunity for you to expand.
One size doesn’t fit all
You cannot expect to simply clone the setup of your UK site and reap the rewards overseas – localisation doesn’t work like that.
Ecommerce is different around the world. While most of the time these differences are blindingly obvious, you need to be aware of subtle ones that can have large consequences if you fail to spot them.
It’s therefore extremely important to do your homework jumping into anything, as you could end up red-faced and out of pocket. Besides language, design and pictures, here are some things you should pay extra attention to.
- Dates (Day, Month, Year versus Month, Day, Year)
- Time (24-hour clock versus 12-hour clock)
- Currency (Conversions and formats)
- Phone numbers (Different countries have different formats)
- National holidays (Holidays are country and region specific)
Success in foreign markets requires an open mind and attention to detail. You need to make sure your website is consistent with local norms so it looks and feels familiar and usable to your target audience.
No need to be scared
Selling to customers outside the UK seems scary, but it really isn’t. Here we put to bed three concerns that companies usually have about going global.
The UK has an excellent reputation around the world, despite what you may think, particularly when it comes to trade. Trust and quality is in abundance, so take advantage of this by making it clear you’re based in the UK.
Customers abroad can pay by credit card and you will be paid in sterling, so there is nothing to worry about on this front.
The payment will be translated into their local currency when it appears on their statement. A conversion facility is therefore a good idea so you can provide an indicative amount in the potential buyer’s local currency.
3. Customs and imports
Most retailers leave customs or import duties to the customer. They are responsible for such charges, so you can ignore them. Just make a point of saying explicitly in your terms and conditions that any charges are the buyer’s liability.
Throw caution to the wind
The opportunity of selling overseas is one that is too good to miss for UK retailers.
Much of the expertise that you use to get visitors at home to check out your site can be re-used for the international market, such as search engine optimisation and pay-per-click adverting, so throw caution to the wind.
Just don’t scrimp when it comes to language translation as this is your main selling point around the world.