Going Global: 5 Top Tips for Trading Internationally

The beauty of eCommerce means you have the potential to sell your products and services to people from around the world, while you sit comfortably in front of the computer in your pyjamas watching The Antiques Road Show! However, many online retailers expecting to make international sales are not doing all they should to help convert international shoppers.

Even some of the biggest brands are getting it wrong. US brewery Coors’ slogan “Turn it loose” didn’t quite translate over into the Spanish market, where it was unfortunately read as “Suffer from diarrhoea.” This was obviously not the message they needed to boost their international sales!

With a weak pound, now has never been a better time for UK retailers to branch out overseas. Here are five ideas to make the online shopping experience a smooth one for your international shoppers:

1. Remember: variety is the spice of life

The UK leads the eCommerce market, but Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium are also four of the largest eCommerce markets in Europe; conversely, they use credit cards very little. Therefore, it is essential that your website offers an appropriate variety of payment methods for the country you are targeting.

PayPal has more than 35 million active accounts across Europe and trade in 25 currencies. WorldPay has a dedicated site for small business and offers the opportunity to start trading and receiving payments online in one basic package.

There is also PlanetPayment and Google Checkout; all of these services provide a more efficient way to develop your payment options when first expanding internationally.

2. Localise

It’s imperative you translate your eCommerce site using a native language speaker. Machine translations can be spotted a mile off and will reflect poorly on your brand. But since different cultures interpret information differently, the localisation of your site extends far beyond word for word translation.

Ensure colours, symbols and graphic devices are appropriate for your new market. Even the Harry Potter books had a slight edit in titles when targeting new markets: ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ became ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ in the US. When moving products and services into new market, businesses cannot afford to underestimate the importance of people’s sensitivity to language and culture.

And having your goods or services displayed in local currencies is a no-brainer! At the very least provide a currency converter, but better yet, use a payment service that can give you an accurate price.

3. Remove the barriers

International address formats, foreign characters, and language barriers make capturing an international address seem like mission impossible.

With the cost of international postage to contend with, the price of getting it wrong can be amplified tenfold.

Invest in software where users can type in a fragment of an address and have a complete and fully validated record returned. Avoid the headaches that come with international addressing by ensuring the data is accurate at the point of entry.

4. Deliver over the pond

On your international shipping page, be sure to include information on estimated shipping times, product availability as well as your international returns policies. Explaining any additional shipping costs here is a good way to discourage cart abandonment.

It’s always a good idea to include a full list of contact information as well as customer service hours of operation in relation to specific time zones.

Most people will naturally presume hours are referred to in their own time zone and could find it frustrating if they cannot get hold of the company, not realising it’s out of business hours.

5. Resolve VAT issues

You need to ensure that your international website takes into account any additional charges or taxes that apply to the jurisdiction you are selling to.

VAT and Custom Duty rules are complex and will differ depending on factors such as whether the business is trading in or outside the EU and whether the supplies are to business or non-business customers.

Trading in any international country comes with myriad of challenges and rewards. However, the businesses that will succeed will be the ones that look and feel like they have been built within the local market.

Is there anything we’ve missed? What challenges have you faced, and what lessons have you learnt trying to trade internationally?

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  • Guy, an excellent summary. If anything is missing, it is the fact that European and International customers also want to know how to return items easily and cheaply. When I headed up Royal Mail’s ecommerce business, we did a major piece of research with international, cross-border shoppers, and the summary was that they desire a “just like home” solution when ordering from the USA. This means easy payments (as you have outlined), “no tax/duty surprises” (critically, if you do not let them pay for VAT/duties when ordering, they will be charged at the doorstep and will also pay a steep processing fee with the carrier, making customers very unlikely to shop with you again!), and standard levels of online customer service (package tracking, local language support and an easy, local returns service). You will find more at Borderjump.com. Regards, James

  • Natalie

    That’s for your comment James, you make some really good points here. International returns can be a major headache if not handled correctly. It’s important that retailers highlight their international returns policy on their site in order to manage customers’ expectations. Had a quick look at your site and it looks really interesting so thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Andrew Gibbs

    Great article and comments.

    It is important to realize that Visa, Mastercard and PayPal aren’t as popular everywhere, and seeing where real growth potential exists, this is an extremely important issue. While everyone in the UK has 4 credit cards, 1 out every 4 people in Germany has a credit card! You need to offer German direct debit if you want to really penetrate the market. Similarly, there’s China Union Pay in China, etc.

    And what’s with the ‘one-size-fits-all’ address formats that even some of the largest online retailers still use?? Newsflash: City, State, Zip (or postcode) isn’t used in a lot of international markets. Even if the retailer claims to be able to fulfill, they’re not quite sure, if you don’t even ‘understand’ what addresses are supposed to look like in their country.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that a disclaimer to an international customer, telling them that they are ‘on their own’ when it comes to duties & taxes is a definite no-no.
    If and when a retailer can crack the customs paperwork requirement for a country, then reverse logistics becomes simpler too.

    Regards, Andy

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  • This is a really great article for anyone who is thinking of getting started in trading and selling internationally. From finding the best freight shipping companies, to knowing where the best place to market your business is – it can be overwhelming to get started, but it has huge payoffs.

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