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Make global E-commerce work for you – best practices and tips

On 1 July, we attended the event Cross-Border E-commerce. Last week, we shared Practicology’s insights on tapping into Germany’s e-commerce market – building on this, here is more broad advice to consider when entering international markets.


The event speakers were:

Bianca Mercer, Senior Consultant at Practicology

Miles Paterson, Sales Director at Global E

Michel Koch, former Head of International Multichannel Trading at Marks & Spencer

David Elder, Developing Markets Manager at Wiggle

Marco Vergani, VP & General Manager at Digital River

Neil Tunbridge, E-commerce Specialist at UK Trade & Investment

Paul Sulyok, CEO of Green Man Gaming


Prioritise particular elements of your website to localise

Panellists including Green Man Gaming and M&S emphasised that the most important step of taking your e-commerce global (beyond ensuring you’re legally set up to sell to your target markets) is to give international customers the option to purchase and pay for items on your website.

Pricing in local currencies can also help you increase conversions and sales. For example, a Boston Consulting Group study found that Australian buyers prefer to buy items priced in Australian dollars even if this price is higher than the US dollar price.

Make your user experience (UX) straightforward

For successful conversions, you need to ensure the customer can complete the buying journey as quickly as possible. Not all approaches will work the same, so experiment in each target market to see what works best.

Be open-minded when it comes to payment methods

The further you venture abroad, the more likely you are to encounter new payment methods. International transaction systems such as PayPal are fairly universal, but if you don’t support the preferred local payment methods you’re significantly less likely to convert.

Global E gave an overview of some local preferences: in the Middle East, cash on delivery is standard and 41% of people in Portugal use Multibanco. Green Man Gaming explained that as soon as they enabled Alipay and China Union Pay for the Chinese market, the traffic on the website increased tremendously within just three hours.

Don’t underestimate the localisation process

Market research, maintaining domains, developing marketing strategies for each target market (including SEO and meta-tagging), and providing local customer service (ideally with local numbers and language options) are just a few of the aspects of localisation which the panellists referenced. There are more elements to take into account – for example, to comply with regulations in some target markets, such as Brazil and India, you may need to establish a local presence.

Beyond navigating taxation and legal challenges, you also need to invest to overcome cultural barriers including (but certainly not limited to) translation. Digital River provided the example of a campaign to sell a high end product in France that wasn’t translated well, as a result, the campaign ranked low in search rankings and converted badly.

To overcome these barriers, choose your target markets carefully and capitalise on what you know; think about expanding your online footprint in geographies where you already have a presence through traditional retail channels. Think about the markets you know best and steer away from high growth markets such as the BRICs (unless you are certain that there is demand for your products), and you have the capacity to market them effectively.

However, bear in mind that you don’t need to localise everything for each market: M&S has stores in 33 countries and ships to 83 countries, but only has local websites for their top 10 priority e-commerce markets. You also don’t need to do everything in-house, there are many organisations who can help you understand and manage the different aspects of selling internationally.

Emphasising Britishness can help leverage your brand

We’ve been saying for a while that Britishness can be a USP – and M&S and Wiggle have also found this to be true. For M&S, “British” concepts such as macs and formal coats, as well as Saville Row inspired suits, performed especially well in France.

Consider how your products will reach your customers

Incorporate distribution as part of your e-commerce cycle – as you will get many visits from international customers, you need to be upfront about delivery charges and timeframes. Global E stressed the importance of choosing a provider who offers local tracking and notification, and ideally offers a fast service as well as a less expensive (though likely slower) option to appeal to different customer segments.

In terms of returns, the policy and process needs to be easy, and the costs need to be transparent and reasonable: “If I need to wait 10 days to return a product from the US, it’s just not good enough.”

Also, ensure you choose a provider who can help you navigate Customs, duties, and fees.

Keep your plan for going global flexible

Green Man Gaming had a concrete plan for going global: first establish a foothold in the UK, then tackle northern Europe, and progress to the US. However, when 400 games were sold in Osaka within the first 6 hours of going live, they realised this plan needed to be adjusted: “We became an international online retailer because our customers wanted us to be one.” This statement emphasises how important it is to understand your customers in each target market – if you provide what they’re looking for, your products will sell.

For more insights into how to make international e-commerce work for you, read our related articles on the topic and follow us on Twitter for important sector updates.

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