Blog | A Look at Global eCommerce
23rd October 2016
Most businesses want to grow.
Once you have a smooth running successful UK operation it makes perfect business sense to look at taking that model abroad and selling to another 500 million people in Europe, the Americas and beyond.
We recently contributed to a fantastic white paper by Postcode Anywhere about global ecommerce, which features advice and thought-provoking ideas that every UK company should consider.
Planning your Global Ecommerce Strategy
From a technical web infrastructure (domains, hierachies, content) to marketing the business (global SEO, paid advertising) and the backend logistics you need to think about (postage, central headquarters, customer service).
Check out the excellent whitepaper from Postcode Anywhere and let us know if you’re ready to take the leap abroad.
Our contribution in full:
If you are running a successful UK ecommerce site, it is only natural that your next move might be to go international and sell your items into Europe or beyond. If you’re at this stage, then there are many things to consider from a technical, logistic and marketing point of view.
Architecturally your site is designed for the UK; the content and product pages aimed at a UK audience. Google knows this and that’s why you are doing so well on google.co.uk. If you want to sell abroad then you need to tell the major search engines of your intention, with the biggest decision being whether you create a separate website for each country/language, or whether you follow the lead of major players like Coca Cola, Samsung and Nike and use subdirectories or subdomains to redirect your audience.
Hosting and Domains
Hosting all the internationalised content in one place will certainly make your site look huge and relevant, but given that the geographic location of your hosting server (and whether you’re offering a company.com/es/ page or a company.es website) can influence whether or not you come up on www.google.es, you need to think carefully.
Big companies will benefit from Spanish backlinks that tell Google which is the Spanish part of the site, as well as a technical team that will ensure Google is fully informed, so make sure you work out which is right for you. Having separate sites in silos, individually hosted locally in that country with a domain registered in that country certainly makes it clear from the outset. A Madrid hosted website on www.company.es and written in Spanish is 100% a Spanish website and thus stands a chance of ranking in that country.
It goes without saying that your content needs to be written in the local language, which means you need to find the budget to hire a professional translator. Offering the Google translate tool to users will never offer fixed foreign language content to search engines (it’s always created ‘on the fly’) so you won’t rank well abroad. And trying to translate the copy yourself using that same imperfect Google Translate tool opens you up to all sorts of language barrier problems.
If you aren’t prepared to invest in your French or German customers to the same (or even greater) extent as your UK customers, then don’t bother trying to sell abroad – plenty of local companies will do it better than you.
Once you have figured out the best web development solution for your business, you need to think about the logistics of shipping abroad.
First of all, does your site take payments in Euros, Dollars or Yuan? If so, how are you going to convert the pricing – a conversion API from xe.com (fees apply) that works out the new prices per site visit, or a fixed multiplier that you control in the backend admin once a week?
You need to speak to both your payment gateway and merchant account bank about their charges as well – some may charge a handling fee which means you need to increase your Chinese prices and risk becoming uncompetitive. You will need to incorporate these fees into your month-end reporting as well to make sure you are seeing the full picture.
You will need to consider shipping costs as well, with many major operators offering tiered postage costs depending on weight, destination and insurance. Adding shipping fees and longer fulfilment times may also make you uncompetitive, so perhaps you should consider a local stockpile and a satellite office to handle both the orders and any customer service issues?
Order confirmations will need to be translated (which is where the individual website/admin per country can be an advantage) and you will need to have a clear returns policy that factors in both Customs and Excise rules and local laws. Indeed, there are some items you aren’t even allowed to send.
International addresses also take a very different format to our UK addresses. The majority of Ireland doesn’t use postcodes, whilst the USA includes state abbreviations (NY, OH, TN) and Italy puts the house number at the end of the first line. So its back to the ecommerce web developers to ensure the billing and delivery forms work correctly.
If you want your French speaking website to rank for those possible customers in Paris or Lyon, then you are going to need a whole new French digital marketing campaign. Each page will need to be optimised for the local language, a series of French backlinks sought and won, and an advertising campaign on French platforms with local language graphics and imagery. Email campaigns need a different tone of voice and dictionary, and you may need someone new in charge of the French, German and Italian Twitter accounts.
Many businesses excited by the riches of selling abroad end up taking the ‘easy’ route and sell on eBay or Amazon as they immediately offer a global customer base, and your marketing is pretty much taken care of. However, when you are listed alongside other global suppliers – including those in the home country who will naturally pick up more of the orders – and you add in the listing fees, it can often quickly become unprofitable. You are on their website and thus subject to their trading terms, returns policies and dispersal of monies.
Selling internationally via your own website is littered with hundreds of key decisions from a the HTML markup of a single webpage, to currencies, to returns handling. Every single UK decision you have ever made needs to be applied to every single country you sell into, which may seem like an incredible amount of work. It’s easy to think of the negatives and stick to what you know.
Now let’s think of the positives – getting in right in Italy means you can double your turnover; getting in right in the USA means you have 320million people to sell to. The rewards are there, but only if you are prepared to put in the work to be successful.
If you are looking for advice, we can help you with our export consulting services, which include cutting edge reports on foreign markets. And our ecommerce development, which we produce on the Shopit software platform can help you whether you’re selling to customers at home or abroad.