The phenomenal trade that retailers experienced last year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday demonstrated a huge jump in the growth of on-line sales. Compared with 2013, UK sales increased by nearly 92 per cent and average order value was up 1.4 per cent to just under 89%.
One of the advantages of e-commerce is that there are no geographical boundaries and your shop window can be viewed by anyone in any location with an internet connection. Indeed the DNA of many virtual businesses is that they often have few or no physical offices with staff being spread across the country or even internationally. With this in mind, e-businesses are in an ideal position to export the same goods or services overseas and capture new markets and revenues. Here’s some tips on how to make this happen.
Just because you started in the UK, doesn’t mean you should limit your sales territories. Research shows that 17 per cent of global online shoppers buy from the UK compared to 16 per cent who buy from Germany. After the US, Great Britain is the most attractive virtual marketplace. In particular expanding markets such as Asia are prime candidates for future growth. According to Ofcom 59% of Brits regularly buy on-line but in China, 77% of the population surf the Internet for bargains on a weekly basis. Now you’ve already put in the hard work in manufacturing, designing, sourcing and/or marketing your product, now it’s time to open your doors to more potential buyers. In many cases the UK can remains the central hub for your operation and there will be no need to set up a physical presence or hire staff in other countries.
2. Bridge the language gap
Of course one of the few perceived barriers that can exist is ‘language’. What if I want to sell into France, Germany, Spain or China? According to studies by Cisco Systems we know that 56% of the internet’s content is in English, but only 27% of its users come from English-speaking countries. In some areas it may be acceptable for your website to just be in English, but for others it’s certainly worth getting the help of a native speaker to translate your whole site. Equally, you need to be able to offer different nationalities the ability to speak or communicate either on the phone or via other channels such as social media. The good news is that the UK is one of the most multi-cultural populations in Europe, so there is no shortage of multi-lingual speakers on hand. Other hurdles such as logistics and distribution will also need to be addressed although with world-wide freight charges plummeting there may be no need for local infrastructure or warehousing as it can be just as cheap to deliver a package from the UK as it is within the home country.
3. Suck it and see
If you decide to dip your toe in the water, make sure you minimise the risks. Avoid over-investing in capital items such as premises and equipment or the longer-term commitments of extra headcount. Instead explore how you might use external partners to share the load, whether it’s logistics suppliers, translation agencies, linguists, SEO specialists or contract sales staff.
4. Call in the experts
Seek out professional advice from those that know how to trade successfully overseas and or have supported other companies to be export-ready. For example a specialist can help set up cross-border payment gateways or mentor you on how to set up a distribution network. Likewise there are consultants that specifically focus on globalisation strategies or have particular knowledge of certain regions. You may even find that you are eligible for government grants that can help fund your expansion.
5. Be accessible to customers 24/7
Not only do you have to speak a customer’s language, you also must ensure that the people behind your virtual store don’t clock off at 5. If a buyer has a query, then there’s nothing more frustrating than finding that there’s no one ‘manning the tills’, as they will simply go elsewhere. Always provide a Freephone or Skype number so they can get in touch easily and also a choice of other channels such as Twitter, chat or email. If you want to operate across multiple time zones but don’t want to open 24/7 then consider using a third party to answer queries, orders or handle returns – this way you can convert all opportunities and make a healthy contribution to the bottom line.
Further information or advice on exporting: