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Expert Advice
For Success in Ecommerce
Our team of Ecommerce experts outline effective strategies for increasing and optimising your sales!
 
According to data from Euromonitor, the UK has the world’s most developed online retail market. Of course, the US has the biggest market when measured in turnover but when looking at total retail sales, online orders in the UK make up 11% of those sales, compared to 7.3% in the US. High internet penetration, greater choices, competitive prices and our compact size (!) have all helped the UK strive ahead in ecommerce. A trend which has been recognised by the govt who launched a plan to help 1,000 retailers break into international markets by 2015.

This Actinic Expert Advice is dedicated to international best practices, maximising your export opportunities and succeeding in foreign marketplaces. There are some specifics related to international commerce but the basic ecommerce practices remain the same; reassuring buyers, first class customer service, the impact of shipping fees on conversion rates, a comprehensive catalogue, and competitive prices amongst other things. Looking at strategy, logistics and finally communication, our experts lead you forth to conquer new lands! Follow the leader!
Things to keep in mind:
1. UK E-Commerce export expected to grow to £45 billion by 2020.
2. As well as adapting to the local market, don’t forget the local laws and taxes in your target country!
3. 40% of Brits will buy from foreign ecommerce sites compared to only 23% of the French and 21% of Germans.
4. It’s not just about changing your site language but also making cultural changes that will help you succeed abroad; payment and delivery habits, trust elements etc
5. Logistical challenges will need to be affronted too; multi-currency payments, delivery delays, stock control, language of your customer service etc
6. Use marketplaces to easily increase your visibility.
7. For SEO and SEA, adapt your keywords according to the country.

3 Essential steps for international ecommerce success

01 Plan and Prepare
Opening internationally offers huge opportunities for your estore to explore! However, like any good explorer, you’ll need to do some recce and prep before starting out, as good groundwork can be the difference between a successful, long-lasting adventure and a hasty retreat. The Actinic experts will help you pave the way to expansion with the following useful advice.

Choose where to start
Firstly, 'internationally’ is a fairly abstract concept. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to conquer the entire world overnight. Each market has its own unique challenges, so decide where you want to aim for first and create a development strategy. In order to limit the risks, a two-step strategy can be very effective.

> First phase: identify potential markets
Track your site visits and see where the biggest percentage of visitors come from. For example if you’re finding a lot of views coming from Spain, then there’s a clue as to the first country to start researching. When you see site visits from abroad, this is good indicator of a business opportunity. At first you don’t even have to open to foreign sales, just start to gauge overseas interest, using your site as a guinea pig, to confirm the potential prospects.

> Second phase: translate your website
When English is their second language, customers may struggle to understand checkout pages and are then more likely to abandon their orders. With 7 languages on offer, in just one click, Actinic gives you a head start on the translation front.
In regards to translating your product pages, don’t just take the information from suppliers, write a unique description, consistent with the rest of your catalogue.

This two pronged strategy has the advantage of limiting initial investment while promoting rapid exposure of your site internationally.


Study the ecosystem of your target country
When developing internationally you come face to face with the opportunities and constraints of a new ecosystem. A preliminary study of this new environment is essential if you want to hit the ground running.
> Investigate the competition and opportunities
Whether internationally or in your home country, competition is one of the first things to consider when launching an ecommerce site. Many factors may vary abroad: market size for your products, price, purchasing power of the local population, etc. Spare a thought for distance, no man is an island . . . but we are, so if your stocks are centralised, consider logistics!

> Legality and fiscality
So we might be able to play with words, but we don’t suggest you play with international laws! It’s not just about sales, opening abroad comes with new rules, not just laws and tax implications but customer service prerequisites too. To give you an idea, items shipped outside the EU will need the customs declaration CN22 or CN23 attached to the parcel for one (more info can be found in the HRMC article). Selling across the EU should be a lot easier than further afield, as within the European Union, legislation is increasingly standardised but it will still need looking into.


Logical logistics
As you’re surely aware, logistics is one of the biggest challenges faced by etailers aiming to expand internationally. Look into the options that are available to you and costs involved. As always, Actinic supports you in your endeavours by making it simple for you to add shipping options. You can also reread our Expert Advice on Shipping and Logistics to get some extra info.
> Choosing the right products
When starting out, focus on products that are easy to export. Weight is clearly an important criteria: the lighter the load, the cheaper the shipping, helping you stay competitive! Some items from your catalogue will not be competitive with what’s available in your target country so it’s not worth your while putting them forward.

> Select the ‘right’ area
It’s probably advisable to limit yourself to Europe to start off. As we’ve already seen, it’ll be easier, legally, logistically and to manage your inventory. Speaking of . . . don’t forget about Actinic’s automated inventory management which limits the possibility of human error and keeps your customers happy by ensuring delivery deadlines are achievable.

There are a number of Actinic features at your disposal, to make international expansion easier and now’s the time to make the most of them!
02 Organisation is key (get your shop in order)
You’ve done your research, created an international development strategy, now it’s time to put it all into action and start selling in your new markets.

Translation
While we all enjoyed Rene in 'Allo 'Allo, Franglais will not help you develop your sales in France, as Spanglish won’t help . . . you get the point! Be wary of Google translate or any other automated translation tool, they tend to fall very short when it comes to idiomatic expressions and they certainly can’t take into account the sales culture of your target country. Fortunately, Actinic has anticipated your international forays and versions of your site are available in 7 languages; English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch and Catalan. So all you’re left with are your site pages and product details.

For efficiency’s sake we suggest you avoid metaphors and any literary turn of phrase that may not come across in your target country. Remember the primary aim of your estore is sales, this is not the place to start practicing for a Man Booker prize! While machine translations may offer quick and cheap short-term solutions they are most definitely not a panacea.

Depending on your products it’s not always necessary to translate your site to succeed abroad;
""We tried to develop the site in different languages; English and Italian for example but we won’t do it again. Clients in Europe and around the world were looking for a "French touch," and the French product results, the multilingual sites didn’t work at all! Now, we have international orders daily all through the French website!”" Gaelle Barré Univers Broderie

The need to translate your site also depends on your target audience and the products that you sell. Try out different strategies, listen to your foreign customer’s expectations and wishes and adapt your store to the cultural needs of your target country. You will quickly establish what works for your clients, if you find that your Spanish clients need a site in Spanish to feel comfortable and at ease buying then you can translate your site.


Don’t just translate, localise and adapt
Setting yourself up internationally is also about adapting to local culture. A study by 7thingsmedia, showed that only 23% of the French and 21% of Germans will buy from foreign sites, the British were slightly more adventurous at 40%. The more local your store appears the greater your sales should be – and we don’t mean ‘League of Gentleman’ local!
A simple but efficient way of making a foreign consumer feel at home on your site is to adapt your domain name. For example, ‘greatpools.co.uk’ wouldn’t really work in a .fr site, so would be best translated or adapted. The Actinic solution lets you choose a domain name for each country and even generates sitemaps automatically. With Actinic you can have a specific site for each country and if this sounds complicated to do, fear not, just one click and there you go!
Actinic makes going global easier with localised sites, multi-currency payment systems and international delivery options. What’s more, the international catalogue can manage your centralised stock for several international sites. Very handy for optimum inventory management.
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Some additional tips to consider; try putting pictures of local towns or backdrops to present your products, a familiar environment will help put the buyer at ease. Think about the seasons too, if you’re not on the same side of the hemisphere then don’t forget your customers won’t be having a snowy xmas!


Adapt your prices and offers
An international adventure will also involve making changes to offers and means of payment.

Payment habits differ in every country; in the Netherlands 60% of payments are made by direct debit. In the Czech Republic, 50% of transactions are cash upon delivery! To succeed internationally, you need to consider local payment expectations and habits..

Of course, there’s more than just payment method to think about. Selling abroad also means being able to process multi-currency payments, there’s a lot going on outside our little sterling zone! Discuss options with your bank. The Actinic solution can define currency by language used and also provides an option for buyers to choose their preferred currency. Considering most of us don’t want to work out conversion rates or pay any additional exchange rate fees these will be very useful tools.

Finally, in terms of international payments, trust elements are more crucial than ever. Actinic Payments are powered by CreditCall and offer sophisticated fraud screening which can be controlled from the Actinic order screen and complete compliance with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). A secure internet payment system that carries millions of transactions per month and has an up-time of 99.998% since 2005. When buying abroad, people always check a little more and having sound security guarantees will boost your conversion rate! As will using well known and recognised payment solutions such as Sage Pay, PayPal or Ogone.

Customer support and potential returns
You already know the importance of quality customer service and there’s no reason for your international customers to receive anything but your best. Reassuring site visitors is perhaps even more important when you become international. Spare a thought for time zones too, for timely responses to customer service queries. If you want to retain your customers, being able to support them in their own language is also a major plus.
The minimum you can do is offer well translated FAQ pages. It’s also vital that return conditions are very clear and perfectly translated. Three in ten UK SME online retailers will be simplifying the returns process in 2015 to increase customer satisfaction (Royal Mail Annual Tracker Report). This is fundamental for consumers buying outside their borders. In short, making sure your clients have all the necessary info and the impression that buying abroad is no different from buying next door.


Customer reviews - the final touch
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of your e-store reviews! Be they good or bad (to a certain extent!), they are a great buy incentive because they reassure the user that other consumers have bought from you were and were satisfied. Shopping-Satisfaction guarantees the authenticity of customer feedback and lets you send review requests to your customers. Yet again, we’ve tried to think of everything and Shopping Satisfaction is currently available in English, French and Spanish.
03 Spread the Word
Your development strategy is in place, your site multi-lingual and every detail covered to the nth degree . . . just one thing left to do – market and promote your site!

Use a little marketplace magic
To create an international following, what better place to start than marketplaces?

To gain greater visibility, you generally can’t go wrong with the old favourites, Amazon and eBay. If you create a European account with Amazon you can publish your catalogue on every European version of the site (French, Spanish, German etc).
In 2014, Amazon.com Inc sold more than 2bn items globally, double their 2013 sales and with more than 244 million active members this a huge market to tap into. EBay has 149 million active buyers and often boasts above average conversion rates. Marketplaces account for between 30% and 40% of all online retail sales in the UK and this number is growing (In China it’s above 95%!).

Abroad or at home, marketplaces are full of opportunities so feel free to read our previous Marketplace Presence Expert Advice on the subject and refresh yourself on the best practices!

SEO first
An international presence will mean reworking your SEO. The Actinic solution is already optimised for SEO whatever the language version, so your role is to translate keywords, tags, titles etc. Once again, nothing new here, the same best SEO practices apply. Reread our Expert Advice on SEO to make sure you’re up to speed on those best practices, no black hats here please!

One last tip, keyword associations may vary from one country to another. Some search terms can give great results in one country and turn up nothing in the next. So, please do use the Google Keywords tool that lets you identify links between keywords and implement new strategies. Also, don’t forget that the Actinic experts are always ready to boost your rankings for you. With over 600 sites getting the Actinic SEO boost each year, our experts have the superstar experience and skills to help you climb to the top of the Google charts!

"Our site was set up in 6 languages very quickly. The Actinic ecommerce solution really offers the option of having multiple shops, and activating foreign domain names, payment solutions and shipping options is also fast and easy. This proactive approach enabled us to make our first international sales in just a few weeks. Traffic and sales coming from international sources are collected in an advanced statistics table which enables us to easily calculate the profitability of each country. This is a very effective tool for adapting our international sales strategy and increasing our overall turnover."
Jean-Philippe Thoër - Ballkit


Email and SMS Winners!
Once you have acquired your first customers, retention is the next priority. As your international marketing may come less naturally, putting effort into customer retention is a good idea. The champions in this area, are good old Email and SMS. SMS open rates are around 90%, a figure you can’t argue with!
Beyond retention, email is fantastic for word-of-mouth especially for referral schemes. What’s more, referrals are a useful strategy when conquering a new country! You can let local networks do your promoting for you. Actinic's referral scheme offers your customers an incentive to promote your products and company to people they know.

A social media presence to seal the deal
Spreading your wings and going global also involves putting some time into, the now inescapable, social media networks. Translating your pages will involve some linguistic leaps and bounds but will be proof that you’re present and ready to progress in your new market. Another way of gaining potential customers trust and spreading news of your brand’s arrival.


Now over to you ... et vous, y ustedes, e voi!