Running a webshop isn’t without challenges, it’s a demanding job. Doing it right can bring you profit, doing it wrong will drive you mad. In case you consider crossing borders your challenges will increase, but that shouldn’t demotivate you. Prepare your cross-boarder expansion well and you will be able to profit. In this post I will describe the main challenges as they were discussed at the International conference “PECOS4SMEs – Cross-border e-Commerce for SMEs” in “De Waag” in Amsterdam.
The conference took place at a very well matching location. In the old days dead bodies were investigated in this theatre as we can see on the painting "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" painted by the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. We acted in a similar way during the conference. Dissecting cross-boarder e-commerce up to the bones.
Professor Bram Alkema invited the audience to think twice before starting a cross-border activity. Instead of just copying the existing activity he proposed to consider testing something completely different. Whether you extend your existing business or start a new one, in both cases cross-boarder e-commerce needs to take local differences into account to be successful. During the conference I had the opportunity to share the seven main topics to care about. They are summarized below.
1. Care about design
The look and feel of the webshop are more important than SME retailers often seem to realize. They want to be up and running as soon as possible and use a theme that they personally like most. In reality it does not really count what you like yourself. What your audience likes counts most. And this might really differ per country. Even the colors you use have to be adjusted to local (cultural) meanings.
Hopefully, it’s needless to say your webshop has to be ready for mobile devices. In the increasingly mobile driven world at least a responsive design is a must.
2. Don’t get lost in translation
Assuming your existing webshop is in your native (not English) language, you will first of all have to translate your website into English to reach a wider audience. But English only might not be sufficient. You will have to investigate the English proficiency of your target group. Basically everyone prefers to shop in their own native language. So you might have to prevent your visitors will get lost in translation.
On the other hand translating everything might cause you to get lost. For sure it is a costly thing. Therefore, it’s better to investigate what the best target markets might be for you. Below you will find an overview of the economically most relevant languages. If you translate your website in all of these languages, you will reach 90% of the world's economic opportunity (Source: Capita translation interpreting).
3. Adjust the currency
Retailers based in stronger currency countries might consider offering their products cross-boarder in their own favorite currency. But please think twice. How would you feel to see a product priced in Swedish or Danish Krones? Would you know what you would have to pay? For your potential clients from e.g. the Scandinavian countries the Euro feels the same. The best thing you can do is to present your products in their local currency, written in the right way, like they are used to.
4. Offer as many local payment methods as possible
Some people claim that you just have to offer credit cards as a payment option to do business online. Research data shows the opposite for most European coutries. If you want to do business in for example The Netherlands you will have to offer iDeal as a payment option and many other countries have their preferred methods as well. In addition credit card payments are rather costly. Therefore, offering a local payment option might be more attractive for the retailer as well.
5. Care about delivery and returns
Your responsibility isn't over by selling and packaging the delivery. In general for the client his experience with you and your shop has been rather virtually. The only human interaction he has with you might be the delivery guy. Are you aware? A nicely boxed product that is going to be transported in a rough and irresponsible way, will not look good. A rude delivery guy might break the great shopping experience your client had till that moment. And a delivery process that takes too long will further decrease your image.
Saving on logistic costs might be your worst decision.
Another very important part of your customer’s experience is the return process. Do you know your customer’s rights? Do you have a clear return policy? Many retailers are refunding the money of a returned product rather late and again this is a very crucial dissatisfier. Organised well it might become a competitive advantage, otherwise you will loose clients.
6. Local representation
The value of language has been discussed above. The same is applicable to your communication channels. How can the client contact you? In what language? How’s your after-care arranged? You do not have to arrange everything in the client’s language, but be transparent about what the client can expect. For sure it might be worth considering local language support. Your clients will appreciate this.
To look professional, as a company that is really their to stay, it is advised to have some local address, telephone number, legal entity and may be even a local representative. All these things will further increase your client’s trust.
7. Legal and tax
In case you limit your business activities to the EU-region you might think legal matters are the same everywhere. To some extend it’s true that some level of harmonization is taking place, but nevertheless countries will have their own implementations. A local legal advisor will be useful to point out the differences to you.
Something similar applies to tax regulations. There are significant differences per country that you will have to be aware of.
It might be needless to say, but of course your webshop has to be secure. Unfortunately, in reality many shops, even the hosted ones, are not well protected. You should check or ask someone to check it on a regular basis.
Hopefully the above mentioned challenges will support you in achieving your cross-border ambitions. By taking good care about your cross-boarder activities we are confident you will be able to succeed. The opportunities are there, that’s a fact. Good luck! For additional support and training you should for sure have a look at the PECOS4SMEs website where you will find a lot of useful information. Of course you can also contact us, we are most willing to share our thoughts with you.