eCommerce continues to experience record sales volumes. Online sales in Europe have been growing steadily in recent years, a trend that is likely to continue into 2022. According to eMarketer’s survey, total eCommerce sales will be $5 trillion in 2022 – $1 trillion more than in 2020 – rising to $6 trillion by 2024. These staggering numbers are enough to explain why more and more sellers are starting cross-border eCommerce projects.
Selling online offers the opportunity to address a worldwide pool of potential customers, which not only ensures the company’s viability, but also its continued growth. However, mere presence is not enough to sell. If you want to improve your cross-border eCommerce, you need to take a global view of the market, with a focus on the countries in which you decide to sell and plan an effective eCommerce strategy.
Knowing what makes what you sell unique, emphasising the strengths and being able to address the weaknesses is the first step. Even with the best marketing strategy, no one will buy (or buy again) a bad product. The second step is to identify the target customer, towards whom you should direct your efforts. “Shooting in the dark” is a useless waste of time and resources. Get to know your customers, what they want and what latent needs they might have. Finally, the third step is to create an eCommerce strategy that allows you to sell across national borders, bearing in mind that each country has its own rules when it comes to eCommerce and that it is good to know them well before jumping into the adventurous world of cross-border.
10 key points for a winning eCommerce strategy
If you want to improve your cross-border eCommerce sales in 2022, it’s a good idea to start drawing up a sound online sales strategy now. To get started, we recommend you follow these 10 points – a sort of guideline for better market positioning and more profits. A word of advice before you start: to further optimise your results, it may be useful to identify benchmarks and evaluate them on a quarterly basis. This will allow you to identify any strategic or product errors and correct them in time.
1. Choose the right platform
It is important to sell on highly optimised web platforms to maximise conversions. Having your own eCommerce store is obviously important, and it is a good idea to choose a platform that is sufficiently scalable and customisable to integrate third-party activity. Among the features that the platform must have is the possibility to upload multilingual pages, because if you want to expand beyond national borders, you need to communicate in the language of potential local customers. To find the best approach, do an A/B test – i.e. try two versions and analyse the results on the basis of predefined parameters to see which one performs better. If you are looking to sell in different countries, it is advisable to do an A/B test for each of them. Each market responds differently. Also pay attention to graphics and how text and images are distributed. Try to make your eCommerce inclusive. This means, for example, taking into account colour shades that are not perceived by colour-blind people and writing the main information in such a way that it can be read by visually impaired people.
For cross-border trade, it is also very important to rely on marketplaces in the various countries in which you choose to sell because they allow you to make your brand known more widely and quickly. Furthermore, in some countries, such as China, it is possible to avoid complex authorisation procedures with local authorities through marketplaces, which we have to go through if we sell through our own website.
2. Local user experience for global eCommerce
Texts and multimedia content are the calling card for online sales. Study your competitors’ websites, identify keywords and build your texts on them. Use clear and direct language, check for errors and typos. Do not limit yourself to simply translating the description of the products you are selling, but always bear in mind the culture and characteristics of the population you are targeting. For example, if you want to attract a German customer, you need to use different characteristics to those that would attract a French or Spanish customer. Communication not only has to do with language but also includes technical components such as design, layout and colours. When customers are looking for information, it should not only be presented in their native language, but also in a way that is familiar to them. An error such as the wrong colour can have a negative effect, especially if it has negative connotations in the customer’s culture.
A good eCommerce strategy must also include the use of photos and videos, naturally in the languages of the target countries or, at most, in English. This content allows the product to be seen from various points of view, as if the customer were in the shop and could almost touch it. The latest trend is to include augmented reality content that simulates a visit to your physical shop.
3. Allow more payment options
The issue of payments can determine the success or failure of an eCommerce store.
Payment security is a prerequisite, but it is also good to allow for multiple payment options and to understand which ones to use in a given country: from PayPal, to credit or debit cards, to local payment systems. In Germany, for example, Sofort is very strong, while in Italy it is Satispay that took off in 2021. Knowing these trends is essential for integrating your eCommerce into the country in which you choose to sell. Some countries are already heavily using cryptocurrencies for online payments. In Russia, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands, cryptocurrency payments are widespread, users are more familiar with them, and in many cases expect to see them as an accepted payment option.
4. Logistics and shipping first!
Logistics is one of the pillars of eCommerce, and knowing which solution is best for your case (but also for your country) is essential. First of all, it is good to know whether to choose to open a warehouse in the country where you choose to sell online or whether, instead, to have a centralised warehouse in your country and then turn to a local distribution network. Each of these solutions has its pros and cons, and often these have to do with the volume of business of the brand in that particular country.
One feature that everyone agrees on is free shipping: no matter whether you are doing cross-border eCommerce in China or Germany, “free shipping is always a good idea”.
Most users will switch sites or choose not to buy if they see that shipping costs money, so include this option wherever possible.
Other ideas for rewarding your customers could be to send them their favourite product as a subscription with a set frequency and automated payment, or to give them the opportunity to get discounts, try a preview of new products or receive gifts for their birthday or other special occasions. It is good to know if there are specific holidays or peak times for each country: sales, for example, do not start everywhere on the same day, and knowing this in advance will allow for adequate logistical organisation, avoiding bottlenecks.
5. Improve eCommerce sales with a Merchant of Record
If you want to improve your eCommerce sales, especially if you sell to different countries, it may be a good idea to use a Merchant of Record (MoR). A Merchant of Record is an intermediary between the seller and the end customer, who is responsible for all legal matters, taxes and handling all forms of payment. Each country has specific regulations and taxes, which you should know in order to avoid penalties. By relying on an MoR, you will not have to deal with these issues yourself, and you will be free to focus on other strategic aspects instead. In addition, the Merchant of Record will manage the transport and delivery of the product. This is a very important service for cross-border eCommerce, as it saves the seller from having to make agreements with couriers for each country they sell to, and from having to deal directly with any unforeseen delivery issues.
6. Beware of regulatory changes: privacy, consents and VAT
Here are some of the new laws that will come into force in 2022 that we need to keep an eye on if we don’t want our online store to make any legal missteps:
DMA and DSA
The European Parliament has given the green light to the Digital Markets Act (DMA), while the Digital Services Act (DSA) is on the home stretch. The DSA and DMA have two main objectives: to create a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of all users of digital services are protected, and to establish a level playing field to promote innovation, growth and competitiveness – both in the European single market and globally. At the heart of the measures are clear and transparent communications, new provisions on targeted advertising, restrictions on ‘killer takeovers’ and controls on reviews.
The aim of the directive – to be implemented from 28 May 2022 – is to modernise EU consumer protection rules. In particular, the aim is to ensure transparency for consumers, remove excessive burdens on businesses, and adequately inform users about the criteria for ranking offers on platforms.
The EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) directive for packaging waste is common throughout the EU, but France is the first European country to introduce specific obligations for textiles, banning the destruction of unsold items from 1 January 2022. With this directive, online sellers are also responsible for the disposal of products. Sweden and the Netherlands will implement it by 2023.
A separate chapter for the United Kingdom and in particular for wine sellers. From 2022, the VAT applied to the sale of wine may have a different rate from that of other European countries, as is already the case for excise duties. In addition, anyone selling wine in the UK in 2022 will need an importer or bottler (FBO) physically based in the UK, and from 1 October 2022 will have to declare their name and address on the label of each bottle.
7. Activate a multi-channel and multi-lingual customer service
In order to give the customer greater security, it is important to have a customer service that is easily accessible. This implies clearly written contacts visible on the home page, the possibility of contacting support through different channels (phone, email, WhatsApp, social media, chatbots…) and with a time slot that goes beyond traditional office hours and includes at least Saturdays.
If you are looking to sell online across borders, it is a good idea to provide support in English but also in all the languages of the countries concerned. But there is more to it than language. The tone of voice with which a customer care professional addresses their customers varies from country to country: Americans, for example, tend to be informal while in some Eastern cultures a more formal approach is preferred. This is very important to integrate your eCommerce within a given country.
Another thing to look out for if you have a cross-border eCommerce is your customer care channels: in some countries WhatsApp may be a good solution, while in others Facebook is the best or even just traditional email. The right thing to do is to first know which channels are most popular for each country and to put in place an integrated strategy, including more than one.
8. Faster distribution channels and multichannel eCommerce
The longer you wait to receive goods, the less likely it is that people will order from you. Make agreements with companies that guarantee faster delivery or, if you sell on marketplaces, rely on those who allow you to receive your order in a short time. If you can’t guarantee fast delivery with your website, focus on multi-channel eCommerce strategies, including selling on channels such as Amazon, at least for those countries where you can’t guarantee fast delivery times. Remember that many users go directly to these platforms when they need to make a purchase, and there are also those who only buy if delivery is within 48 hours, regardless of whether the product arrives from another country. Better to use a multi-channel sales approach than to give up on the customer, don’t you think?
9. Perform instant analysis and machine learning to optimise sales
Try to acquire information about your customers, assess the way they interact with your site, how they got there, try to intercept their needs and understand their tastes. Make separate analyses for each country you sell to, assessing some standard parameters that you will use for all markets and others differentiated for each of them. This will allow you to create more targeted and increasingly effective marketing campaigns and identify the markets where your offer is most enthusiastically received. Today, many eCommerce platforms give you the opportunity to carry out this analysis and have the results live.
10. Focus on ethics and sustainability to improve positioning
In recent years, consumers have become increasingly aware and demanding. Today, they don’t just consume a product, they want to know its ethical and environmental impact. Adopt a code of ethics and make it public on your website. Choose suppliers and partners on the basis of their ethical conduct and what they do for the environment, and choose shipping companies with a low environmental impact. If you want to reduce your impact, a good idea is to buy carbon credits. This is good for the environment, but it is also good for your reputation, as it will ensure that you are better positioned in the market and that you will be chosen by more consumers.
10 points for an effective strategy
These 10 points are a good starting point for planning an effective cross-border eCommerce strategy that will help you increase your customer base and maximise sales and profits. The pandemic has changed the shopping behaviour of consumers around the world, who are increasingly turning to online shops. By 2022 there will be at least 3.20 billion e-consumers worldwide. This is why it is so important for your brand to become a virtual shopping destination.