Independent retailers based in the UK are missing a trick by not selling internationally. It always surprises me when I meet independent retailers who don’t sell to overseas customers. With the emergence of new technology there really is no reason why not. E-commerce has become a significant part of many business’s strategies, not only because it’s now easier than ever but also because businesses are realising they need more than a bricks and mortar presence to survive. Selling goods to customers in the UK and abroad gives independent retailer an advantage over their competition and shows customers your products have international appeal. Customers get frustrated when they discover a site that stocks exactly what they want but doesn’t ship to their country – by crossing international borders, independent retailers are opening themselves to new markets and growing their access to possible customers.
Independent retailers in the UK are at an advantage when selling internationally – demand for quality British goods is high and, with English being the main language spoken across the globe, they can offer quality merchandise to a whole host of different markets.
Small businesses may think selling internationally may be overwhelming. With country specific legal, tax and shipping requirements it may seem like it’s a lot to consider on top of day to day selling. However, this shouldn’t put small and independent retailers off. If you have worked hard to create your brand, in store experience and feel you can replicate this to international customers online there is no reason why you shouldn’t sell internationally.
For anyone considering making the move into selling online, here are a few considerations:
1. Select and research your new markets
Considering what products you sell, think about whether they will do well in different parts of the world. You’re in a position where you are more than aware of the type of people who purchase your products, understand your USPs and know which products are best sellers. Your online offering should reflect this and can be just an online version of your store. Look into competitors in the region and see if you can offer customers better value by introducing your products into the market. The region with the largest number of internet users is Asia, so thinking further afield than the Europe is always worthwhile. Once you’ve researched the regions you would like to sell your products in look into how customers in those countries shop – different customers have different preferences. Does your new market shop mainly via a phone or laptop? Is your current online offering compatible with mobile browsing?
2. Link in-store to online – consistency is key
Firstly, make your brand stand out from the rest. Keep your colour scheme consistent and create a look that is instantly recognisable to your customers. The look and feel of your site is not the only aspect that needs to be consistent. Inventory levels needs to well-coordinated to avoid selling something online that has already been purchased in your store. Ensure your records are up to date. Implement technology that helps you connect in store and online records and make sure your staff are aware of how important it is to keep inventory reports up to date. Ideally, you should have a live system that combines online and in-store purchases to help you keep on top of stock levels.
Consider an e-commerce platform that will save you time. Evaluate your requirements and pick a platform that will best support your needs. For example, Lightspeed eCom offers users a customisable and user-friendly e-Commerce platform that enables merchants to sell to anyone from anywhere with minimal technical knowledge. With Lightspeed eCom, customers have access to professionally designed templates, advanced inventory management, global sales capabilities with multi-language, multi-currency features. In addition, this is all complemented with an inclusive suite of marketing tools that include built-in search engine optimisation, social sharing, a blogging platform and numerous app integrations. If time is of the essence, the set up for this platform takes as little as an hour.
4. Keep on top of global trendsIf you’re selling abroad, you have to know what customers in that country are interested in. Are you able to adjust your products slightly to suit your new market? Something as simple as offering a product in a different colour to what usually sells well in the UK may go down well with customers who are abroad and have different preferences. It is definitely worth looking into what products you offer and if they can cross over. If they don’t, consider a few tweaks that an international audience will appreciate. As well as keeping on top of global trends, be aware of cultural taboos – to avoid listing a product that may be considered offensive or bad luck culturally. For example, in China, the number 4 is considered bad luck because the number 4 in Chinese has a similar pronunciation to the word for death. Retailers tend to avoid prices that contain the number 4 i.e. 14,144. As you look to expand internationally - build an audience to sell to and learn what they want to keep customers coming back.
5. Get familiar with international laws and taxes
Each country in the EU has a set threshold when it comes to trading and taxation – familiarise yourself with the market you plan to sell to. If you exceed the country’s threshold you could be liable to be VAT registered in that country. Be aware of the specific requirements for the country you’re selling in to avoid being penalised under local tax law legislations. As well as VAT thresholds look into local tax returns that will vary country to country.
By Jerome Laredo, VP EMEA and Asia – Lightspeed POS