By Tjip Sugijoto, Managing Director – Americas, Intershop
Building long-term relationships with customers is a great goal, but increasing market share and selling more than last year is what the scoreboard will show. So how can you achieve both? One way is to open your sales channels to international audiences. This strategy, if done well and executed efficiently, can be a money-maker, but if done poorly, can result in a poor customer experience and even a tarnished brand. There are six ways to increase revenue and build customer loyalty when approaching international e-commerce opportunities.
1 – Broaden Your Definition of ‘Normal’
People who buy online have slightly different expectations depending on where they are located. This may sound obvious, but it is important for the retailer to challenge its assumptions of what it considers ‘normal’ at every stage of the online retail experience. Only then can they look at their website from an outsider’s perspective and make the changes necessary to appeal to their new customers. Delivering international customers an online experience that is familiar will encourage spending on a retailer’s site and also return visits.
2 – Offer Appropriate Payment Methods
The most obvious difference between countries is the preferred payment method. While people in the U.S. and U.K. most often use their credit card, the behavior differs across the world. Consumers in Brazil for example are less likely to use credit cards, instead opting for bank transfers whereas Latin American countries as a whole tend to lean toward mobile transactions. In Europe, the French, for example, prefer to use Carte Bleue, while Nordic countries tend to use debit cards and in Germany they prefer to be sent a bill. Supporting relevant payment methods is important, but presenting options tailored to each country is essential. The preferred method should be the first option that the customer sees for example, and they should not see options that are irrelevant to them (e.g. offering Carte Bleue in Germany).
Furthermore, B2B e-commerce sites need to give consideration beyond the right payment method to include contract purchasing or corporate buying. Factoring how this applies in different geographies needs attention.
3 – Provide the "Right" Delivery options
A number of delivery options should be taken into account, as consumers around the world have different expectations for shipping costs, delivery time and even delivery options. In the U.S. consumers accept that they’ll pay for delivery costs whereas in Germany, they will not.
The relative sophistication of delivery services vary from country to country, so a retailer should shy away from promising next-day delivery in those countries where such a promise is more difficult to keep. Retailers must ensure they have the right delivery options available with the right pricing. They also need to support return customers by offering the capability to track orders and receive clear information on when shipments will arrive. This will drive loyalty to a brand and create consumer trust from abroad. Consumers will quickly abandon their shopping carts if these options are not correct and revenue and loyalty will be lost.
4 – Tailor the Text Fields
Text fields are perhaps one of the simplest aspects to consider, but the easiest to get wrong. Address fields as well as family names are not the same all over the world. Zip codes, city names, street names and even address numbers are presented in different formats in every country. From small details such as the correct naming of zip code vs. postcode, to the order of an address field, it is important not to confuse your customers (and indeed the postal service) with incorrect address fields. In some countries, you don’t even have a proper street name, so the details really matter.
5 – Use the Correct Use of Language
Translating your website in its entirety, including all product descriptions, video content, etc., is obvious, however translating it properly is less so. The translation must be done correctly with a native speaker and not simply crunched through an automated translation service. The wording and phrasing of text is just as important as the words themselves. There might be a turn of phrase or tone in your language that might be misinterpreted if translated directly, or worse still, a brand or product name that can’t be translated might be downright offensive in your customer’s local language.
6 – Stay Agile
Lastly, at the same time as delivering a relevant shopping experience to their global customers, it is important for companies to remain agile to the constant changes taking place in the digital economy. The rise of mobile commerce, social media, multi-channel retailing and the increasingly connected and informed consumer in just the last few years shows just how agile e-retailers need to be to stay relevant today. In this era of ‘agile commerce’, retailers need to deliver a consistent, relative, highly usable and personalized experience to all of their customers. So in the same way that a retailer’s e-commerce platform must be flexible enough to handle different payment methods and delivery addresses, it must also be adaptable enough to leverage the latest consumer trends.
Competing on a global scale has never been easy, but with a website that is properly tailored to the local requirements of a retailer’s global customer base and the ever-changing consumer landscape, the opportunities can be more easily exploited than ever before. Selecting an e-commerce platform that can support these international challenges is crucial to successfully building a long-term relationship with consumers abroad and opening the business to new international revenue streams.