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International e commerce - How to sell online abroad

According to a recent European e-commerce report, e-commerce sales in Europe grew by 10% in 2020, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Widespread internet connectivity and the ubiquity of smartphones has made e-commerce a preferred shopping option for more and more consumers, particularly in western Europe. At the same time, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with buying online from international sellers.

This is good news for any business that sells online, although of course a broader marketplace also means more competition. The trick is to make sure your e-commerce processes are water-tight and that the reality of your logistics operation matches your customer promise.

Prepare for success

Selling online abroad represents an opportunity for real growth. But to fully realise all the benefits and be competitive in international markets, it’s important to optimise your e-commerce platform and make sure your logistics processes encompass an in-depth knowledge of the legal regulations in force in every country you’re selling to.

You’ll also need a robust marketing and SEO strategy to ensure your online store is seen in all the right places and is well-positioned in any search results, and a thorough understanding both of the markets you’re targeting and the local competition.

Analyse local markets

Online consumers are sophisticated. They expect you to offer products to meet their needs, and make them easy to buy in their local currency and easy to obtain, via fast, reliable and reasonably priced delivery services.

To do this well, you will need to understand the cultural context, consumer habits and competitor landscape of each market you want to enter. This will allow you to tailor your approach, take advantage of market trends and plan promotional activities and targeted offers. Overcome language barriers by enabling translation to the local language on your online store, and make sure you ‘skin’ your website so that the look and feel reflects customers’ expectations. It’s also a good idea to identify local partners to collaborate with as a way of getting closer to your consumers.

Play by the rules

It’s important to consider the relevant regulations in your target countries. Complying with the local laws governing the sale, import and export of goods will help you avoid running into delays in deliveries, goods being blocked at borders, potential fines or sanctions.

If you’re aiming to sell in European Union countries, you’ll need to become familiar with EU Directive 31/2000 which protects consumers residing in the EU by preventing ‘geo-blocking’ between countries. Geo-blocking is a discriminatory practice based on nationality or the application of different conditions of access to goods and services depending on place of residence.

The situation is different for non-European countries, for which you will need to know the customs regulations and be sure to find out if there are any restrictions that could affect your business. For example, China, one of the largest online markets in the world, has released the List of CBEC Retail Imports, the so-called Positive List, which details all the products that can be marketed in the country.

There are also general, universally valid rules to take into consideration which concern the clarity of sales contracts; the guarantees related to the conformity of the goods, which must meet the requirements of the laws of the country in which you intend to operate; the payment methods and the rules relating to returns. You will then have to carefully calculate shipping costs, taxes and the applicable customs duties.

Set up your online store

There are various ways to sell abroad and the platform you choose can greatly affect the level of the initial investment. If you want to dip a toe in the water with minimal up-front outlay, it’s best to investigate the various marketplaces on the web such as Amazon, eBay, Spartoo or ePrice.

These platforms, which have millions of users, play an intermediary role in B2C: they offer their space to sellers, who can market their products to a large clientele by exploiting the host’s set-up, structure and reliability. In exchange, the marketplace retains a percentage on the transaction of each item sold. This channel is an excellent tool for testing products and pricing policies in foreign markets.

The next logical step is to create your own e-commerce operation. This requires investment in setting up the website, planning and managing the online shop. You will also need to put in place a reliable logistics solution, to ensure efficient warehouse management and shipping.

Logistics matters

If a slick and seamless logistics operation is fundamental to local e-commerce sales, it is absolutely essential when you’re expanding into foreign markets. You need to be able to rely on trusted carriers, safe packing and the ability to provide information to customers on the status of their shipment. Your customers take this level of service for granted.

The contribution of your logistics partner to your cross-border sales operation can’t be underestimated. They know all about country-specific regulations and can provide services that support both sellers and their customers when delays occur, or if there are customs obstacles or problems with delivery. Your reputation depends on being able to provide this level of service.

Talk to the experts at your local MBE centre to find out more about setting up an e-commerce operation abroad. We offer a wide range of logistics solutions to support you every step of the way, from company formation and virtual address services to the management of orders and returns, packing, shipping, documentation and parcel tracking. We’re here to help you manage your shipments so you can sell across borders with confidence.

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