It’s well-understood that opening up your ecommerce business to an international audience means reaching more customers, but can understandably feel like a big step. Starting smaller than fully worldwide, such as selling to our next-door neighbours in Europe, can offer lucrative rewards – with surprisingly little hassle.
The European opportunity
‘Starting smaller’ doesn’t mean starting small. The EU is the world’s largest economy and is home to over 450 million potential shoppers1. In 2022, the UK exported £340 billion of goods and services to the EU – that’s 42% of all UK exports2. And Europe is experiencing an ecommerce boom: revenues of European online retail have grown 10% per annum in recent years1. In fact, forecasts suggest that the European ecommerce market will continue to climb – with revenues exceeding one trillion U.S. dollars by 20273.
Aside from a rapidly growing market that shows no signs of slowing, Europe is great to expand into because of its mature economy and size. Its close proximity to the UK compared to other locations means logistics are simpler, and therefore deliveries can happen quicker. Tariffs are also relatively low and VAT schemes like IOSS (Import One Stop Shop) help organisations comply with requirements more easily, making Europe a great option for smaller businesses just starting out with exporting.
European shoppers are also used to buying internationally (particularly from British businesses) even in countries you may otherwise overlook. For example, when consumers from the island nation of Malta shop cross-border, they mostly buy from the UK4.
Maintaining your customer service levels in Europe
Though the potential is great, you won’t keep European customers coming back for more if you can’t offer a consistently high experience. Upholding the great service you’re known for in the UK is critical. But what does this actually mean to customers?
- Transparent shipping costs: Being hit with unexpected costs, such as the seller not paying the correct taxes and duties so they fall to the in-country recipient, negatively impacts the customer experience.
- Fast shipping times: Just like customers in the UK, EU shoppers don’t like waiting for their goods! Lengthy shipping times can contribute to high cart abandonment rates. You’ll need a partner who can get your products there at speed!
- Good first-time delivery success: But speed isn’t everything – the goods need to be delivered successfully. It helps to have a delivery partner with local networks and knowledge, who can offer a timed delivery window and delivery to a preferred neighbour or safe place.
- Delivery options: Choose a logistics partner than can offer deliveries at the time and place your customers prefer. For example, home delivery in the daytime is the most popular method in Italy, while only 25% of Germans like it. Spanish customers like home delivery in the evening more than any other European country. Whereas 38% of customers in Poland say their preferred method of delivery is actually collecting from a local parcel machine. 1
- Easy returns: Some returns are inevitable, so you’ll need a quick, easy, low cost (or even free…) way for overseas shoppers to send their goods back. A poor returns policy can contribute towards cart abandonment, so be sure to showcase your simple international returns on your website.
Trading spotlight: Brompton Bikes
If you’ve ever been a regular train commuter, you’ve probably seen a Brompton. Founded in 1976 in West London, Brompton Bikes manufacture unique foldable bicycles – and have since become a British staple.
But the bikes aren’t just popular in London cities. Its first export markets began on the continent in places like Holland and Germany. And the transportable nature of the bicycle meant that if they couldn’t find them locally, Europeans would buy them in the UK and travel home – sparking interest across the continent. By the early 2000s, they were working with European distributors, and eventually became so successful that they decided to bring the international distribution in-house.
Europe was just the beginning. Brompton Bikes now export 75% of the bicycles they make to 48 countries worldwide5, including China and the US – the latter of which has helped them see a sudden boom in growth. This, alongside their steady growth of 10-15% every year since embarking on their export strategy6, has cemented Brompton as a truly global brand.
You can easily give your overseas ecommerce success an early springboard by starting with our next-door neighbours. Just make sure you’ve got the right service in place, like by partnering with international experts DHL, to ensure a seamless process that keeps them coming back to buy again and again.
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