There’s arguably never been a better time for UK brands to start selling overseas. Consumers are increasingly comfortable buying across borders; the lower value of sterling vs. the dollar and euro makes it cheaper for overseas customers to buy British. Also, a little thing called Brexit has dramatically increased uncertainty in the strength of the domestic market. In short, a UK-only strategy is a risky proposition.
Still not thought about exporting your products? You’re in the minority. According to the 2017 Pitney Bowes report “Evolution at Home, Revolution Abroad”, only 6.3% of UK retailers surveyed said they had no immediate plans to export. In comparison, more than a third said they planned to start exporting in the next 12 months, while three in five were already exporting.
Of course, while it’s easier than ever for UK retailers to sell abroad, there are still plenty of factors to consider – not least how to promote your brand in an unfamiliar market. Read on to find out about some of the key digital considerations for UK retailers looking to enter the export game.
Do international consumers want what you’re selling?
Globally, the number of cross-border shoppers is growing significantly. According to Pitney Bowes, India is leading the way with an 18% year-on-year upturn in cross-border shoppers, followed by China (12%), Germany (8%), South Korea (8%) and Canada (5%). But do those shoppers want to buy your products?
Fortunately, being a British brand puts you in a strong position. Shoppers in several key markets have a natural affinity for British products. In the Barclays Corporate Banking report “Brand Britain: Export Opportunities for UK Businesses”, two-fifths of international consumers said they would be more inclined to buy a product if it displayed the Union Jack.
Products made in Britain are also associated with quality. Two-thirds of Indian consumers and more than half of shoppers in China said they would pay more for goods made in the UK because they believe the quality is better.
While we’re not suggesting you immediately emblazon all of your products with fluttering Union Jacks or pictures of the Queen’s face, this demonstrates that being UK-based – or even better, being UK-based and selling UK-made products – can be a highly valuable differentiator for British brands entering overseas markets.
Can you compete logistically with local brands?
The short answer to this question is “yes”. The longer answer is “yes, but you’ll need to get creative with your messaging”.
Clearly, exporting presents some logistical challenges. It’s almost certainly going to be cheaper and faster for a local retailer to get its products to the consumer. The important thing here is not to lose sight of what shoppers actually want.
According to Pitney Bowes, “free” is more important than “fast” when it comes to shipping options. More than four-fifths of shoppers in Canada, the US, Japan, France and Germany would rather have free shipping with a longer delivery time than shipping at a cost with a faster turnaround.
Of the major markets surveyed, only India was markedly different. Yet even on the subcontinent, a small majority of shoppers (51%) still favoured “free” over “fast”.
In short, if you can’t offer fast delivery to an overseas market, it needn’t mean you can’t do business there. But you absolutely do need to find a way to offer a free shipping option – even if it means taking a hit on margins – and you need to paint those options in a positive light.
No two markets are the same
Digital media may be making the world a smaller place (the so-called “global village” effect), but that doesn’t mean any two markets are identical.
Let’s consider some of the key differences in consumer behaviour and buying habits between China and the US – the world’s two largest economies – using data from Google’s Consumer Barometer:
1. Mobile shopping habits
Everyone uses their phone to shop in the same way, right? Actually, no. There are marked differences in the way Chinese and US consumers use smartphones in the buying process.
Some 45% of Chinese shoppers research upcoming purchases on a smartphone, dropping to just 29% in the US. What’s more, Chinese shoppers are more likely to turn to their smartphone to search for advice (51%), while US consumers prefer to use their phone for early inspiration on a purchase (29%).
2. Reasons for buying foreign
There are also major differences in the reasons that shoppers in these huge markets choose to look abroad rather than buying locally.
In the US, shoppers are most likely to make an international purchase online if they see a particularly appealing offer (30%). In contrast, Chinese consumers are far more motivated by product quality (54%).
3. Types of product bought online from abroad
Given the above, you won’t be surprised to learn that consumers in these two markets also prefer to buy different types of products from overseas. In China, 47% of products bought online from abroad fall within the Cosmetics & Health segment, whereas Clothing & Accessories (35%) are most popular in the US.
Source: Google Consumer Barometer
Basically, what we’re saying is: don’t expect a one-size-fits-all strategy to help you enter multiple markets. Appealing to international customers is about more than just translating your website; you need to consider the vast cultural and behavioural differences that exist from one country to the next.
Do you need support with your international launch?
Hopefully, we’ve demonstrated that exporting is a genuine option for any ambitious brand, provided you’re prepared to do your research into the audience and understand why those shoppers would buy your product.
Need a little assistance with the legwork? Struggling to piece together your export strategy? Return is here to help. We have extensive experience in helping UK online retailers in the planning and execution of their international launch and ongoing campaigns. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.