How to sell beyond your borders

Within the next five years, cross-border trade will account for 20% of all e-commerce worldwide, says ChannelAdvisor MD Seamus Whittingham. Here's how to ramp up your international sales.

by Seamus Whittingham
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
Expanding a business from domestic-only sales to Europe, further afield to the USA or to emerging markets such as China or Latin America can be very daunting. Therefore, knowing how to successfully move into these markets is the key to overcoming any nerves.

Retailers must consider which market to target. It’s important to go after the right consumers and launch in the right countries. There are a number of factors to consider, such as which region is best suited to your business model, which cultures and demographics are most likely to buy your products, and the most suitable route to market. Savile Row Company experienced incredible growth after doing their homework and identifying the US as the best market to expand into: turns out there's a real market for British-made tailored clothing across the pond.

Once you’ve chosen where to launch, it’s essential to build a country specific website with the local lingo. All content needs to be properly and professionally translated because automatic translations – and even human translations by someone unfamiliar with your industry – aren’t always the highest quality. It’s all about building trust with the consumer by talking their language. Mistakes can erode trust, as do adverts that haven’t been localised.

When deciding the best route to market, marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon can be a great way to start trading overseas due to their simplicity and large consumer base (and low start-up costs). However, each country-specific eBay and Amazon site has subtle but important differences and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach across different geographies won’t work. Pay attention to factors such as the price of listings, categories, browse notes and item specifics as these can differ greatly per region.

Logistics are crucial to success. Retailers need to make sure returns and delivery practices are watertight and plan for local variables, such as preferred payment methods and pricing in each market. Payment methods are particularly important; for example, a seller listing in Germany without offering wire transfer will lose sales, and Amazon Italy requires both parties to have an Italian bank account.

One final point about planning for cross-border trade is to take tax seriously! The tax implications of selling overseas can quickly become very complicated and potentially damaging. In the European Union, each individual country has a distance-selling threshold, meaning the VAT requirements are different for every individual country. This can be confusing, but the cost of getting it wrong can be huge so it’s well worth researching.

It’s an exciting time to be an online retailer in the UK and the opportunities of cross-border trade can transform your business. So long as you have the right plans in place and do your research, then the sky (or, geographically speaking, New Zealand) is the limit for your international sales.

Seamus Whittingham is MD at ChannelAdvisor

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