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GUEST COMMENT Cross-border ecommerce must meet local customer expectations

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Cross-border ecommerce is going into overdrive. Over a fifth of online shopping sales will be generated internationally in 2022, ringing up a global value of £450 billion, according to the latest Statista research (May 2021). Meanwhile, the IMRG/Global-e Cross Border Index suggests UK retailers’ cross-border ecommerce sales grew by 57% in 2020, compared to the previous year.

Seizing the opportunity will be essential for ambitious brands and retailers. But who and where are the most attractive cross-border shoppers, and how can retailers in the UK meet their local needs and expectations? 

Cross-border ecommerce hotspots  

Of course, English-speaking countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand are obvious starting points, with no language barrier to hinder entry. Neighbouring countries like Germany, France and Spain are often prioritised, because they are familiar, have recognised delivery expectations and similar sales channels. But higher growth potential markets should not be overlooked, even if they are culturally more of a challenge to master. Countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and UAE are showing ecommerce growth rates of between 6 and 8%, Statista analysts calculate. 

All these countries have large young populations and boast high smartphone penetration, as well as early adoption of mobile commerce. These ‘consumers of tomorrow’ are interested in trying overseas brands if the products on offer are not available locally and if better deals can be had. They engage with social influencers and crave difference, choice, and great prices, but also convenience and to be able to trust who they’re buying from. That’s why it’s vital to build your local knowledge and waste no time offering a service that will suit the exact needs of the audience you’re trying to attract. 

Entry is getting easier 

Many international destinations are becoming more accessible thanks to the unification of regulations and tax laws. And with marketplaces well established virtually everywhere, there are low-cost and low-risk ways to test markets and gain a commercial foothold. Platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Frugo, Wish, Shopee, and Lazada are providing brands with a stepping stone to consumers all over the world. It’s widely recommended to build your presence on a marketplace in the first instance, but to also invest in a local language brand website as soon as the business case for that region is confirmed, and your name is becoming established.

Supply chains to these hotspots are adapting rapidly too – despite the year of disruption and shipping backlogs wrought by Covid. Third-party logistics providers are investing in the fastest international delivery routes and shipping capacity, and developing fulfilment centres in pivotal locations around the globe – specifically to support retailers’ desire to trade internationally. For many e-tailers, shipping from their home market makes sense, but there can be a tipping point where it’s best practice to team up with supply chain partners who have local hubs, so you can store products there, and deliver easily and quickly into a specific region. Being able to react to local demand is essential.

Some shipping and fulfilment specialists are expanding their cross-border services to offer additional value to their customers. This includes several high-profile acquisitions and partnerships with international ecommerce technology and marketing companies, leaving them well placed to share their wealth of country-specific knowledge with retailers planning overseas growth. Here at Asendia our fulfilment facility strategically located in Singapore is already guiding European and US retailers through the complexities of cross-border marketing, localisation, customs compliance, and delivery into Southeast Asia, for example. To ramp up their international reach, brands including Adore Me, Boden, and Urban Outfitters are making use of our expertise and services for their B2C cross-border logistics. 

Match payment and delivery options to local preferences

When expanding ecommerce into a new region, understanding the local culture and being aware of issues such as the seasons, key calendar dates, the sizing and colour preferences of your new audience, popular payment choices, currency, customs, VAT arrangements, and preferred delivery methods has never been more important. Product descriptions must be in the local language and also all the customer service information. Japan is a case in point – consumers here don’t often speak other languages.

Consumer preference anomalies around the world take some getting used to. While in the UK credit and debit cards are the norm, 50% of German customers like to pay via direct bank transfer. The French are big fans of PUDO (Pick-up drop-off) delivery. In the Middle East, cash payments at the point of delivery are popular, which is why we recently launched a cash-on-delivery service in the region for leading UK brands Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing

It’s a big challenge to devise payment and delivery solutions into core overseas markets when their cultural norm is so different from the UK’s. Marketplaces largely take care of these issues on a retailer’s behalf as part of the service. But once your sales take off and you need your own webshop and customer support, you’ll have to tackle these issues head-on. 

Address their concerns

Success in distant locations will only come if consumer trust is established and sustained there. This is achievable, but you need to invest time and resources in your communication and customer support. Be very clear about delivery times and returns policies, show you have established alliances with trusted local delivery partners, be proactive with relevant seasonal promotions, and offer incentives. If you can provide a range of delivery options at different price points, so much the better. A low-cost or free delivery and returns option for orders over a certain value will go down very well, our experience shows. However, if you can offer tracking, most overseas customers are willing to pay a little more for peace of mind. 

Perhaps most importantly, find a logistics partner that understands international shipping but also has local knowledge and connections to reputable last-mile delivery operators and returns solutions. Together you’ll build trust, and present a fantastic cross-border shopping experience for your newfound shoppers.


Sarah Clewlow, Director of Network Operations, Asendia UK

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