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GUEST COMMENT How can UK retailers ready themselves for an international Christmas?

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As Christmas approaches, the pressure is on for many retailers to get their slice of this year’s takings. However, with the recent news that UK retail sales have hit the lowest point since the 2009 financial crisis, and with the ongoing uncertainty here in the UK, this looks even more challenging than before.

Yet amidst this, the current volatility in the value of sterling coupled with the UK’s reputation for producing top quality product means that British brands have never been more popular abroad. Leading British brands such as Astley Clarke , Boden and Asos have reported massively increased international sales. Clearly cross-border e-commerce promises a great deal of revenue potential for UK retailers. Savvy retailers should consider turning their sights to international markets in order to boost their sales during the festive period.

However, despite the growing interest in overseas markets many retailers face ongoing difficulties when trying to target cross border customers. So, how can UK retailers build up their international customer base and capitalise upon the ‘Golden Quarter’ of sales? This article will outline the key features retailers need to have in place in order to generate international sales ahead of the Holiday season.

Don’t just ship internationally, sell internationally

Before setting sights on holiday sales, retailers must ensure their online presence is tailored to each market. Fundamentally it is localisation that will uplift international conversions and encourage an increase in sales all year round and especially before Christmas. Markets differ on currencies, languages, payment methods, tax regime, and the online experience provided should reflect this.

Retailers need to ensure they offer their international customers the same seamless shopping experience that they give to their UK customers. To maximise on the international Christmas shopping peak, retailers should place focus on removing any possible barriers that an international customer may face when purchasing on the website.

To keep international customers engaged and to push high conversion rates, retailers need to make sure their regional offerings are localised and transparent. Many retailers assume that they will require a dedicated local market website, but this simply isn’t the case. Retailers can avoid the high costs and maintenance associated with developing and operating a standalone local website, yet retain the local market feel, by consolidating all markets into a single, fully localised global website. Integrating a localised online shopping experience into a single website is a much more cost efficient solution than creating standalone sites, and has the added benefit of supporting brand identity and increasing conversion rates.

Retailers looking to effectively boost international sales this Christmas should ensure they have perfected the following essential points:

Prices displayed in the local currency and in a localised rounded format Retailers need to make sure they are able to display prices of goods in the local currency to avoid putting off potential customers with exchange rate uncertainty. According to Global-e’s data, when given an option, 98% of customers worldwide prefer to pay with their own currency than the merchant’s default. It’s also important to consider local pricing and rounding conventions when converting prices into another currency.

Clear delivery and returns policies Shipping options take on a whole new importance as we approach the festive period. Being able to offer multiple shipping options at attractive rates, can hugely encourage international shoppers to actually make a purchase. Retailers should also be clear on final shipping dates for Christmas delivery, adding in a buffer zone to ensure complete customer satisfaction. Similarly, being able to provide a simple and transparent returns process can go a long way to put a customers’ mind at ease.

Local alternative payment methods Many markets, such as China, Netherlands and Germany, are dominated by common alternative payment methods. Supporting these methods can decrease cart abandonment rates dramatically, allowing shoppers to pay as they are used to domestically.

Tax and duty calculation and prepayment option Retailers should be completely up front about any additional costs such as customs charges or handling fees. Providing a guaranteed local tax and duties calculation at checkout, creates greater customer trust and better brand perception.

Finally, in order to seize the cross-border ecommerce opportunity retailers need to prepare their operations. Having a fully scalable website, that can cope with the heavy holiday traffic, is crucial. Retailers are also advised to ramp up seasonal hiring in warehouses and augment the CS department in advance.

Getting these features in place does not necessarily require a huge investment or a lengthy set up time. A third party solution provider can remove the complexity associated with selling to international markets online, allowing brands and retailers to focus on managing their brand and offering, making the ROI of going global much better.

Make the most of the festive season

After the essential logistical considerations have been mastered, retailers can turn their attention to perfecting their international sales strategies this Christmas. When targeting international shoppers, retailers should make sure they have an understanding of the local market, shopping customs and traditions in order stay competitive across different regions.

In the UK, retailers follow the familiar routine of ramping up activities in the run up to 25th December before slashing prices on Boxing Day. However, there are many additional seasonal opportunities across the world to be had during the festive season and all year round. For instance; in catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, Christmas Day does not mean an end to the festive period, and it is also customary to give loved ones presents on King’s Day – the 6th January. In Germany and in the Netherlands, it is custom to give children presents for St. Nicholas’ day, which takes place on 6th December. Other local customs include New Year’s sales such as the ‘Hatsu-uri’ in Japan, where retailers traditionally offer customers mystery ‘Lucky Bags’. Other local customs include New Year’s sales such as the ‘Hatsu-uri’ in Japan, where retailers traditionally offer customers mystery ‘Lucky Bags’.

Retailers looking to target international markets need to be aware of nuances such as these and prepare for them accordingly. With effective preparations, UK retailers can hugely boost their international sales over the festive period, and this can even lead to an international customer base that they can rely on throughout the year.

Nir Debbi is co-founder and CMO at Global-e

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