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Guest Comment: Ten top tips for making the transition to international ecommerce

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Waxing lyrical about the benefits of reaching a global customer base via the world wide web is easily done but much more difficult to implement in reality. Creating an international ecommerce website that will support global currencies combined with effective product lines and market-specific targeting is something few have truly accomplished.

Enabling customers to transact with your website in their local currency is not as simple as, for example, showing prices in dollars instead of sterling. It’s imperative that organisations pick up the cultural differences in each geography and adapt accordingly.

The big challenge facing online business today is how to penetrate new markets and deploy truly international ecommerce solutions. Done correctly etailers will close more sales, improve efficiency and consequently succeed in the global marketplace. In all, the process to set up multi-currency transactions on an existing website is straightforward and a lot easier than people think. During the recession it makes great sense to increase your market share by accepting multi-currency transactions. This allows you to reach out to markets that are already out of recession and where consumers are spending again.

International ecommerce has often been perceived as high risk but over the past seven years Chapter Eight has developed an ecommerce platform that allows clients to sell anywhere they need to. It’s not just about accepting multi-currency transactions, but also getting to grips with the nuances of local taxation, pricing strategies, cash settlement, international currency banking and financial reporting which are so important.

Our ten point check-list is designed to help guide organisations through the multi-currency minefield:

Currency choice

There are two primary options to consider:

  1. Let your bank convert all transactions into UK sterling and settle into your existing sterling account.

  2. Settle your transactions into UK-based currency accounts and decide if and when you want the cash exchanged to sterling at a time to suit you.

Option two takes time to set up initially but enables you to retain control of the currency and not allow the bank to dictate exchange rates.

Live conversion rate versus fixed price

There are two ways to set multi-currency prices on your website; an automatic exchange rate facility or the ability to add your own converted prices based on an exchange rate set by you. Having the automatic exchange rate means the site calculates the exact price of the product at that moment in relation to the latest exchange rate and the amount of money charged to the customers’ card will reflect this.

The alternative option sets the price of the product for each currency to ensure that the money coming in will be the same with every transaction of that product. This makes accounting and business planning much easier and also stops the prices on your website fluctuating.

VAT/Tax issues

You need to make sure that your international ecommerce website takes into account any additional charges or taxes that are applicable to the jurisdiction you are selling and shipping to. In the UK and Europe it’s VAT, and it’s important to understand the VAT implications of doing business here — for example, businesses that ship £30,000 or more of goods (including shipping costs) into an EU country each year will need to be VAT registered within that country.


Shipping issues are one of the top reasons people abandon their shopping carts. Concerns include high costs, the carrier cannot reach their location and a reputation for late delivery. Efficient shipping will gain the trust of customers and encourage new visitors to buy. Where possible, use couriers that are recognisable brands.

Pricing structures for each market

International pricing as with the other elements of the marketing mix is far more complex when pricing for foreign markets. The decision to charge more or less based on the demographic of the customer in each territory is fraught with danger. Make sure your cost base, demand for your products, the competition and local regulations all play a part in your pricing strategy.


International ecommerce does not always mean doing business in a foreign language. You can offer as many currencies as you like, but only offer English versions of your product information and pages. Think carefully before retro-fitting your website with a foreign language — you can’t simply translate your pages — you need to write your content for each market and ensure that it is centred around the buying habits and online expectations of those shoppers.

Trade issues

Many countries have a desire to protect consumers in the economic downturn, refocusing attention on practices that prevent cross-border trade, particularly via the internet. Businesses should consider:

  • Employing an international law expert to advise on any trade restrictions
  • Reviewing their commercial arrangements with distributors and internet sales policies.

Fraud prevention

Knowing who you are shipping to limits your risk of fraud. Understanding the geographical location, the debit or credit card origination and the provision of a fraud rating on each transaction will reduce the risk.

Live tests

A stringent testing procedure for each region needs to be implemented ahead of any live launch — it’s useful to set up a test panel of at least three users in each country you plan to sell into, to ensure that any card payment issues are dealt with before you launch your service. They will also be aware of what makes ecommerce work in their home country so feedback from them will be essential during testing.

Analyse, analyse, analyse

What areas of the site work and which don’t? Who’s buying what, from where, how often and when — it’s a fast paced market and you have to be able to adapt! Real-time reporting is key to ensuring markets get the right products in front of them all of the time. Remember, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere when it’s winter here — so selling winter clothing across your entire website is a big blunder. It’s essential websites present the right content to users dependent on their market location.

Mario Thomas is the managing director of full service digital agency Chapter Eight.

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