Close this search box.

International: mobile first – IRM50, January 2015

With the rise of m-commerce and internationalisation, Paul Skeldon looks at why having a mobile first approach is now a must for any retailer with their sights set on growing their business.

2014 has seen two trends emerge in ecommerce, trends that are set to continue to grow and impact retailers in the year ahead: the rise of mobile and the growth of international business fuelled by the ubiquity of the web.

These two trends are strongly entwined. In many parts of the world – and not just the developing world – mobile is increasingly the first port of call for internet access for a growing number of consumers.

A study by Digital Strategy Consulting early in 2014 found that 60% of global mobile web users now use mobile as their primary, and often only, means of going online. The same research suggests that 83% of them were planning to shop on them during 2014.

eBay has found that, in 2014, 48% of all purchases across all its 30 global sites have been touched by mobile in some way. Further research around usage for mobile this Christmas by Peerius tends to back this up, with more than half of Black Friday traffic coming from mobile devices.


Free to roam the wild web and hungry to shop, these mobile shoppers are coming to websites outside of their homelands. A massive global research project conducted by Neilson for PayPal in 2014 found that in 2013, the combined cross-border mobile shopping markets of the USA, the UK, Germany, Australia, China and Brazil are already worth $36.4bn – accounting for more than a third of all cross-border online shopping in these markets.

By 2018, their total value will have increased nearly threefold to $106.4bn. Across the surveyed markets, almost eight out of 10 (76%) cross-border shoppers said they wanted to make more mobile purchases, transactions and payments in the future.

This cross-border, mobile shopping seems to have taken hold most dramatically in China, where 14 million cross-border mobile shoppers currently make up nearly 78% of the total online cross-border shopping population. Together, Chinese mobile shoppers spent $16.7bn in 2013: almost half the value of all cross-border online sales, according to the PayPal/Nielsen research.

By 2018, there will be almost twice as many mobile cross-border shoppers in China, spending $55.2bn on overseas websites via their mobile devices. Moves by the uber-mobile friendly Alibaba online marketplace to establish a toe hold in Europe and the US is going to help speed this process – not least as western Marketplaces such as eBay are making the internationalisation and mobilisation of their platforms a priority.

In the other emerging markets such as Brazil, mobile shopping sales are currently more modest and clearly in their early days. With an estimated annual growth rate of 53% over the next five years, higher than any of the other markets surveyed, the value of Brazil’s mobile cross-border transactions is estimated to increase more than eightfold to nearly $2.5bn in 2018.

In the future, then, more consumers than ever will be shopping and paying for goods from overseas on their tablets and smartphones. That means more opportunities for businesses around the world, whose online presence automatically opens doors to a global customer base.

It also underlines the importance of developing websites or apps that are optimised for mobile devices and offering an international friendly service is key. In fact, according to PayPal/Nielsen, eight out of 10 cross-border shoppers value a mobile-friendly website for shopping and payments, with the highest response from China and Brazil.


So how can you go about tapping into this demand? Well the struggle to mobilise ecommerce is a challenge still faced by many organisations – the InternetRetailing UK Top 500 research (distributed with this issue of the magazine) shows that: 349 of the top 500 retailers scored 2 out of 12.5 points for mobile, only 103 had iPad apps, and only 156 had iPhone apps. Is this simultaneous internationalisation a bridge too far?

Eight out of 10 cross-border shoppers value a mobile-friendly website

According to eBay the two things go hand in hand. “We see 48% of sales being touched by mobile, a growing amount of international sales and a vast amount of mobile-only shoppers all coming through at once,” says Jonny Gabbai, international Head of Mobile at eBay. “Tapping into these is crucial for ecommerce growth.”

However, doing so is a double challenge. Right now, early adopters are coming to your UK retail site from overseas on their smartphones and are probably prepared to put up with it being anglicised to some degree. To tap into the real mainstream international market you need to make your site something that works for all. This is the hard bit.

Language, shipping, pricing and currency conversion are all massive issues, which require, in extremis, the complete rebuilding of your site to suit each market.

If you are a large business then you probably need to translate your site into the target languages that you are seeing your customers using. “After all, winning sales abroad is all about gaining foreign buyers’ trust and you can only do this with a quality online presence,” says Laurent Doggett, senior VAT consultant at Accordance VAT.

Be careful though. “If, like most e-tailers, you use a software programme to list the items offered by your company, it is important to make sure that all the information has been translated properly within the listing tool,” he warns. “Further, it is important to consider that items for sale will need to be associated with specific phrases and key words to get noticed. Although there are low cost solutions to machine-translate your listings, incorrect translation can lead to negative feedback or damage your brand.”

While translation is complex and risky, there are ways around it – particularly if you are at the early stages of developing an international mobile strategy. Pictures paint a thousand words goes the old adage, and so good images and simple product description can be enough – certainly to start with.

Shipping, pricing and currency conversions can also all be handled increasingly by plug-ins to your back end if you use one of the main platforms. If you have your own platform, your IT staff can probably build this in. The key is to build it in when developing your mobile strategy so that you think from day one, not just domestically, but internationally.

Payments, however, is a big barrier to both mobilising services and going international and the nexus of the two is where the real issues lie. According to research by electronic payment specialists, The PPRO Group, UK businesses no longer focus solely on domestic customers; over half of respondents showed interest in attracting international customers. However, only 55% offer different payment options for those overseas, which shows a clear disconnect between the customers they’re hoping to attract, and those they’re facilitating.

Tobias Schreyer, co-founder of The PPRO Group commented: “Online stores need to ensure that any potential barriers to customer satisfaction and revenue are addressed before investing in attracting international customers to their site. So often, the payment stage of the process is overlooked, and when dealing with international customers, this element is key. Through most PSPs, it can be as simple as ticking a box to accept international payments, which would ultimately open them up to a wealth of business from outside the UK.”

Mobile should be planned into a retailer’s international strategy from day one


eBay’s philosophy is that all of these issues can be avoided by using marketplaces such as, well, eBay. Particularly for the smaller and mid-sized retailers, eBay can be a great place to start. It has deep pockets and huge international reach and so has done all the development work on mobilising and internationalising its site(s), explains Gabbai.

“Most mobile-only users in other parts of the world are using m-web to shop and hence are finding international retailers’ websites – having it optimised for mobile is crucial. And we have done that piece of the puzzle. And with PayPal we also have a global mobile payment solution that is simple to use and avoids the issues different cultures have with different payment tools.”

He may well be right. The march of China’s Alibaba – and its AliPay mobile payment tool – shouldn’t be ignored. When the Chinese marketplace looked to float in the US, its prospectus mentioned mobile no fewer than 250 times. It is coming to a phone near you in 2015 so can you afford not to internationalise your mobile offering?

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on