The UK’s online retail sector is booming. Over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday period, nearly £1.5 billion was spent online according to figures released by the IMRG. Several recent studies have confirmed that the UK has the largest online retail market in Europe and it’s still growing quickly. At the moment the government is campaigning hard to get more British companies to export, as the online retail sector is a prime candidate for export growth. Unfortunately, what often stops online retailers from looking beyond the UK’s borders for relevant audience is a fear of logistical and customer service challenges or increased competition. Nevertheless, as daunting as expanding across Europe sounds, the fact is that there is plenty of support and technology out there to ensure that every online retailer can compete.
For UK online retailers and brands aiming to build their customer base in Europe, one of the key ways to create visibility is to integrate the various European online marketplaces into a multi-channel strategy, integrating with relevant European marketplaces. This allows the retailer to leverage the consumer base and marketing power of numerous marketplaces in several countries.
In addition, a retailer’s capacity to compete on a pan-European level will be based on both the number of channels that they are able to offer their product through, as well as the number of delivery methods available. This is why, selling through multiple online marketplaces is an effective channel as online retailers can leverage the marketplaces’ existing delivery infrastructure.
It’s also important to remember that whereas the UK and US markets are dominated by ‘generalist’ marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon, in Europe, marketplaces are generally specialised by category. For example, Zalando in Germany and La Redoute in France are leading fashion destinations, whereas FNAC, Cdiscount, PriceMinister and Rue du Commerce focus on technology.
The scalability of marketing and sales management technology also means that these services can grow with online retailers and adapt as their needs change or they wish to enter new markets. Some of this same technology can also help to control prices and promotions by country. After all, European online retail is not a homogenous block – the value of online retail markets in the north and west of Europe is much greater than the south, central and east of Europe.
To overcome one of the biggest hurdles of operating in Europe – multiple languages – many marketplaces such as PriceMinister, Cdiscount, Rakuten, FNAC and Rue du Commerce, also offer European Article Number (EAN) matching. This means that merchants do not need to translate their product data into different languages. They input one data set with an EAN and the marketplace does the rest. Similarly, many marketplaces, including Spartoo, Zalando and BrandAlley, handle customer service internally. This means that if you sell your product on either of these sites, their respective customer service teams will handle any queries or complaints from customers across Europe. For consumers, this guarantees a high level of service, and for online retailers it removes the difficulty of potentially handling queries in multiple languages.
By choosing marketplaces which offer additional services such as customer service and delivery, UK online retailers can also make substantial savings on infrastructure costs and enable much more efficient delivery of products to customers across Europe.
European retail is competitive and complex, however, this intercontinental rivalry has created an environment where more and more innovative products are being developed which UK online retailers can leverage to help them compete. By choosing the right technology to distribute products through the right European marketplaces, there is no reason why UK online retailers cannot successfully export across the continent.
Greg Zemor is co-founder of marketplace distribution solution Neteven.
Further reading on exporting