5 main issues you may encounter when selling internationally

international ecommerce
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Expanding internationally seems like the most obvious way of growing your company. If you’re already the market leader for your type of business in your home country, where would you try to look for growth if not abroad? If you have strong local competitors and have to give up on some of your margins to remain in the game isn’t it obvious to try your luck elsewhere?

It is. Only, if you don’t do it right, it may come at a price.

Having worked with thousands of ecommerce merchants who tried their luck abroad, here are some of the challenges I have observed.

Different consumer expectations in different countries

It’s common knowledge for Cross Border Trade veterans but may be less obvious to merchants who until know have only contented themselves with their domestic market – consumers behave differently in different parts of the world and have different expectations. Germans, for once, has the highest return rate in Europe, with 41% of orders being returned. The return rate there is more than twice higher than in Italy or Spain. You should also expect German consumers to thoroughly read through your terms and conditions and privacy policy and point out anything which is not in accordance with the German law. Ouch!

International taxes

Once you start to export, you should make sure you’re up to speed with the local tax regulations in the countries you’re selling to. If you export to the European Union, once you have exceeded a pre-defined threshold, you need to register for paying the VAT tax on the goods that you sell in a given country (please note that this explanation of the VAT regulations starts by saying : “Due to the complexity of
the law, this information is not exhaustive”). The recently introduced GST in Australia works in a similar manner.

Countries with unreliable postal services

You’d be surprised by the number of shipments that will mysteriously get lost once you start delivering to countries such as Italy or Greece. In Russia, you should generally only deliver to business addresses. In the countries with many islands (such as France) delivery rates may vary a lot between a mainland and island addresses.

Custom duties

If you export to Canada a good whose value exceeds $150 (it’s called the de minimis threshold), the good risks being stopped at the border and your end consumer may have to pay an extra fee in order to receive it. Other countries have their own de minimis thresholds above which the products you ship may be eligible for custom duties.

How do you navigate across this incredibly (and increasingly!) complex landscape? The best advice is to look for some help, for instance with the experienced Cross Border Trade experts at WebInterpret.

Singles’ Day in all its’ numbers

chinese girl shopping
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You have probably heard this one : Singles Day is bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. But probably also this one : Singles Day growth has decelerated compared to last year’s. Whichever way you choose to look at it, the sheer size of the Chinese ecommerce extravaganza makes one dizzy.

Here it is in all its numbers :

85s – the time it took to spend $1B during this year’s Single Day

27% – growth of the Singles Day GMV (Gross Merchandise Value, or simply sales of goods) YoY

10 – the number of times the Singles Day shopping holiday has been held by Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon

4 – the number of times the number “1” appears in the date 11.11 making it the most lonely day in the calendar year which is how the Singles Day came to live

3.2% – the drop in the Alibaba’s stock share price upon the 2018 Singles Day results

$30.8B – GMV of the 2018 Singles Day

180 000 – number of brands participating in the event

This one simple improvement can grow your sales by 14%

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The closer it gets to Christmas, the more potential buyers browse through your online shop looking for gifts for their loved ones. They make their selection, add items to the cart and then… for some reason they change their minds! Don’t worry, we have figured out one simple trick which will increase your sales by 14%.

There are many ways in which you could increase your checkout conversion :

  • you could send each buyer who entered his email address at the checkout stage but didn’t complete the purchase an email with a discount
  • you could target these buyers with a social media ad campaign
  • you could ask your IT team to tweak your checkout so that it runs faster and is simpler for buyers to use…

But wait! All of the above are going to cost you money! How can you increase the checkout conversion without spending anything extra?

Our research shows it’s enough to start presenting your customers with multiple delivery options in order to grow your sales by 14%.

Now, offering multiple delivery options – for example standard, economy and express – has no extra cost. You can apply a decent margin on each of the delivery methods you’re going to present. Even better, you don’t have to change the way you operate today or change your carrier. All you have to do is contact the carrier you are already working with and change your product listings so that they show at least three delivery methods.

On the other hand, make sure not to offer too much choice – if you present your customers with more than five delivery methods you risk analysis paralysis and discouraging them from buying altogether!

If your carrier cannot provide you with multiple delivery options for international deliveries, you can simply contact WebInterpret and have your online shop localised on multiple markets and with multiple delivery methods in just a few clicks.

UK exporters may still have a Merry Christmas this year

It’s true, you may not have your Marmite or Ben & Jerry’s for the Christmas dinner this year but, hey, let’s look at the bright side of things.

If you’re an exporter from the UK to Europe or to the USA you can expect a significant uplift in sales this Christmas season.

Retailers working with WebInterpret have already seen their exports grow by up to 119% this Christmas season compared to Christmas 2015.

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It remains to be seen whether sterling will remain at this level all the way till Christmas but if you’re an online retailer hesitating whether you should export, it’s a no brainer. And remember – WebInterpret’s turnkey solution can free you most of the hassle of selling abroad.

Jack Magic or the company culture behind the success of Alibaba

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Alibaba has no revolutionary product, no groundbreaking technology and took off with no business plan and no government support. In his almost-insider account, Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built Duncan Clark argues that the key to the company’s success was its culture, coined by Jack Ma.

There seem to be four aspects of Alibaba’s company culture that distinguish it from other Chinese companies that were founded at the same time but never became quite as successful : unforgiving work ethic, customer-first approach, unorthodox hiring and charismatic leadership. Clark provides a lot of evidence that these are not only declared values but the actual values the company continues to live by.

1. Seven days a week

Hard work appears to be appreciated at Alibaba more than outstanding skills. The mascot of Taobao, one of Alibaba’s ecommerce sites is a worker ant symbolizing that “even the smallest creatures can prevail over their enemies provided they work closely together.”

The cult of hard work is not merely symbolic though and expresses itself on a daily basis. The team selected to create the Taobao site has been asked the following : “The company has decided to send you to do a project, but you are required to leave your home and you must not tell your parents or your boyfriend or your girlfriend. Do you agree?” The team then started working in a small apartment and was encouraged to do handstands “to change perspectives” during breaks from coding.

Another quote similarly stresses the importance of hard work at Alibaba, especially at the very beginning : “working for Alibaba would be no picnic. the pay was low: the earliest hires earned barely $50 per month. they worked 7 days a week often 16 hours a day. Jack even required them to find a place to live no more than 10 minutes from the office so they wouldn’t waste precious time commuting.”

2. Customers first

Quite natural for the ecommerce companies in the West, putting customers first was a very bold move in China at the time when Alibaba was launched. Once again, it wasn’t only declared but was actually a value the company lived by as it, for instance, charged no fee on its sellers’ listings or transactions.
Caring customer service also allowed Alibaba to retain its users when facing competition from eBay or local players. “Alibaba customer service team found themselves at times working as a free tech support to clients answering questions such as how to reboot a computer. But wedded to its customer first tenet Alibaba resolved to respond to every email within 2 hours.”

3. Not the top talent

One of the important decisions made by Alibaba’s leadership when the company was founded was to keep its headquarters in Hangzhou at the time a somewhat provincial town two hours from Shanghai. By growing the company far from Beijing Alibaba lost access to the capital’s talent pool consisting of alumni of the country’s elite universities. This, however, wasn’t an issue for Ma. “When building up his team Jack preferred hiring people a notch or two below the top performers in their schools. The college elite, Jack explained, would easily get frustrated when they encountered the difficulties of the real world.”

Ma is also quoted as saying :” it is not necessary to study an MBA. Most MBA graduates are not useful. Unless they come back from their MBA studies and forget what they have learned. Then they will be useful.”

Alibaba’s Chief People Officer, Lucy Peng, shares a similar, non-standard approach : “Alibaba employees don’t need experience, they need a good health, a good heart and a good head.”

The advantages of hiring inexperienced graduates from Hangzhou over the arguably more qualified candidates from Beijing are obvious : less valuable candidates are more grateful for the opportunity they have been granted. They will work harder and remain more loyal to the company.

4. Jack Magic

Alibaba most likely wouldn’t have survived the competition from eBay, the SARS epidemic and the burst of the dotcom bubble without its charismatic leader, Jack Ma.

Ma’s unconventional personality is most visible during the company-wide events where he’d dress up, dance and sing but Alibaba’s employees are confronted with it on a daily basis. Employees are for instance asked to choose nicknames from Ma’s favourite novels. These nicknames are then so deeply embedded in their conscience that their colleagues forget what their actual names were. Their commitment to the company is such that early Taobao employees agreed to be the website’s first users selling all that they had at hand on the site. It’s also the Alipeople (aliren) who were the first users of Laiwang, the company’s failed attempt at launching a messaging app.
When a case of SARS was identified at Alibaba and its employees quarantined at their homes, they never stopped working, motivated by an email from their leader saying : “We care for each other and we support each other. We never forget the mission and navigation of Alibaba. Tragedy will pass but life will continue. Fighting with catastrophe cannot prevent us from fighting for the enterprise we love.”

Ma also bounds the employees together by finding them a common enemy to fight – be it eBay or another Western company – and defining highly ambitious goals – for instance, to create the world’s biggest ecommerce company (already achieved) or to surpass Amazon as a web services provider.

Although challenged on the domestic market, most importantly by Tencent, Alibaba remains by far the world’s biggest ecommerce company. Though its business model evolves, its culture remains intact. Its initial objective “to last for 104 years” seems attainable.

Why you can’t afford not having a mobile strategy

Whenever I hear sellers say they are currently redesigning their website, it makes me feel like if they bragged about purchasing a new fax machine. Over again we see signs that in a few years or even months merchants’ websites will become obsolete as online shopping is increasingly being confined to mobile apps.

A few stats that confirm this trend :

mcommerce-trends

What you can do :

  • there is clearly no point in building your own mobile app especially if you are selling niche products – mobile phone users become increasingly less likely to install new apps and once they have installed them – to allow notifications. We have to get used to the idea that mcommerce of the future will be split among two, three dominant apps
  • open a marketplace store – if you haven’t yet done so, do it now! there is an overwhelming choice of marketplaces which have an advantage over you as buyers trust them and know them – eBay and Amazon are household names and even small marketplaces have more money to invest in marketing than you do
  • make sure your website is mobile optimised – the less content you have on it, the better! Think about eBay’s recent decision to  change their sellers’ listings so that they can be easily viewed on a small screen – product descriptions have to contain up to 800 characters and cannot include any active content (JavaScript, Flash)
  • offer payments with PayPal / Amazon payments – if a mobile buyer has to fill in a lengthy form in order to complete the purchase, the odds are high she will give up before completing the checkout. Allowing your buyers to log in with PayPal or Amazon in order to make a payment makes it easier for them to pay without leaving the mobile device. It also helps instill trust as PayPal and Amazon offer buyers protection from fraud.
  • do it quickly! – mcommerce still accounts for less sales than ecommerce but if the current growth rates continue, this will change soon! You don’t want to wake up in a few months next to a brand new fax machine only to realise there is no one left to send a fax to as they have all switched to email
  • don’t forget that at WebInterpret we can create a mobile-optimised version of your website in various languages AND help you promoting it abroad.

Your customers don’t want to call you – you make them do it!

At WebInterpret we work with sellers from various industries and representing companies of very different sizes – from moms getting rid off second-hand baby stuff to sellers making millions euros of sales per month. One complaint remains constant, however, across our seller base. You guessed it, it’s complaining about buyers.

No matter the size of your business, you quickly become overwhelmed by handling your customer service, especially so during the pre-Christmas rush. Unreliable suppliers, the effort to maintain your website, changing marketplace conditions – all these don’t make your life any easier but seem to be less of a pain than handling customer queries. Well, here is the good news – according to the fascinating book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by the team of scientists from CEB, your customers don’t want to contact you – you make them do so.

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Your average customer doesn’t want to contact you any more than you want her to contact you: 58% of your customers visit your website before they reach out! Only 42% of customers who end up calling you with their question / complaint didn’t check your website to find the answers beforehand.

Another interesting finding : customers don’t like to use multiple contact channels. If they didn’t find what they were looking for while browsing your website / marketplace listing and they have to contact you to get information, they are on average 10% less loyal – 10% less likely to do business with you again.

In a nutshell, what this means to you is that by not giving your buyers the information they search for online you :

  •  increase your customer service cost
  •  decrease the chance for repeated business from these customers

Why do customers end up contacting you if all they wanted to do was find help online? The most frequent reasons for picking up the phone seem to be:

  • the customer couldn’t find the information she was looking for
  • the customer did find the information but didn’t understand it
  • the customer was browsing through your site / reading through your listing to find out how to contact you

What can you do to prevent it from happening?

  • make sure the most frequent questions are answered on your website / marketplace listing and easily accessible. Guide your customers to the answers they are looking for via drop-down menus.
  • use simple language – when confronted with a ten-page long return policy written in a legal language, buyers will most likely end up calling you to find out the return address. They buy online to save time so you can assume they don’t have the time necessary to read through all this text
  • use the words your customers are likely to use – sellers tend to use abbreviations which are familiar to e-retailers but are you certain your buyers know what they mean? Scan your website / listings for jargon, I’m certain you will find many words that an average buyer has no chance of understanding
  • don’t offer multiple contact channels right on your website – buyers are easily intimidated by too many contact options
  • don’t hide your phone number – instead, deter buyers from using the phone by placing the answers to most frequently asked questions right next to it

According to the authors of the research, applying these improvements should allow you to keep online two out of ten buyers who would otherwise call you. I recommend you spend the time this will spare you reading “The Effortless Experience” for more fascinating stats and advice.

How should you write your sizes to suceed selling fashion on eBay

Fashion sellers, here is to you. If you’re serious about making money selling on eBay, you have to make sure your products are searchable by size. It does sound pretty self-explanatory but you would be amazed by how many sellers don’t follow this simple rule.

At WebInterpret we help thousands of online retailers sell abroad and a fair chunk of them are selling clothes. It’s the UK fashion sellers in particular who seem to be quite successful abroad, especially now that the pound sterling is relatively week compared to other currencies. According to our data, UK fashion sellers succeed mainly in Germany, in the US and in Australia.

However, if you believe you can tap into the German market just by adding postage to Germany to your UK listings, you may be wrong. You have to remember that sizes are very different in continental Europe than they are in the UK and, to make matters worse, they are different from one European country to another.

With clothes, what’s generally known as the EU size will work for your buyers in Germany, Scandinavia and in Poland. Unfortunately, your average French shopper will probably return her order as too big – EU size 34 generally equals French size 36. Things get even worse in Italy where the same EU size 34 equals size 38… Monica Bellucci admits wearing Italian size 44 which, if it was the same as EU 44 could be a plus size but in reality converts to EU 40…

How can sellers cope with this mess? Many choose to provide all the possible compatible sizes in their eBay listings. This leads to listings which are cluttered, provide a poor buyer experience and – and that’s the most important point – are not searchable on eBay.

wrong sizes

The above listing is a perfect example of an item that can’t be found by buyers who filter the search results by sizes. eBay’s selection of available sizes simply doesn’t allow you to choose a size called “US L – EU XL”. What’s more, the seller is still not on the safe side as far as returns are concerned – EU XL size will work for her German buyers but not for the French and Italian ones!

Now, many sellers tell us they don’t really care about getting their Item Specifics right because they still end up making sales regardless of whatever they write in there. You can argue that the above item still has 9 watchers meaning there are some buyers who managed to find it.

selling-fashion-online

Our data however shows that it does make an impact on your sales volume if you manage to crack your way around sizes on each eBay site. Just check the below chart based on an example of ten fashion sellers using WebInterpret for whom we corrected their sizes in Australia.
So what should you do to get your sizes right and grow your sales by 48%in one week?

  • check if your items show up in eBay search results when filtered by size
  • if not, check the items that do show up and write your sizes in the same way as your competitors who mastered eBay’s search engine
  • when selling abroad, create a separate listing for each main eBay site with only one size per market
  • convert the sizes taking into account that they differ per European country
  • don’t write anything in front of your sizes, type only the numeric value
  • once done, you can relax and watch your sales soar – online fashion shopping is still bound to grow fast over the years to come!

How eBay missed it on Skype acquisition and sale

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Whenever I read about the Facebook Marketplace and see accounts of millions of Facebook users buying and selling goods among their connections, I cannot help thinking about the eBay Skype mistake. Had eBay kept Skype and had they known how to use it, they might have by now become the social commerce platform that the Facebook-Messenger combo is aspiring to be.

In 2005 when eBay’s CEO Meg Whitman decided to buy Skype, many shook their heads in disbelief. Analysts had no clue what eBay would need Skype for and the check she had to write to acquire the unprofitable Estonian startup was considered too high.

From today’s perspective this decision makes perfect sense. Ever since its humble beginnings eBay has drawn its strength from its community. Amazon sellers don’t hang around together to chat – eBay sellers will use every possible venue to exchange their opinions, be it eBay’s own forum or a LinkedIn group. To leverage the strength of their community by giving it a new tool was an ingenious idea to attach eBay sellers and buyers to the platform and drive adoption. eBay could have become a part of the Skype app, allowing Skype users to buy and sell goods while holding a conversation. It could have also included Skype in the eBay platform so that sellers’ customer service reps handle buyers’ queries via live chat or even calls without ever having to leave eBay. It could have become the ultimate place for social networking just as it was, back in 2005, the preferred destination for selling and buying goods.

None of this ever happened. eBay’s executives didn’t seem to have an idea as to why they bought Skype in the first place or what they were supposed to do with it. It has become a very expensive toy that they readily got rid off in 2009. The acquisition of Skype and its later sale have become synonimous with eBay’s decline and lack of vision.

Think about these same executives now as they have to watch sellers and buyers bleeding from their platform to buy and sell via Facebook and Messenger thus bringing to life the dream that Meg Whitman had and buried when she first bought and sold Skype years ago.

5 things you need to know when selling car parts online

Going online is not an obvious choice for many car parts sellers. Car parts tend to be heavy and bulky (just think about tyres!) and you may consider there aren’t so many buyers out there willing to purchase them online. 

Yet, buying a spare part for your car online is a much more obvious choice than touring the local shops – the selection online is definitely wider, thanks to bigger competition buyers are more likely to get a better deal and they don’t need to touch and feel the part before buying it, the way they may want to try out new clothes. As a consequence, car parts sellers not only easily get rid of some parts that have been waiting on their shelves for ages once they start selling online but also have an easier job than online sellers of other types of products – less returns, less complaints, less hassle.

With all this in mind, you will agree that online may be the best channel for car parts sales, both for buyers and for sellers. What else do you need to know?

  1. eBay is the right place for you

    • with their recent purchase of Cargigi eBay showed that they really want to focus on eBay motors, their cars and car parts section
    • Motors is actually the fastest growing part of eBay (or, the only growing part of eBay) so definitely they will keep investing in it and promoting it
    • with their separate eBay Motors site and a sophisticated car parts-specific search engine eBay is a better fit for selling car parts than other marketplaces
  2. Don’t limit yourself to your domestic market

    • it may sound counterintuitive to sell car parts abroad but at WebInterpret we have seen too many success stories not to believe it makes sense to do so
    • as a UK seller, make sure you sell at least to Germany and France, as a German seller, select France and the UK. eBay.it and eBay.es are not as strong but growing very fast!
    • it will especially make sense for you to sell to continental Europe if you’re selling parts compatible with European brands – unsurprisingly German car parts sell well in Germany, French car parts in France. Knowing the European currency is now pretty strong compared to the British Pound or US Dollar, you may actually end up being more competitive in terms of pricing than the local sellers.
  3. Make sure you know when to sell

    • car parts sales are highly seasonal – make sure you know when to list to reap the highest reward
    • in the UK we see strong sales of car parts in January, then from March till June (with a peak in May) and then again in November
    • in Germany the best months are January, March and from May till July
    • Germans change Summer tyres to Winter tyres from October and then Winter tyres to Summer tyres in March – make sure you have some of these online and that you allow delivery to Germany and you’ll be amazed at how many buyers are willing to shop for tyres abroad
  4. Use car parts compatibility tables

  5. Remember different brands sell on different markets

    • as mentioned above, German and French buyers are more likely to look for German and French car parts than for Japanese car parts
    • also, some brands have different names depending on the location – did you know that the car you refer to as Vauxhall is known as Opel in Germany?

If you follow the above guidelines, you will be amazed at how fast your business can grow once you start selling your products online and abroad. Make sure to get your listings ready before the sales peak in May!