It is not an exaggeration to say that the internet has rewritten the rules on international business. It is now quicker, simpler and more economical than ever before for companies to test out new markets. In fact, the eCommerce export market for the retail, travel, content and leisure sectors is set to be worth £45bn by 2020 - so just imagine what this would amount to if all sectors pursued this opportunity. Peter Fitzgerald, the UK Country Sales Director at Google, shares ten tips on how all UK businesses can benefit from the eCommerce opportunity.

October 2014

With the right online tools and digital marketing, everyone from traditional businesses and established internet players to bedroom start-ups can capitalise on eCommerce. So here's some advice for branching into new markets:

Researching target markets

  • Analyse available market data to prioritise the countries where your products or services will appeal most. Online tools, such as the Global Market Finder, are useful for exploring potential markets. This uses worldwide internet search data to show country keyword searches, estimates for bids, and competition for each keywords by market and language.
  • Find out your target customers' expectations and try to exceed them. Make sure you understand how consumers use the internet in their path to purchase. Free research data like the export tools that Google put together allow you to better understand different target markets without spending money on surveys.

Adapting your business

  • Adopt a 'digital first' model for new markets, even if you use a multi-channel retail strategy for your operations in the UK. With a light eCommerce presence, as opposed to a more complex hybrid offering, eCommerce players can internationalise much more quickly. For instance, global luxury fashion retailer transformed from a bricks and mortar retailer by increasing its digital presence and aligning all platforms under one brand name to achieve its international potential.
  • Set up a dedicated, agile team focused on international exports. If they can operate quickly and autonomously as a separate entity, more appropriate decisions will be made for those markets. Projects will then be able to evolve faster and more fluidly.
  • Secure a C-level exports champion. They can then work alongside the dedicated team to promote exports as a strategic priority to the rest of the business. This will ensure any high-level business decisions about areas such as products, pricing and marketing take into account potential international impact.

Localising for market suitability and performance

  • Don't rely on hunches about customers abroad. Instead, use data analytics tools and analyst research to understand consumer behaviour as it changes. This will enable you to make the necessary adaptations - whether this be to your site, product, marketing or pricing, but also keep your finger on the pulse in terms of market changes. A great example of this approach is luxury fashion retailer Ralph Lauren, which has remained relevant globally by understanding how different countries shop online and adapting its offering.
  • Take advantage of tools to localise your website for different languages and currencies. For example, The UK's largest independent online beauty retailer used Google's free translator tool to translate their website into 80 languages for overseas consumers.

But remember:

  • Localise only where it matters to customers. Some markets will need less localisation than others. For instance, 87% of Dutch people speak English so you may not need to translate your site for them. However, in Poland, 95% prefer websites in Polish. For more insights on the local preferences of different markets take a look at our Business Exports Map.

Engaging with new markets

  • Don't limit yourself. First mover advantage matters to business success, so don't be afraid to test your offering in a number of different markets quickly. With eCommerce the cost of entry is much lower compared to traditional bricks and mortar businesses, which have to manage the expense of hiring local staff and renting office and retail spaces, so there's more scope for experimenting.
  • Finally, use different digital marketing channels to target your audience. Don't assume that if you build it people will come. Digital marketing is vital for scaling, testing and expanding globally.