How global ecommerce is ripping up the rule book


Research from Digital River studying over 1000 consumers revealed that despite most European consumers being active online, thousands of brands have not established a direct-to-consumer (D2C) ecommerce presence cross-border. Instead brands oftentimes drive shopper traffic to third-party sites, where the end-to-end customer experience, including transaction data, are out of their control.

The UK – a model for the future

The UK is not only Europe’s most developed ecommerce market, it’s among the most mature online retail regions in the world. Other international markets can look to the UK as a proxy for growth.

Digital commerce is firmly ingrained in British shopping behaviour; IMRG observes that £1 in every £4 is now spent through ecommerce, with consumer electronics overtaking fashion as the country’s highest performing online sector.

UK consumers are not only digitally active purchasing consumer electronics and fashion within their home nation – they are also the largest cross-border ecommerce customers in the world. The percentage of Britons buying goods from other EU countries increased from 12 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2015.

This maturity may bring saturation of the UK market, but it shows that if Britons are shopping with overseas brands, so too could shoppers from other European countries. Particularly those with rapidly maturing ecommerce markets.

Breaking into international ecommerce: the seeds have been sown

Today, consumers don’t want to shop solely with brands from their region – they are looking for more choices. They are looking for the ability to establish relationships with brands that have an online presence regardless of physical location.

Their appetite for international brands is evident when reviewing website search engine traffic figures, which show a pattern of searches for relevant brands in overseas territories. For example, French online shoppers have made a high number of searches among Spanish, Belgian, British, Italian and German retail sites, while German consumers often search for brands based in France, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Turkey. In the Netherlands, search traffic is strong for brands in Belgium, Germany, France and the UK.

Achieving cross-border commerce

Three billion people on this planet own at least one Internet-enabled device – that gives businesses three billion reasons why cross-border ecommerce should be a top priority.

Recent research from Digital River, in association with, examined how prepared, or unprepared, online stores are for international commerce. The research rated more than 195 online stores on a scale of 1 (low) to 100 (high), across almost 60 attributes, including shipping, payment, information access, pricing, security, ease of use, support, and time and effort required to checkout. On average, the stores – which spanned 10 countries, including Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the U.K., the U.S. and Spain – scored 55 out of 100, down slightly from last quarter’s 56. From this report, we’ve outlined some steps brands can take to improve the cross-border purchase experience for their online customers.

  1. Get Multilingual

For a merchant site to be considered ‘highly optimised’ for international trade, a breadth of language options (at least six) needs to be available. However, in certain industries, such as the travel sector, the bar is set considerably higher, with the leading merchants offering as many as 21 different languages. Our research found that the US was the global leader when it came to offering multiple language options. In the UK, 25 percent of UK sites surveyed offered six or more languages to shoppers, with 13 percent of UK sites offering 11 or more languages – this means that 62 percent of UK merchants currently have a significant opportunity to improve their sites to meet the standards of the best-performing retailers.

  1. Consider Currency

Naturally, the harder it is for consumers to convert prices into a currency they understand, the more likely they are to abandon their purchases. When making cross-border purchases, there is also the added complexity of dealing with foreign transaction fees and fluctuating exchange rates. Our Index found that top scoring online merchants provide a multitude of currencies, with the leading players offering 11 or more currency options. Again, travel sites lead the way with over 39 percent offering more than 11 currencies.

  1. Play the Global Card Game

You can’t just accept local, in-country payment schemes. While accepting the shopper’s preferred local payment method is ideal, sites that are serious about cross-border sales must, at a mini­mum, accept the “big 5” globally-recognised and accepted payment methods: Visa, Master­Card, American Express, PayPal and Diners Club. Many of those customers shopping abroad will likely have at least one of these accounts and will feel safer and more secure using it on an international site that they may be less familiar with. The good news is that our report suggests that the UK (along with China and the US) comes out on top in offering the most globally-recognised payment methods.

  1. Give a Helping Hand

Offering high-quality customer support and making your potential buyers feel like assistance is on hand when it is required is absolutely critical. Our research found that the sites best suited to cross-border trade gave global visitors an intuitive, easy to access way to have their questions answered on simple issues such as clothes size conversions. We also found that the best sites had rich online FAQ content that was easily available via search. The worst sites required a form to be submitted with a promise that they would respond with an answer sometime in the future. Both the Netherlands and the UK go above and beyond here with 100 percent of the sites surveyed offering online access to help, in contrast to only 38 percent of online sites in Brazil.

  1. Streamline The Checkout Process

There is nothing more frustrating for a customer who has decided on a purchase and is ready to buy online than being forced to go through a series of time-consuming click-through barriers due to complicated or slow checkout processes. The sites best optimised for cross-border commerce help customers to get through checkout fast – without a lengthy, painful, page intensive process. Often this means asking for as little data as possible or offering a guest checkout option. The highest scoring sites enabled a customer to sail through the checkout process, from homepage to checkout, in just 90 seconds. Those presenting a guest checkout option may see conversion rates climb 3-10 percent.

Companies that are serious about growing their online businesses globally and among cross-border shoppers can greatly improve their direct-to-consumer ecommerce sites by following some simple best practices. Taking the steps listed here will enable brands to take control of their brand experience, making their online store, rather than third-party etail sites, the default destination for shoppers from around the corner and around the world.

To download a copy of Digital River’s market report, “Are all your customers being served?” click here.