Build your business in Britain’s top online export markets: PayPal’s top tips

Ambitious small businesses in the UK will already be aware of the sales opportunities that selling to customers overseas can offer. However, taking your first steps into trading across borders can be daunting, especially for business owners who are unfamiliar with their new target market’s shopping habits, customs and holidays.

PayPal, which helps businesses sell internationally online, recently commissioned research from Ipsos on global shopping trends (i). The research revealed the UK’s biggest online export markets (ii) – China and the US – the most-in demand products in these markets, and what attracts and deters overseas shoppers when they buy online.

We’ve used this research to pull together some top tips for businesses looking to get started selling abroad:

  1. Get to know your markets: British exporters need to understand the subtle differences in international markets, and what local customers are looking for. British clothes, footwear and accessories are the most in demand when it comes to online purchases by international shoppers from both China and the US over the last 12 months. In China the second and third most popular products are cosmetics or beauty products and consumer electronics. In the US, toys and hobbies and travel and transportation are tied as the second most popular. Jewellery and watches are third.
  2. Understand your customers: There are some fundamental do’s that businesses need to get right to convert American and Chinese browsers into shoppers. Convenience is a big driver for US online consumers. 45% of US online cross-border shoppersiii are buying online primarily because of the time saving and ease it offers. They also appreciate a bargain – 28% cited valuing low online prices as a key benefit of online shopping.
    Chinese New Year image
    Whilst in China, international shoppers’iv motivations are different. Only 9% of say that their primary reason for shopping online is to save money, and instead have responded that a safe way to pay and customer support in their language are two website functions that would encourage them to buy from international websites.
  3. Be aware of online “turn-offs”: Shipping costs are the largest drawback for cross-border shoppers in both countries. US cross-border shoppers are also preoccupied with trust and reliability, with 41% saying that concern that they might not receive the item puts them off shopping internationally online more often.
  4. Instill trust: To become a successful global business, retailers need to foster the trust of international online shoppers. Antony Comyns, Head of Ecommerce at renowned Jermyn Street shirt-maker Hawes and Curtis shared his experience of building a customer base abroad: “Selling internationally is about instilling trust in new customers who may not be as familiar with your brand as your home market. You need to have some points on your website that build confidence and one of those is an association with a trusted brand”.
  5. Celebrate key shopping holidays in international markets: Both China and the US have annual shopping holidays which generate impressive retail sales. For example, Singles Day in China is the biggest shopping day of the year. Whilst in the US, last year’s online holiday retail sales (from occasions such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday) broke records, bringing in $89 billionv. Retailers can take advantage of these annual sales spikes by providing free shipping, returns and good discounts during the holiday seasons.

For UK retailers looking for advice on taking their first steps in the global market, PayPal’s has recently launched PassPort UK, a website designed to help Britain’s businesses start selling internationally.

Unless otherwise mentioned data from this article is from the Ipsos study referenced in endnote ‘ii’. Findings from this research are available upon request.

i. On Behalf of PayPal, Ipsos interviewed a representative quota sample of c.800 (17,519 in total) adults (aged 18 or over) who own and/or use an internet enabled device1 in each of 22 countries (UK, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Israel, UAE, USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, China, Australia). Interviews were conducted online between 9th September and 3rd November 2014. China Fieldwork was conducted between 25th September and 14th October 2014, among a sample of 800. . US fieldwork was conducted between 9th and 24th September 2014, among a sample of 800 Data was weighted to known incidence of online shoppers in all countries, and to demographic profile of internet users in 7 countries.
III Desktop computer/Laptop/ notebook computer/Tablet /Smartphone/Some other type of mobile phone/Electronic organizer / PDA with wireless voice and data features/Games console with Internet connectivity (e.g. Wii)
ii. Export population estimates were calculated by PayPal using survey data** together with population estimates for online shoppers in each of the 22 importing countries in the study.
iii. U.S. shoppers who spend more than 10% of their annual online spend cross-border
iv. Chinese shoppers who spend more than 10% of their annual online spend cross-border

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