The ecommerce needs of European customers

If you want to expand your ecommerce business to Europe, there are some things you should know. About which countries have no trouble speaking English for example. Or why Germany is a difficult ecommerce market to conquer. Luckily for you, we will give you the perfect tips for cross-border ecommerce in Europe!

Expanding to the United States seems so much easier than expanding to Europe. Well, to be honest we don’t know the American ecommerce industry that well, but we do know the European ecommerce market and one of the things that makes this market so hard to penetrate is that Europeans have a strong language and cultural diversity. You can’t just compare Belgians with Norwegians or Spaniards with Swedes.

Southern Europe doesn’t speak English that well
Whenever you are about to launch an online store in Europe, there’s a huge chance you will communicate in English. Seems logical, but not every European speaks the language that well. The European Commission looked at “Europeans and Their Languages ” and Jakub Marian made this chart from that data.

Ability to speak English in European countries

Of course, the people in the United Kingdom and Ireland can communicate in English, but did you expect the Netherlands to complete the top three? And how surprising is that countries in Southern Europe have a low percentage of people who can communicate in English? These figures are something you should be aware of if you open an online store in Europe. The Dutch won’t have any problems with a English-written website, but Spaniards probably will.

Don’t make mistakes in other languages
But as Bertram Welink, marketing manager at SEOshop, writes on this blog for KISSmetrics, it’s also important to take national pride into consideration here. “Even Norwegian, Danish, and Dutch customers appreciate it if you target them in their own language, resulting in better success rates.” And when you go for a local language, don’t make the mistake to automatically translate your content (by using Google Translate for example), because many locals will be careful with shopping on your site. If a website contains many spelling errors and other linguistic mistakes, it doesn’t look trustworthy for a lot of customers.

Cultural differences
It’s not only the languages which separates the different European countries from each other, there are many other cultural differences. Welink made a buyer persona Mode framework using a select number of European countries:

4 buyer personas in Europe

Based on this (keep in mind he’s talking about stereotypical customers here) German buyers are mostly competitive and methodical, while Spaniards are mostly spontaneous and humanistic. And the Dutch are competitive, they look for a competitive advantage in your product and want to know your credentials, but on the other hand there are spontaneous: they want to find a solution that makes their life easier and more enjoyable.

So you should really do some research before you go and try to expand your ecommerce business into several European markets at once. Maybe you will succeed in one country, but you will get almost zero conversion in another country, because you didn’t understand how the customer thinks and shops.

Know the different ecommerce laws
Europe desperately wants to look like one, consistent continent, but it’s obviously not. But it’s trying to standardize laws, so it’s easier for business to go cross-border, which should boost the European economy as a whole. Nonetheless, each country still has their own ecommerce laws, which makes it hard for you to expand your ecommerce business to several European countries at once.

For example, in Germany there’s something called “Abmahnung“, a written warning you could receive when your ecommerce store doesn’t follow the German law. Lawyers are allowed to invoice their costs (€800-€1.500) of writing this warning  and when you choose not to pay, you risk a law suit.

And in the Netherlands the consumer may be required to pay in advance, but only of at most 50% of the total order value. So there should always be a payment method with which the customer can pay later. Also keep in mind that one of the most recent European ecommerce laws is that add-to-cart buttons must contain a text that shows visitors they have to pay if they continue with the transaction.

Different preferred payment methods in Europe
Yeah sure, Paypal is quite popular in Europe and there are still countries that wants to pay with cash on delivery. But do you know the preferred payment methods per country? We’ve written a handy overview on popular payment methods in Europe, but there’s also this graphic from PitneyBowes. Keep in mind that this is from 2012, so the distributions may have changed.

Preferred payment methods in Europe and other continents

One of the things that stand out immediately is that in the Netherlands consumers love to pay with local payment method iDEAL and that in Germany there are still a lot of people who prefer to pay with an offline credit transfer. And did you know the French still like to use checks? (Also check out our article: “The most common payment methods in Europe“)

“If you decide to sell your products across Europe, it’s advisable to offer a wide variety of payment methods that allow your customers to choose. If you decide to sell your products in one European country only, or in a limited number of countries, you should offer at least the most common payment methods there”, Welink says.

The research you need to do in terms of cultural differences and preferred languages and payment methods, you also need to do when it comes to logistics. The American market is mostly dominated by UPS and FedEx, but Europeans prefer DHL (around 40% market share), TNT (15%) and UPS (10%).  And of course, there are always the local players who sometimes have a big role in the logistics market. “Prices for international shipments can also vary a lot per country. In the long run, you may benefit from maintaining a local stock in Europe and shipping your products locally.”

Localize your business, product and content
When you want to succeed in Europe, you need to localize. That’s almost the only way to win the trust of the local customer. You should not only localize your content, but also think of establishing a local presence. This can be a local office with a local agent, or you can rent a virtual postal address. You should also think about having a local phone number, so customers can contact you without having to pay for international phone calls, and maybe also a local bank account as well.

While you’re at it, also consider having a local trust mark. Get certified by an established institution, so local customers will know immediately that you’re trustworthy and that you respect local ecommerce laws

Whenever you have a European ecommerce site up and running, you’re not done. It might be handy to have local customer service representatives, sales agents or account managers who speak the language and are preferably, from the country you are targeting.

As Welink sums it up, “Europe offers many opportunities to American ecommerce businesses, but it’s important to keep the local needs of your European customers in mind. Make sure you’ve done your research before expanding to Europe. Decide whether you want to focus on one European country only or on multiple countries simultaneously. And localize your business, your product, and your message. It may be a lot of work at the beginning, but once you master it, Europe may prove to be your most valuable export market.”

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