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Five things US retailers need to do when launching UK eCommerce sites

This week American Eagle launched a localised website for UK customers. The American fashion retailer has been dabbling with a UK launch for the last year, after opening three stores in Westfield London, Westfield Stratford and Bluewater Kent, as well as a pop-up in Old Street to introduce British customers to the brand. 

But there are many pitfalls American retailers can fall into when launching localised websites abroad, from technical considerations as well as cultural. 

Essential eCommerce investigates five things our retail neighbours across the pond should consider before launching a UK eCommerce website.

1. Ensure a correct pricing strategy

As Honor Westnedge, lead retail analyst at Verdict, tells Essential eCommerce, there have been many bad examples of American retailers launching websites in the UK, pointing to Victoria Secret and JCrew in particular.

"Lots of brands – particularly American brands – keep the same dollar for UK pricing, which means UK customers are spending a lot more than Americans," she explains.

"Brits can see how much extra they're paying online and find it cheaper to buy from the US website in dollars and pay for international shipping. But the retailers have cottoned on to this and stopped UK delivery from US sites."

Westnedge says not only do US retailers need to have a good pricing strategy they need to make UK consumers feel like they're getting good value for money to attract them to a retailer they're unfamiliar with.

"American Eagle jeans are very competitively priced and if this is translated on the website, customers will know they're getting good value," she adds.

Additionally, retailers need to be aware of the number of payment methods available to UK customers.

Niklas Adalberth, deputy CEO and co-founder of eCommerce payments company Klarna, said US retailers would need to integrate more than 40 local payment methods when arriving in the UK eCommerce landscape.

"This doesn’t exist in the US. In the US you’re fine with Visa, Mastercard, Discovery and Paypal, but in Europe you need to integrate so many options in order to efficiently capture all the payment methods available to your business - an example is Apple Pay. There is a structural problem in the digital European landscape making it is less efficient and, by default, the companies here cannot grow at the same pace as their US counterparts," he explained.

"As these new payment methods become increasingly popular and the mobile web becomes simply the web, retailers expanding their business to the UK will need to ensure their checkout solutions are compatible with payment systems available on mobile devices in the UK."

2. Understand UK logistics

The UK is much further ahead than other regions in terms of delivery, returns and click & collect services, therefore US retailers hoping to trade online in the UK must offer the wide range of facilities UK customers have come to expect.

"American Eagle needs to identify UK shopping habits," continues Westnedge. "UK retailers are really strong at fulfilment and click & collect is a valuable delivery option now, with retailers like John Lewis seeing 50% of their orders collected in store."

Westnedge adds: "They need to take the time to understand the economy of the shopper, but with a limited physical presence they need a good online offer. Most of the UK target customer wouldn't have heard of them, so they need to use the channel as well as social media to expand the brand."

Mark Kirby, MD of CartAssist – a personalised self-service eCommerce solution – agrees, saying in order to be successful online foreign retailers need a presence in major urban locations, especially fashion and clothing retailers, so consumers can both try a new brand and use the physical store as a click & collect location.

"Customers need the convenience to pick up and return items to a local store," he adds.

3. Introduce customers to a new brand

As Kirby says, a physical presence does not only provide a click & collect hub, but also gives customers a location to touch and try an unfamiliar brand.

But rolling out physical stores is not always an option. Kirby said localised websites need to have fitting guides in the locally used measurements.

"In a physical shop you wouldn't be presented with a sheet of numbers – sometimes website fitting guides look like reading the matrix – we've created in the past videos to make this process interactive," he says.

Westnedge agreed that fashion retailers – especially American Eagle which is so heavily led by denim – need to clearly explain the fit and style to online shoppers.

"It's about making that shopping experience really easy using specific online filters or even maybe investing in technology such as virtual fitting rooms so customers can really understand if the clothes will fit."

And if the brand is not well known by UK customers, retailers should experiment with innovative campaigns. It seems American Eagle is keen to spread the word of its UK presence, proven by a 20% off exclusive event for readers of Look Magazine held in Westfield Stratford later this week.

And in-store campaigns are not new for the brand, in the US it held an event where customers were encouraged to try on a pair of jeans and even if they didn't buy them they received a $5 gift voucher. Westnedge said this could be replicated online, so even if customers return the item they receive the money-off voucher. "Even buy-one-pair-get-another-half-price incentives could attract a new shopper base," adds Westnedge.

4. Think customer first, not design first

Kirby says when localising eCommerce many retailers tend to forget about the end customer and instead focus on the design and look of the website.

"So much is put into the design, look and SEO of the website, the afterthought is always the customer," he adds. "The UX, design, language and photography is all great, but does the journey work?"

Kirby says retailers need to remember to provide the simple pieces of information a customer may want from a website, such as a local customer helpline number or the location of a physical retail outlet.

"There's confusion with all the different channels, the live chat, email, phone numbers – there isn't a one size fits all, instead there's ten ways of managing customers."

This need for information is heightened for an unfamiliar foreign brand entering the UK market. "If you're coming over from the States, even more trust and convenience is needed because customers are wondering whether the purchase is worth the extra risk.

"The site needs to feel local and personal and it needs to take any fears away from transactions."

Kirby explains retailers must explain clearly what the returns policies are and what customers can do if something goes wrong. Additionally, American retailers must understand British expectations of customer service and delivery, while ensuring it meets our standards, especially in terms of delivery prices and times.

5. Next, think about localising design

"England and America are two countries separated by the same language," says Kirby. "Culturally things have to be considered and Brits are more cynical as buyers."

He says American retailers need to consider the type of language and tone of voice, as well as tweaking website design for a British audience.

"Cognitively, for the look of the website there needs to be a cultural colour palette impacting the fonts as well," he says, noting UK websites usually use very clean colours and fonts. 

"Design and presentation is important," he explains. "But American websites tend to have very dark colour palettes with black and blues, which is pretty haunting – we expect to see a little more brightness."

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