Thanks to the ubiquity of social media and global search platforms, consumers are finding brands with ease online regardless of where they are. However, these visitors convert to shoppers at shockingly low rates because the shopping experience rarely feels like that of domestic web sites, resulting in fear and uncertainty about the buying process. Additionally, if cross-border shopping isn’t managed carefully it can be more expensive, due to costly shipping, duties and taxes.
In fact, 47 percent of consumers who consider cross-border e-commerce abandon their carts because of costly shipping rates, according to our latest research, while 32 percent cite the lack of free shipping as the greatest barrier to making a purchase. But these points of friction can be overcome with a solution that creates localized experiences so that international consumers feel as if they’re shopping locally, improving conversion rates and boosting global sales for e-commerce businesses in the process.
There are multiple points along the customer’s journey on an international web site that can cause them to abandon their cart. These include localization issues such as pricing that’s not displayed in the local currency, unclear or inaccurately displayed duties or taxes, the preferred payment method not being accepted, long delivery wait times, expensive shipping and returns, and privacy concerns.
Online brands can fix this issue and boost conversion rates by following this road map.
Localize the Product Pages
There are several aspects to localizing the product pages on your web site so that local shoppers feel they are shopping from a domestic site. The display of pricing is particularly important in this case and the best practice is to configure pricing so that the local currency is displayed. It’s also important to ensure the actual prices reflect the norms of any given market. In some countries, customers might be accustomed to seeing prices that end in “.99” or “.95” cents, whereas in others, rounding prices up to whole numbers is more attractive.
Different promotions (such as free shipping for a certain product category or a buy-one-get-one-free offer) also perform better and can produce better unit economics in certain markets depending on what local customers are used to, so retailers would do best to research these differences beforehand, looking at local competitors who have been successful to get a sense of what works. Reflecting all of these nuances on a brand’s site provides shoppers with a more intuitive experience that feels familiar, rather than one that feels foreign and difficult to navigate.
Be Aware of Product Restrictions and Add Exclusion Rules
Every market has different import restrictions, so you’ll want to make sure your offerings for each market are aligned with these rules. For example, the fur and skin of endangered animals or fish, or goods made from them, such as accessories or shoes, are banned for import into the U.K. unless you have a valid permit. Jewelry brand Charles and Colvard got ahead of these types of issues in certain regions by adjusting their merchandising strategy for different markets. By using Flow’s technology solution, the brand was able to exclude specific jewelry products from displaying in order to avoid making the costly error of offering a product to consumers that cannot be imported to their home country due to government restrictions.
It’s important for e-commerce businesses to target their catalogue and merchandise for different international experiences to include the products that can be sold in each market and exclude the ones that cannot.
Be Transparent About Duties and Taxes
Be forthright about the duties and taxes involved by displaying them across the site for your customers. Some brands might decide to list out any duties and taxes separately on the product page and at checkout, while others might decide to have all additional fees baked into the final product price. And there are other ways to display this information to clearly communicate these fees to consumers. It’s important to make sure consumers won’t be surprised with additional fees later, or worse, be required to go to a local customs office to pay the fees in order to receive their order.
Brands should make sure shoppers understand all the fees involved and e-tailers should offer the option to pay these upfront should the customer prefer not to remit these fees later. Depending on the product, business and local customer preferences, some brands might find that including the duties and taxes in the original price of the product increases conversion rates for shoppers. We recommend A/B testing this display by country or region to understand customer expectations and optimize for conversion.
Offer a Range of International Payment Methods
Because different payment methods are accepted or more common in different countries, it’s important not to fall back on what’s popular in a brand’s home country. In China, for example, AliPay, UnionPay and WeChat Pay are very popular. Many Australians like to use Afterpay so they can pay in installments. Sofort and Klarna are popular in Germany, Carte Bancaire is the most popular method in France and iDeal is the go-to in Holland. And the list goes on.
Businesses must ensure their e-commerce sites offer multiple local payment methods so that shoppers aren’t shut out from the buying process and can choose what works best for them. Keeping things familiar also helps mitigate consumer fears around privacy concerns, which can flare up when shoppers are redirected to sites or payment methods they don’t recognize.
Optimize Shipping for Speed, Cost
Customers today expect to have multiple shipping options no matter where they’re ordering from, so providing that flexibility is important. Our latest research shows that 84 percent of shoppers across the 11 markets surveyed expect free shipping to be available. But business have other options to entice shoppers. One popular shipping tier is offering a pricing threshold (i.e. shoppers must spend a certain amount in order to earn free shipping) to offset some of the costs in markets where free shipping is a basic expectation but operationalizing it might be more expensive for the retailer.
Offering flat-rate shipping could resonate positively with consumers in certain markets and also help defray the costs of shipping for the retailer as well. Other options online brands should consider offering is express shipping (44 percent of shoppers surveyed expected this option to be available), two-day shipping (expected by 34 percent of surveyed shoppers) and overnight shipping (noted by 24 percent of the shoppers surveyed).
Providing multiple shipping option accounts for customer nuances across the world: shoppers in more affluent countries may be willing to pay more for shipping to get their orders faster, whereas consumers in other regions might be willing to wait longer and save money. Crafting the right shipping strategy ensures that brands can mitigate the impact on their margins and keep their cross-border e-commerce efforts profitable.
Other Aspects of Checkout to Consider
There are many tweaks online merchants can make to add value to the local checkout experience, as well. Translating the checkout UI is an easy way to incrementally increase conversion. But it’s important to research which markets care about these translations most: 74 percent of Japanese consumers in our research, for instance, say they are not likely to buy from a web site that isn’t translated into their own language, whereas roughly 60 percent of shoppers in both India and China are likely to make a purchase.
Localizing address forms on your checkout page through the use of autocomplete suggestions is another way to localize the experience since address formats and postal codes vary from country to country. Once the customer selects their address, Flow’s technology can populate all the fields in the address form, ensuring the details adhere to the format of the ship-to country, minimizing any errors printed on the shipping label and ensuring the order arrives within its stated delivery window.
While all of these considerations are important, it’s crucial to A/B test these options within different parts of the online experience to figure out what works best in each market. Testing can help online brands identify which variables have the greatest impact on conversion and provide the greatest overall lift. Technology solutions, like Flow, make this especially easy by allowing brands and retailers to set up experiments and test variables across the customer journey to continuously optimize the shopping experience and understand which variations customers in each market respond to best. And who knows? The results of these tests may even come as a surprise to the most experienced global businesses.
Rob Keve is the chief executive officer and cofounder of Flow.