European e-tailers go global but fail to act local

Theres no doubt e-commerce is now one of the fastest growing sales channels in Europe. Opening an online store is a fast, low risk way to enter new countries without investing in physical stores. But as more retailers expand internationally online, research shows many e-shops fail to cater for local shopping habits.

In a recent survey of 6,565 European consumers, more than a quarter would not describe their experience of online shopping as anything more than satisfactory (26%), and more than half (53%) would not spend more than 50 Euros online at one time. According to the survey, lack of service is the most common frustration especially in countries where consumers place a high value on personalisation such as Spain and France. So while online shopping is on the up, consumers are still wary of spending too much online due in part to a lack of customer service.

Online spend drops in countries with poor service levels

The results show that consumer spend is lowest in countries that also have low satisfaction rates with e-commerce. Less than a quarter of Spanish and French consumers (21%) describe their experiences of online shopping as very good, while, in contrast, nearly double the number of UK and German respondents would say the same (45%). The biggest bug bear for online shoppers in France and Spain is difficulties reaching the organisation when they have questions (38%). But satisfaction rates arent the only aspect struggling in Spain and France. More than half of respondents in these two countries (51%) would not spend more than 50 online at one time. Meanwhile 1 in every 3 Brits would happily part with more than 500 online at one time. Taking into consideration dissatisfaction with online service levels, its likely online spend would rise if customer care improved.

Entertainment sites voted best for service

When asked which sector offered the best service online, almost half of respondents overall (43%) said entertainment sites selling DVDs and CDs would come out on top. Fashion and travel sites follow closely behind according to a quarter of respondents. Only in Spain are travel sites particularly well-liked with almost half of those surveyed in Spain (47%) saying they offer the best online service. In contrast, homewares, food and drink and the electronics sectors fared poorly with the lowest scores across Europe. The results show that some sectors (particularly homewares, electronics and food and drink,) have an opportunity to up the ante online if they want to boost sales.

Every country is different so make it relevant

When online is the only channel available, retailers must work even harder to offer superior customer service and stand out from the competition. Every visitor looks for something specific. The sooner they find what they want, the more likely they will buy, and return to the site in the future. E-tailers need to seize every opportunity by offering features that appeal to local shoppers. For example, 1 in 3 respondents in Germany said speed was the best thing about online shopping. Therefore, using searchandising to return the best results based on not just the search term, but the users profile and behaviours, will meet the German shoppers desire for speed and efficiency online. In the UK, 29 per cent of respondents are most frustrated by forgetting their log-in information when shopping online. Adding personalisation so shoppers are automatically logged-in means UK shoppers in the UK wont have to worry about remembering their account log-in details. Interactive help such as Click to Call and Click to Chat can improve service levels in France and Spain by giving prospects the option to speak with a real person. 13 per cent of Dutch respondents said mobile shopping and services are important, so texting or emailing order details to customers smartphones could help to drive loyalty. The research indicates that its often the small added extras that go a long way to improve service and keep customers coming back for more.

Physical and online are not mutually exclusive

Retailers must not forget that many customers visit their web site because they had a good in-store experience. It is vital customers receive a similar experience online if retailers want to maintain loyalty and attract prospects. Giving web visitors the option to speak with a customer service agent in their local language using Click to Call or Click to Chat functionality is one way e-shops can replicate the personal service shoppers look for in-store. The online channel can deliver automated recommendations to give customers a more tailored shopping experience based on individual tastes compared with what they experience in-store. Personalisation can increase customer satisfaction and lifetime loyalty which in the long term can help grow revenues and support profits generated by physical stores. Offering the same experience, whether in-store or online, means the retailer is always front of mind regardless of how the purchase is made.

Localisation, adaptation or standardisation?

As internet adoption continues to grow and international retail markets mature, there is tremendous opportunity for retailers to drive global profitability with their e-commerce strategy. But there are important considerations for retailers before making the international leap. One key decision is whether to take a centralised or a local approach to their e-commerce. Its important to balance consistency and efficiency with flexibility to suit the needs of local markets. Local profiles and personalisation, for instance, can help to address geographical variations such as technology infrastructure, legal, privacy and security, content, brand, promotions, logistics, and fraud and payments management. Retailers should evaluate their business strategy, organisational structure, international brand strength, and operational issues before selecting the international e-commerce approach thats right for the brand.

One platform is easier to manage

True internationalisation is managed best from one platform that delivers a seamless shopping experience online and offline across many countries, languages and web sites. A centralised approach gives the retailer added control and the tools to localise different country sites within the same framework. Retailers using profiling, personalisation, searchandising, and interactive help services such as Click to Call and Click to Chat can capture local nuances, tastes and online shopping behaviours to ultimately give consumers the type of online shopping experience they want.

PULL OUT TOP LINE STATS

Satisfaction rates

A quarter of Europeans would not describe their online shopping experiences as anything more than satisfactory

Frustrations with online shopping sites vary between countries. French and Spanish consumers are most frustrated by difficulties reaching the organisation when they have questions (38%), BeNeLux consumers are most disappointed by a lack of product information (43%), the biggest annoyance for those in the UK is forgetting log-in details (29%), and respondents in Germany find problems at checkout most frustrating (36%)

Best for service

Overall entertainment retailers (i.e. sites selling DVDs, CDs etc) are most popular in Europe with almost half of respondents (43%) citing them as best for service

In Spain travel sites are particularly well-liked with almost half surveyed (47%) saying they offered the best online service

Fashion sites are held in the highest regard in France with a quarter of those questioned (27%) naming the sector best for service

Values by country

Comparing is the favourite benefit of online shopping in France according a third of respondents (38%)

A third of Germans surveyed (34%) like the speed and efficiency of shopping online best

1 in 5 Britons prefer reading peer reviews and comments before making a buying decision (20%)

Around 1 in 10 in the BeNeLux region (13%) like having information emailed or texted to them best

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