The advent of the internet has hailed a wealth of innovation, the most popular of which being online shopping. As a result, consumers can purchase goods from anywhere in the world, providing retailers with the potential to attract international customers. However, this creates a challenge for retailers, not only in tackling the need to attract an international pool of customers, but to also retain local customers for the long term.
Our recent research found that 70% of British shoppers are increasingly purchasing goods from overseas merchants, compared to 53% four years ago. China, US and mainland Europe were highlighted as the most popular regions for Brits purchasing international goods.
However, consumers are finding major hurdles and turn offs when approaching online merchants, with 64% stating that the payment process stopped them from completing a transaction. Reasons cited were preferred options not being available (22%), complicated processes to make payments (16%) and lack of trust in the payment methods provided (9%). As a result, overseas retailers are missing out on revenue from potentially loyal consumers, as 75% would be more likely to buy goods if it became easier to use familiar payment methods, providing a window for UK retailers to win back local customers.
The busy festive shopping season is fast approaching, with Chinese Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday all providing an opportunity to secure sales. UK online retailers must therefore be prepared to not only manage the high influx of website visitors, but they must be mindful that first impressions count and so do payment offerings.
Online retailers can follow these steps to keep both local and new international consumers happy, not only throughout the festive shopping period, but also for years to come.
1. Fast delivery
The weeks leading up to Christmas are, without doubt, a stressful period for traders. But customers are also in a rush and they will be ready to complain at the first sign of a delayed online order. For this reason, in addition to the standard delivery (2-3 days), be sure to offer an express delivery (24 hours). Also make the payment methods available clear to customers, as these are a very important factor in their purchasing decision.
2. Proactively contact customers
The pre-Christmas period is a very good time for customer newsletters, which provide an effective way to communicate to customers that delivery times have been shortened or that special festive offers are available.
3. Keep an eye on your stock
Check stock levels in advance and stock up on best sellers. Avoid having to advertise popular items as “Not available” at all costs. It’s also important to remove items that are no longer in stock from the range immediately or stipulate a reliable delivery date.
4. Check the website
It goes without saying that any good retailer will know their own online store like the back of their hand. Even so, in the pre‑Christmas period they should be even more vigilant in checking and improving their website. Highlight customer service and mention the delivery options (standard and express delivery) - it’s better to do it once too often rather than not enough. Also, and don’t forget to highlight discounts and the payment options available. When delivery time is short just before Christmas, that’s when gift vouchers come into their own.
5. Offer the most popular payment methods
For most countries you have to offer 4-5 different payment methods to reach 80+% of online shoppers, and each country has usually their own most popular local (often called alternative) payment methods. Outside the US and UK it is very rare to reach more than 25% with credit cards alone. So, make sure your PSP has the relevant methods on offer and that you can present these to your shoppers depending on their home country or IP address and in the right order.
6. Offer accessories
People loosen the purse strings at Christmas and customers often buy more than they originally planned to. For that reason, it is important to display suitable accessories alongside selected items at all times.
7. Christmas service
It’s not only stock that needs to be primed for the Christmas trade. Customer service must also be on red alert for six weeks. Retailers must therefore prepare customer service for the stressful Christmas trade; that will be sure to pull in extra sales.
8. Show goodwill
Put goodwill agreements to the test by adapting them to fit the customer. That doesn’t mean giving the customer something for nothing, just be aware of customers’ needs. Satisfied customers will come back.
9. Collect customer feedback
On the subject of satisfied customers, it’s worthwhile following up with customers after delivery. Ask them whether everything was to their satisfaction. If for whatever reason that’s not the case, try to get any issue resolved quickly.
10. Post-Christmas is just like pre-Christmas
So Christmas is over and sales were good? Congratulations, but for online shops the whole circus starts again on Boxing Day in the post-Christmas trade. Impatient types will shop online at Christmas just the same or will want to exchange something quickly, so be prepared!
Ralf Ohlhausen is the Business Development Director at PPRO Group.