How the UK became the world’s third biggest online exporter

British online vendors are seeing astounding success in meeting international buyer expectations and understanding consumer behaviour patterns

The UK has become the world’s third largest online exporter, behind only the United States and China, according to survey research released by PayPal and Ipsos MORI towards the end of last year. Effective website localisation, diligent international market research and the global recognition of Brand Britain have all played a major part in this success.

The statistics show that the UK is punching well above its weight when it comes to global e-commerce, with an estimated 86.4 million international shoppers buying from the UK in the last 12 months, of which almost a quarter were from China.

These numbers make for hugely encouraging reading and suggest worldwide e-commerce will be a key factor in cutting Britain’s goods deficit. The UK Government even anticipates that e-commerce exports could reach up to £60bn in the next two years.

At Today Translations, we’ve outlined three reasons that seek to explain the UK’s e-commerce boom.

Allowing users to browse and purchase in their own language

A survey of web consumers across eight countries undertaken by Common Sense Advisory, a market research company specialising in translation and localisation best methods, found that users are 72 per cent more likely to buy from a website that is in their native language, while more than half are even willing to pay more if product information is provided in their mother tongue.

Online retailers, both big and small, have realised that website translation and localisation services are one of the fastest and most efficient means of reaching a global audience and customer base.

Localisation isn’t just about language, of course. Included in the package are measurements and units, visuals, design and, crucially for e-commerce, pricing and the option to pay in the buyer’s currency.

More and more British sellers are recognising the imporance of a good online user experience, and see website translation and localisation as one of the first step towards building a global brand.

The strength of Brand Britain

The PayPal/Ipsos MORI report cites that nearly 60 per cent of Chinese online shoppers looking for British goods had purcahsed British clothing, footwear and accessories. This top-performing type of purchase was closely followed by cosmetics and beauty products, which was sought after by 57 per cent of buyers.

Britain is the place to go for quality fashion and luxury products. The Telegraph has cited, rightly, that Britain’s “rich history, heritage and traditions” as the basis for the affection foreign buyers have for Brand Britain:

“Just look at any one of a clutch of British brands which resonate with the growing number of wealthy consumers around the world who aspire to purchase high quality goods.”

While household names such as Jaguar, Dyson and Burberry have all played a large part in building Brand Britain’s reputation, British SMEs seem to be profiting nicely from it, too. Last year’s FedEx Great British Export Report cited that more than half of UK SMEs are now exporting – and doing so at an average net surplus.

Marketing and promotions

In line with adopting a multilingual, localised website, British brands have successfully take advantage of both global and foreign sales and promotional periods; Black Friday is the obvious example, but also more locally based shopping periods, such as China’s Singles Day, for example.

For export growth to continue on this excellent trajectory, foreign brands must know when and where to launch their marketing and promotional pricing strategies.

And with a large take of online marketing going mobile, many British, as well as US and European firms, have embraced messaging channels, such as China’s WeChat or Japan’s Line. Indeed, the borderless potential of online and mobile marketing communications means that communicating your message to an international target audience can even be done in the relative comfort of your home office.

Just don’t be fooled into thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all approach. Cultural and linguistic factors vary significantly from country to country, and region to region.

The key to success is becoming a local as possible within the target market, even if only within the online sphere, from the comfort of your UK office.