Adapting Your Ecommerce Business to a New Region in Europe

Here's what you need to consider with each expansion into another European country.
Adapting Your Ecommerce Business to a New Region in Europe
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U.K. Ecommerce Manager at CimAlp
7 min read
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CimAlp's story began in 1964 in the French Alps. Since then, the brand has been heavily influenced by France and its culture -- drawing inspiration from the country's hiking and trail running paths and, of course, the Alps.

Related: How Distributed Teams Help Solve Some of the Problems Facing Europe's Startups

So, when the executive decision was made to expand CimAlp into the United Kingdom, the team knew it would not be an easy feat. It has sometimes been a bumpy ride, but we have learned a lot about what it takes to adapt your business from one region in Europe to another.

Here are four things to consider if you plan on expanding the reach of your ecommerce business to another country in Europe:

Invest in thorough translation.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant on vacation in another country, opened the translated menu, and found it makes little to no sense? Google Translate is a helpful tool for tourists trying to make sense of street signs and menu items, but it is not enough for a thorough translation of your website.

About 73 percent of the global market prefers websites that provide content in their native language according to a Common Sense Advisory study. Furthering the point, Crazy Egg highlights how important it is to focus on thorough translation that navigates nuance and actually makes sense: "The problem is translating text from one language to another is not a simple process. Word-for-word translation does not usually work because there are nuances in language that get lost in translation. Such inaccuracies can significantly change the context of the message."

Language is so much more than just words. It is representative of culture and respect toward it. When customers purchase from your ecommerce website, they are making an investment in your brand. That is why it is so important to build trust and credibility with your audience by respecting their culture.

With all the marketing noise out there, you need to make sure at the very least your website makes sense to those reading it. If it does not, they will move on to another one within minutes.

Related: How Being on the Fringes of Europe Gives Our Company a Global Edge

Clarify questions about regulations.

The formation of the European Union (EU) in 1993 erased passport and border controls between several countries in Europe. The EU acts like a single market and aims to enable the "free movement of goods, capital, services and people" between the countries included in it, according to The Telegraph. In theory, the EU is extremely helpful for ecommerce businesses delivering across borders.

But, despite the EU's best efforts, each country has its own regulations in regards to payments, sales, promotions and data protection. This became a prevalent roadblock for CimAlp with advertising discounts and reduced prices.

We knew the French website could advertise products at a discount based on the recommended retail price suggested to physical retailers in France, but U.K. rules are different. On top of that, CimAlp U.K. launched "online only," increasing our worries about advertising discounted prices.

Fortunately, CimAlp has been able to utilize local knowledge of the U.K. market with a new hire and garner advice from the Advertising Standards Authority on how to best approach this in the new market. When in question, it's always best to tap into local knowledge and contact those who make the regulations in advance.

Related: My Italy-Born Company Opened an U.K. Office So We Could Be Global From the Start. Here's What We Learned Scaling Internationally.

Don't forget the logistics.

When expanding your ecommerce business to another country, the big picture is usually front of mind, but the small details are just as important. For example, who will your new audience call for customer service queries? Will you set up new social media pages to match the culture and language? Which keywords will you need to target for SEO purposes?

Returns and customer service are two essential details that need sorted out with any expansion. Customer service is extremely important to any business, but when you are trying to build up trust and credibility in a new country, it is essential to any amount of success. James C. Penney, the founder of J.C. Penney, said it best with his famous quote, "Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement."

Think about your new audience at all times during the expansion, and make the transition as smooth as possible for them. Set up an address where customers can make any returns without paying extra to send products to headquarters in another country. Make sure you have at least one person -- or more -- within the new country who can handle any customer service questions or complaints in the native language.

Ensure all the details are covered, because if you expect your new audience to jump through a hoop for your products, they'll search elsewhere.

Related: What I Learned From Building a Company Across Europe

Identify brand fit and values.

It should come as no surprise that different countries have their own values and beliefs. Each country is influenced by its history, culture and people. All of these puzzle pieces also affect how they perceive your brand, which is extremely important given how competitive ecommerce industries have become.

According to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's famous quote, "If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand."

But, what if these values are not necessarily shared with another country? What if the very core of your brand does not translate to the region where you plan on expanding?

One example of this was Walmart's attempted expansion into Germany in 1998. Among several issues, Walmart's values clashed with the German market. The German culture emphasizes efficiency, but Walmart's gigantic stores and thousands of products made the shopping experience too drawn out. Also, Walmart insists that its employees smile at customers. This practice is not only unusual in Germany, it actually went so far as to "unnerve" consumers. By 2006, the retail giant, which has found wild success in the United States and other countries, was forced to withdraw from Germany.

Related: Scaling Across European Borders: How to Tackle Regulation and Team Culture When Expanding Your Company

Before entering the market in a new country, do your research. Dig into who will be included in your audience there. What makes potential customers tick? What do they value?

You do not need to change your brand and completely rewrite what makes it different. However, you do need to find out if it can survive with its history and values in a new country. Making some tweaks and evolving the brand to a new country is not only okay, it is encouraged. Just make sure you do it in a genuine way.

Our expansion into the U.K. has required us to think about how a brand originated and influenced by the Alps can translate to customers who spend their times on wet walks in Derbyshire. One way we have tackled this is by partnering with influencers in the new market, providing samples of our products for testing, and listening humbly and honestly to their feedback.

Most businesses aim to expand at some point. Growth is a step toward success, but it can be especially challenging in Europe, which is comprised of about 50 countries. Each country has its own culture, language and history that need to be taken into consideration. However, if you stay true to the roots of your ecommerce business but adapt to the new environment, values and culture, you will build credibility, interest and loyalty.

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