I’ve spoken numerous times, to various people, about the importance of ambition in business. I’ve also been clear to point out that, though increasing profits should be a core goal, it shouldn’t be your brand’s sole driver. Becoming more sustainable, better personalisation, extending reach, growing one’s marketable database, creating better quality products and solutions: each of these objectives is not only valid, but integral to the success of an ambitious business.
As eCommerce becomes more ingrained, and the marketplace grows ever more competitive, the brands that dare to do more, that constantly seek new ways to be better, that dedicate themselves to giving consumers experiences they appreciate, will thrive.
Take personalisation, for example.
Various research studies have highlighted the value of personalisation to consumers in the UK, but because eCommerce isn’t confined by borders, it’s worth noting that this is an almost universal trend.
A recent YouGov survey assessing the views and opinions of 650 IT decision-makers in the Middle East and North Africa revealed the vast majority (88%) had to ‘fundamentally alter’ their approach to customer experiences following rapid eCommerce growth amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Many brands were compelled to build entirely new websites to deal with demand, and also to enhance their ability to offer personalised content.
In France, a comprehensive study found that more than half (56%) of consumers regard being kept informed of ‘relevant sales, offers or promotions’ as a vital part of the online shopping experience, while one in three (33%) consider it ‘essential’ that retailers can provide specific product recommendations based on items they have previously browsed on a brand’s website.
The importance of customer experience can be seen across numerous other European countries, with research highlighting its value to consumers in Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, among others.
For many UK-based brands, seeking audiences further afield is an opportunity that should, at the very least, be given consideration. Did you know, for example, that UK websites account for 14.2% of all eCommerce transactions in Spain, or that nearly one-third (29%) of France’s overseas eCommerce spend occurs on UK websites? Or that the UK is the third most popular market globally for online cross-border shopping?
Those figures are arguably even more impressive when taking into account that almost half of UK businesses (44%) don’t sell overseas. This is due to a variety of reasons—lack of knowledge and lack of inclination being two—but it would be remiss of me to forego mention of Brexit, which has curtailed the international growth ambitions of numerous UK businesses. Figures published in the Financial Times in June 2021 revealed nearly one in three UK companies that trade within the EU have ‘suffered a decline or loss of business’ since January 2021, while almost one in five (17%) that previously operated in the EU have stopped doing so—though some have stated this is liable to only be a temporary measure.
Despite the challenges and hurdles catalysed by Brexit, UK brands still remain popular throughout Europe. This attraction to UK retailers is no doubt partly down to the products and services on offer, but is also, without a shadow of a doubt, based on the fact that a great number of brands in the UK have positioned personalisation, customer experience and engendering consumer loyalty at the very heart of their eCommerce strategies.
Because of this, progressive UK brands are being granted an opportunity to give foreign consumers, especially those in Europe, one-to-one customer experiences that they aren’t getting elsewhere. Currently, around 61% of all overseas eCommerce sales from UK businesses are to countries in Europe, and that percentage could conceivably increase in the coming years once Brexit’s teething problems are remedied.
However, while current trends would appear to afford UK retailers with a significant growth opportunity, it undoubtedly presents European retailers with an even greater one.
If brands in France, for example, move to increase levels of personalisation and adopt solutions that drastically increase the value of their marketing collateral, they will find themselves able to target sizeable domestic audiences effectively and profitably. What’s more, they will be doing so at a time when consumers are clamouring to buy from homegrown businesses.
The Covid-19 pandemic catalysed many shifts in UK shopper behaviour, with one of the most noteworthy being a rise in the number of people who, given the option, would choose to support local businesses. Indeed, research suggests that two-thirds of UK shoppers will make an effort to buy more UK goods in the wake of the pandemic.
This desire is by no means isolated to the UK: in fact, such sentiment is even stronger throughout other parts of Europe. In 2020, 75% of people in France admitted being ‘attracted’ by regional products, while research published by Statista in June 2021 found that 81% of French consumers would be more inclined to buy a product if it was produced or manufactured in France.
The consumer appetite is there for all to see, but if brands are unable—or unwilling—to supply the kinds of customer experiences that many deem essential, they will go elsewhere, even if it means buying from businesses in other countries. Ultimately, consumers benefit from receiving personalised content, so they will go to the retailers that offer it.
Being able to provide a truly beneficial customer experience requires brands to make a concerted effort, and suitable technologies and approaches need to be harnessed to attain the best results, but the gains, both short- and long-term, can be monumental.
eCommerce, to a certain degree, gives consumers the possibility of a borderless shopping experience, but research suggests many would still prefer to buy from within their own country when possible. Brands need to acknowledge what consumers want, figure out how to give it to them, and then do all they can to evolve the customer experience at every turn.