Introducing e-commerce across borders

The key to continued growth for many UK online retailers during 2009 could well lie in cross-border selling, with the biggest opportunities right on the doorstep in Europe.

Here, this is discussed, to coincide with the release of E-consultancy's Online Transaction Processing Guide.

Research shows that all businesses, especially SMEs, can greatly benefit from having a cross-border export strategy.

Cross-border purchasing has more than doubled since 2003 within the EU. As it stands, 30 million consumers (out of around 150 million) currently engage in cross-border e-commerce, and the rate continues to rise.

Unarguably, there is a direct link between this, the increase in internet use, personal computer purchases and the rise of broadband. A recent report, Borderless, commissioned by thebluedoor and written by Colum Joyce, discusses this in detail, including the opportunities that are being presented to UK etailers.

It's no secret that offline retail is struggling and with the onset of a recession, online sales are becoming more and more important, especially as consumers become more price-conscious and shopping-savvy.

However, traders may be tempted to focus upon what they know and what's easiest, rather than looking for outside opportunities.

Arguably, by failing to rise to challenges in times of trouble or downturn, companies are unlikely to reach their full potential in more prosperous times.

Currently, e-commerce continues to grow, albeit a little slower than previously, and ambitious companies are looking to take advantage of this by looking beyond the UK's domestic markets.

At the moment, the UK is the biggest spender outside of its own shores, with some £2.3 billion being spent abroad, followed by Germany and France at the considerable distance of around £857m, though this gap is expected to close.

Earlier this year, 66% of EU businesses admitted that they only accepted transactions from customers within their home countries, but 26% of these felt that cross-border e-commerce was the key to a competitive selling strategy.

A cross-border opportunity is no different from an opportunity within a home environment. As with all e-commerce, it merely depends upon the target market, either B2B or B2C, the product or service, and how it is marketed.

However, there are certain strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered. The main barriers cited by etailers for not engaging in e-commerce abroad were fear of fraud, perceived logistical difficulties and problems with payments. Surprisingly, issues with language came very near the bottom.

On reflection, and given the fact that we supposedly live in a 'global community', these problems seem to fall slightly flat.

Arguably, logistics is hardly a cause for concern with thousands of deliveries being made abroad each day. Our Online Transaction Processing Guide looks at the issues of fraud and online payment requirements in different countries, with neither of these representing an insurmountable barrier.

Equally, there are a great number of resources available for support provided by the EU, relevant industry bodies, expert consultants and other sources of information elsewhere, which can help etailers operate across different countries.

As better technology becomes more prevalent, an increasing number of people will be exposed to online advertisements and offers. Access to faster internet connections, mobile and interactive TV will grow, as will progressive e-commerce technologies.

This ultimately means that consumers will have access to a greater selection of products and services online, and it's advisable to establish a presence now, before it becomes too difficult.

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