William Hague’s recent call to British business leaders to ‘stop complaining’, ‘work harder’, and ‘get on a plane’ to find growth opportunities has angered some business leaders.

But an increasing number of UK retailers are discovering new markets abroad without getting on a plane. E-commerce, adapted websites and well-executed international internet marketing programmes are seeing UK business selling to Europe and beyond while keeping the business firmly rooted in home soil.

We wanted to see what the appetite is among our own retail clients (all based in the UK) to develop new markets. When we surveyed them, almost one third said that that over half of their online business already comes from outside the UK.

We weren’t surprised that 22% expect Asia to be their main growth area, but more surprising is that despite economic conditions, 40% expect Europe to be a ‘fast growth’ market in the next year. 67% cited northern Europe as a target market, and 52% are targeting southern European markets.

Which international markets will you be targeting in the next 1-2 years? 

Social media marketing combined with adapted e-commerce sites are clear drivers of this approach to international growth. No longer do you need a regional office, distribution centres or physical stores to sell outside of the home market.

Event traditional methods of PR and marketing are showing themselves to be less popular among than creating a direct connection with the consumer via social media. The top two marketing tools for growth are social media and a localised e-commerce site and the main barriers to international growth were cited as: insufficient knowledge about local cultures, language, local finance arrangements and local customs.

Don’t assume your audience want to talk to you in English

Your e-commerce operation might be based in the UK but you should talk to your audience in their own language. This is incredibly important on social channels, where one-to-one interaction is the basis for good communications. 

Think locally to act socially

Facebook and Twitter are important, but there are other channels at work too. VKontakte is currently the most popular social network in Russia (it has 100 million active users), whereas China’s big networks are Weibo and Renren. Be where your customers are.

Local knowledge is vital

in making the right kind of impression and developing a good reputation locally. Cultural points of reference will vary.

Something which would be applauded in the US may cause a storm of criticism in the UAE (as Puma found to its cost when it put a UAE flag on a limited edition shoe last year). Hire in local knowledge and native speakers to get these references right.

Use transcreation 

The art of conveying a message in another language, rather than relying on a direct translation - to develop a localised website, brand and even content for branded social network presences.

This helps to pick up cultural nuances, and create the sense that the brand belongs in that region, and that the business understands what local customers expect and want from them.

If you sell in another language, offer customer service in that language

If you’re asking a customer to buy from a localised e-commerce site, they’ll expect to deal with you in their own language.  

Any examples of companies doing this well? We’d love to hear.

Patrick Eve

Published 30 May, 2012 by Patrick Eve

Patrick Eve is CEO at TranslateMedia and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (7)

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Richard Miche

Great advice, I hope more companies take notice. The days of trying to force your way in using only English are long over, but UK business still miss the boat when it comes to using the correct language.

about 6 years ago

Adrian Bortignon

Adrian Bortignon, Owner/Principal at Kongo Industries

Excellent comments on a very important subject Patrick. Applies down here to Australian retailers as well.

In addition to your marketing suggestions, I'd add that retailers should also be aware of trusted payment methods in target countries, logistics nuances and personal import allowances that might attract VAT/GST.

Design aesthetic, UI/UX best practices also change significantly from country to country. All you need to look at is top e-commerce performers in China/Japan to understand what I mean.

about 6 years ago

Patrick Eve

Patrick Eve, CEO at TranslateMedia

Thanks for your comment Richard. It’s true that some UK businesses have relied on English only marketing for too long, but perhaps this will start to change when marketing teams see that they can reach a far greater audience by conversing in them with their native language.

Adrian – of course you’re right – getting the payment and user interface solutions right for the market is vital to international business success. After all, it doesn’t matter how well you communicate your product if customers can’t buy it!

about 6 years ago


Julia Serafina

Great advice, Patrick! I recently gained quite a lot of Hispanic and Latino followers on Twitter and find that I am likely to be retweeted and mentioned more often, if I speak in Spanish and Portuguese. I also noticed my new followers like Facebook as a medium for communication, so I am refining my strategy to cater for this. This is an important insight for me, as I am building a new business and website.

If I travel overseas, I attempt to speak in the language of the country I am visiting; and I also try to understand and adhere to the social and business customs of the local area. So why should it be any different online?

about 6 years ago



Good article, it applies as well to Spanish companies selling abroad.

Quite interesting you have raised the payment methods, interesting to see the differences across countries, special in Russia.

about 6 years ago



Great to see that Social Media Marketing is playing a major role in international growth.I truly believe that rappo building is the most essential part of SMM.Moreover,i completely agree that we should not rely completely on Facebook & Twitter & start exploring networks like Pinterest which can give great boost to your site traffic.

about 6 years ago


James Owen

Social media seems to one of the most effective ways of getting over the barriers of introducing your brand to different countries. It seems the key issue when trying to expand internationally is being able to adapt while still maintaining your brand identity and values. Brands must do this while adapting to different cultures, languages and legislations.

about 6 years ago

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