While there is potential for the UK's online retailers to grow their sales internationally, many are not doing enough to appeal to customers outside the UK.

Snow Valley's International Delivery Report, sponsored by Royal Mail, finds that many UK etailers are simply not offering overseas delivery, while of those that do, there are many issues around delivery information, charges and timescales. 

While the market for cross-border e-commerce may still be relatively small, a report last year found that 7% of Europeans shop online from other countries, it is growing, and can still be a valuable sales channel for retailers. 

The report cites the example of ASOS, which gets 28% of its sales from overseas, business which was worth £56m to the retailer last year. In addition, ASOS found that these international customers had a higher average order value. 

Retailers are catching on to the potential though. House of Fraser launched an international delivery service two weeks ago, and now international orders account for 2% of total online sales

In the report, Snow Valley placed orders from 15 countries, including Brazil, China, the US and Australia, as well as seven European countries. These orders were placed on 76 separate UK e-commerce sites. ASOS was used as the control retailer, with one order being placed on ASOS from each country. 

How many retailers deliver internationally? 

  • While 42% of UK retailers didn't deliver outside of the UK, 43% were offering worldwide delivery. 5.2% offered European delivery only, and 4.8% would only deliver to the UK and Ireland. 
Issues holding back international e-commerce:
  • Delivery information was a major issue, and retailers need to cater for international customers and anticipate the kind of questions they want to ask. For example, 28% of orders were placed on sites that didn't make it clear that they delivered to a specific country, even though they did. Under normal circumstances, is it unlikely any international customers would place an order with such a site. 
  • Delivery charges were another issue. 57% of sites offering international delivery didn't display the charges on the basket page. Since charges uncovered by the report were varied, the average was £12.77 with one site charging as much as £69.99, this is information that customers need before they can decide on a purchase. 
  • Delivery timescales varied, with 'up to ten days' being the most common prediction. Most websites failed to offer any choice for customers, with only 26% offering an express delivery option.

    However, the figure is only this high thanks to the fact that ASOS offers this for the 15 countries covered by report. Take ASOS out of the picture, and just 10% offered a fast delivery option. 

What should retailers do? 

Most importantly, retailers need to see the potential for international e-commerce and start to offer delivery across borders. As the examples of ASOS and House of Fraser show, this is a relatively easy way to grow sales. 

Retailers also need to provide an excellent service for overseas customers, and this starts with giving them accurate information on where they deliver to, and how much it will cost. 

ASOS was picked out as the control retailer in the report for a good reason. Its international delivery information is clearly linked to from the homepage, and charges are clear: 

international delivery1

The Book Depository is another great example of a UK business that has effectively targeted an international market. The retailer grew its revenue by 20% to £74.2m in the year ending June 30, with 73% of sales generated overseas.  

It has a very clear proposition for international visitors on the homepage, declaring that delivery is free worldwide, while you can also see people from around the world making purchases, as they are plotted on a map. 

The report is worth checking out in more detail, and contains a number of suggestions for retailer to improve their international offering, with the common theme that retailers need to actively cater for overseas customers and provide clear and accurate delivery information, just as they should to any UK customers. 

Graham Charlton

Published 6 September, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (3)

Marie Page

Marie Page, Director at Musicademy

I run an ecommerce business from the UK and we enjoy probably 60% of our sales in the US. I would say that many Americans, however, are still very cautious when ordering from overseas (we try to smooth out these worries by having a warehouse facility in Texas and taking US dollar payments on the site). When we were shipping from the UK we found that many of our shipments went missing (UK or US postal services). This was out of our control but highly frustrating for customers. One tracked airmail shipment arrived a year late. Merchant services fees are higher for foreign currencies, and there are set up and maintenance fees for each currency offered. Paypal is an alternative but thier commission fees are significantly higher than standard merchant services. I have also noticed a huge increase in the number of cards being declined by the banks when used for online payments. The US bank has simply flagged the transaction as potentially fraudulent so the card is refused until the customer asks for the restriction to be lifted. For an American purchasing overseas for the first time it is very offputting (remember that the vast majority of Americans don't even have a passport). Ironically when I process the card on the phone instead of the customer doing it online it all works with no trouble. This is a recognised trend in the industry which the banks justify in the name of fraud prevention. But I have lost far more income in refused cards and loss of customer goodwill than any fraud might have cost me.

almost 8 years ago



@ Marie Page " For an American purchasing overseas for the first time it is very offputting (remember that the vast majority of Americans don't even have a passport). "

I couldn't disagree more with this statement. When I lived in the US, there were several UK high street retailers I would have ordered from if they shipped to the states. Having since moved to the UK and worked for two high street e-commerce sites, I can see that they have bigger problems simply sorting out how manage a successful e-commerce site, let alone worrying about how to deal with with the logistics of shipping overseas.

So I would have no problems ordering from an overseas vendor if they have something I want that I cannot find (in the states). Online shopping is as simple as that. Even better if the vendor makes the process as easy as possible.

The fact that it is from another country is not relevant. Also not relevant is how well-traveled the customer base is (I've known several UK citizens who haven't bothered with a passport, either).

almost 8 years ago

Marie Page

Marie Page, Director at Musicademy

Hi Cleona It wasn't a dig at Americans at all - sorry if you read it like that. I was simply reporting my experience as a vendor to the US market. In the five years we've been trading we've had lots of emails and calls from Americans saying "This is the first time I have bought anything from a foreign website etc". They are understandably cautious and it is something e-marketers need to be aware of and do everything within their power to counter on their websites (through stuff like Verisign and guaranteed returns). Many also cite concerns about using their credit cards on non US websites. Normally these transactions go very smoothly but there is the occasional hiccup with shipping and payment which is out of our hands.

almost 8 years ago

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