The internationalisation of ecommerce is one of the main priorities for established brands, with foreign markets providing huge potential for business growth.

But this obviously brings with it a new range of challenges in terms of localised content, currency options and different fulfilment methods.

Luxury clothing retailer Whistles is currently just starting a process of internationalising its online store, so head of ecommerce Louise Salt knows a lot about the challenges of expanding into new markets.

At Demandware’s Xchange ’14 event Salt described how the company was approaching the challenge of catering to international shoppers.

Here’s a run through of her main points, but for more on this topic read our post on seven common pitfalls when taking websites international.

Company philosophy

To give some brief background, Whistles is a multichannel retailer with around 40 stores in the UK alongside 40 concessions in major department stores.

It positions itself as selling laid back but luxurious fashion, and though historically it’s focused on women’s fashion the company has recently launched a men’s range.

The business philosophy is to keep things simple. This means:

  • One range of clothes globally.
  • One website.

Whistles also believes that you should never make assumptions on customer behaviour, so:

  • Learn through testing.
  • Learn through user account preferences and feedback.

An example of this is demonstrated by customer reaction to default currency options.

Whistles’ isn’t currently able to show a selection of currency options, so the decision was made to switch the default currency to dollars for US visitors.

Though this seems to make good sense, the company received a few complaints from US customers who were used to paying in GB pounds.

International strategy

Around 20% of Whistles’ site traffic comes from international visitors, however they only account for around 12%-15% of sales.

Therefore there is work to be done on improving the conversion rate.

To this end Whistles has implemented a four-stage international strategy focusing on:

  1. Delivery.
  2. Payment methods.
  3. Translation.
  4. Local Content.

Delivery

Whistles currently delivers to more than 50 countries worldwide and plans to increase this in the near future.

The top six locations are the US, Australia, France, Hong Kong and Ireland, which cumulatively account for 60% of international sales.

Whistles' international shipping information

Whistles also has a physical presence in five of these six nations, but all ecommerce orders are shipped from the UK via DHL.

All international orders are shipped for free “as a thank you to customers.”

Responding to a question from the audience, Salt said that free shipping definitely attracts more international customers but it is also very expensive so it’s constantly being assessed.

At some point we might have to do some testing to see how charging for international delivery impacts sales, and then look at the business case for making a change. But at the moment if you look at visits vs. revenue, it definitely works.

Currency

Customer groups are currently set by geo-location, so for example visits from the US default to dollars while those from Switzerland default to Swiss Francs.

As a future development Whistles will be able to select the currency options for each region, so the ecommerce team will be able to pick which currencies are available.

Ultimately customer preferences will then override logic, so once a customer has selected a particular currency it will replace the default option.

Taxes & Duties

Whistles doesn’t currently factor in local taxes and duties when displaying prices on the website, instead the customer pays on receipt.

This isn’t an ideal situation as it can cause delays and customers can end up paying unexpected import taxes.

To remedy this, Whistles is moving towards using a global checkout solution which calculates all taxes at checkout so the customer can pre-pay, ensuring on-time delivery.

Marketing

Marketing is central to this plan for international expansion as it sits across all four stages of the strategy.

Salt touched on what this means for specific digital channels:

  • PPC/Search

Localisation of SEO and translations are the obvious challenges, though the brand name also presents difficulties.

‘Whistles’ has several meanings, which can cause problems when establishing a brand presence in a new market.

For more on international search, download our Baidu Search Best Practice Guide or book yourself onto the International SEO/PPC & Digital Marketing Training Course.

  • Social 

It’s impossible to ignore social, but usage varies massively between different countries.

Mobile is probably the only unifying factor across all social networks.

  • Affiliates

Affiliates are an important channel for Whistles. 

While ShopStyle is the dominant site in the UK, Salt said the company is trying to identify similar ones in other countries.

  • Content

Content is another major challenge, and one that is addressed after currency and fulfilment issues have been resolved.

One example is this ‘Belles and Whistles’ video that was created to explain the brand to the US market.

Salt said that first impressions are very important, so Whistles is careful not to rush into creating localised content that doesn’t reflect well on the brand.

  • Email

As with most brands, email marketing is a very important channel for Whistles, though it’s becoming more complex.

David Moth

Published 7 October, 2014 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Charlotte Cavendish, Online Marketing Manager at Joseph

Really interesting piece. It's great to get an insight about how a brand like Whistles are tackling the issues associated with maintaining the brand and its product internationally, whilst tailoring all aspects of shopping experience to cater for localisation. they appear to have a clear and logical structure in place.
The introductory video for the US market was a great idea. I am interested to know how they communicated this video so will have a Google...

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