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The one area of international e-commerce for which there's not a great deal of free tools available is the issue of preferred online payment systems for foreign markets.
I recently attended the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Francisco, to talk about the growth of the foreign language internet as part of the ‘Getting Ready for Global Business’ session.
Throughout the session we discussed a range of topics, from how to identify potential target foreign markets, to how to address cultural and linguistic issues while localising, and the overall impression I was left with is that more businesses than ever before are looking to start exporting internationally using localised websites.
Tools like Google’s Global Market Finder and Google Global provide useful intelligence on keyword competition and opportunities, providing a great starting point for choosing which foreign markets to launch websites for.
But one area of international e-commerce for which there's not a great deal of free tools available is that of preferred payment systems. Different countries prefer different methods of paying online, and ensuring you make the right method available can mean the difference between success and failure.
Customers may be keen to buy your product, and get all the way to payment confirmation with their shopping cart, but if you only offer payment by credit card and they only pay by PayPal, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot, and you’ll see more abandoned shopping carts than a supermarket parking lot.
The question of preferred payment systems for localised websites is one we’ve been dealing with recently, and through my personal experience and some online research, I’ve come to a few conclusions about online payment systems in different countries.
Online shoppers in the UK are a spendthrift bunch, spending on average £5bn each month, so it stands to reason that they’re also omnivores when it comes to online payment methods.
Credit and debit cards remain the most popular, with Visa, Mastercard and Maestro the most popular methods; but PayPal and WorldPay are also worth accommodating.
Credit cards are far and away the most popular payment method in the United States. A 2010 study found that around two thirds of online payments in the USA were by credit card (primarily American Express, Visa and Mastercard), while one third of payments were by debit card.
While the Single Euro Payments Initiative (SEPA) went a long way towards consolidating payment methods throughout Europe, cultural factors still play a large part in online payment preferences on the continent.
Germans are generally more concerned about security online, and so prefer for physical invoices to be sent with goods, or to use a debit card, rather than pay by credit card.
In Italy, the preference is for specialist local online payment companies such as Sella and Cartasi, while the Dutch use iDeal and the French are all about the e-Carte Bleue.
China’s ecommerce market is the fastest growing in the world, but online retailers have been restricted to direct transfers for online payments.
That changed earlier this year, when Ebay’s PayPal set up a hub in China’s largest municipality. The country’s biggest online retailer, the gigantic Taobao, accepts payments through the online payment system Alipay (of Alibaba), as well as PayPal and local equivalent Zhifubao, while also accepting credit cards from overseas buyers in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
Latin countries have a (perhaps surprisingly) high level of credit card penetration, and are also au fait with PayPal as an online payment system.
The main point worth noting about South American countries is that they’re big on accessing the web on mobile devices (especially in Brazil), so it’s worth your while looking into payment apps for handheld devices.
Above all, though, the main conclusion that this exercise has afforded me is that the only way to truly figure out something as important as your online payment system is to seek advice from in-country experts.
When it comes to getting paid, you can’t beat the advice of a local.