Quick take on UK online retail from a US perspective

Zia_Wigder  By Zia Daniell Wigder

I just returned from a short trip to London where I had a chance to speak with a
series of different UK-based online retailers. Most conversations included at
least some discussion of how the economic climate was affecting the market, both
within the US and the UK. When it
comes to international expansion, the consensus seemed to be that the current
economic environment was driving globalization rather than slowing it down. A
few observations from my conversations:

Cross-border interest
is growing, with most online retailers taking a first step through
international shipping.
While the UK
remains by far the largest eCommerce market in Europe and the average UK consumer
spends 50% more online than the next highest spenders (the Spanish and the
Swiss), many UK online retailers are looking to other European markets for long-term growth opportunities. Both multichannel retailers in the UK and online
pureplays are expanding through international shipping: last November, for example,
Marks & Spencer launched international shipping to three European countries
as well as the US, Canada and Australia. Apparel merchant Next ships to the EU
countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as most Western European destinations,
while online pureplay Play.com ships free to over 25 European countries (although
notably, the company does not ship electronics of any kind internationally). Indeed,
the relative ease and low cost of shipments within the EU and to other European
countries has prompted UK-based online retailers to expand their international
horizons ahead of many of their US-based counterparts.

Increased localization
remains an opportunity there, as well.
While many online retailers in the UK are shipping
internationally, few have launched translated, localized sites for other
European markets. The companies at the top of the list of leading online retailers in the UK tend to include several US-based companies with international sites (Amazon,
Apple, Dell) but very few UK-based ones (Argos
has a site for Ireland,
for example, while Epson operates sites for a handful of European countries). Like
those in the US that have started to ship internationally, online retailers in
the UK that are taking this first step toward globalization are missing an opportunity to provide local-language content. Not only can this step help retailers attract
and convert international visitors on their sites, but it helps pave the way for more robust international offerings going forward. For more information on this
topic, read our recently published report on the Translation and Localization
of Retail Web Sites
.

UK online
retailers are eyeing the US
market.
It's not just the other European markets that are of interest to
online retailers within the UK.
There was a great deal of interest in the Boden model: the company entered the US in 2002 and by 2008, was getting one-third of
its revenues from the US
market. What was of particular interest to retailers was the fact that Boden
did not have any type of warehousing or customer care facility in the US until last year – all fulfillment was done
from the UK.
Figleaves, too, with its 15-20% of revenues from the US
is often cited as a role model for successful US expansion. The ability to
leverage existing content – including user-generated content – across borders
without extensive translation makes the US
market particularly attractive to UK online retailers. Boden, for
example, includes user reviews from both countries and has elected partial
translation of terminology for the US
site: its “Holiday Shop” shifts to a “Vacation Shop” on the US version, yet other terms used for navigation such as "Trousers" remain in the original British English, as do product
descriptions
.