Interview with Teresa Gualtieri, UK Trade & Investment Manager who gives us an insight of the current state of the digital landscape and her advice for any businesses looking to maximise their digital outreach.
What advice would you give to companies looking to trade internationally?
International trade opens a world of opportunities and offers companies access to new customers, revenue and ideas that can boost a company’s profile, credibility and bottom line. Like any other major business project, research and planning are absolutely crucial to success, as well as pulling together the essential know-how, resources and team of professionals. The experience and expertise gained in the domestic market is also invaluable and the passionate belief in your product or service is no less important.
Is there anything you need to bear in mind with cross-border e-commerce?
Every country has its own tax system, covering issues such as sales tax. As you export, it’s critical that you understand these rules and comply. Similarly, you need to know what your legal obligations will be in the new market you’re entering. This includes local laws, product standards and regulations. For example in some countries you may need to modify your product, packaging or even get your goods inspected and approved before they can be sold there.
Also, it’s critical that you have an understanding of how Intellectual Property Rights vary across your markets to protect your brand and ideas.
Have there been any recent developments that you’ve been made aware of?
Yes of course, regulations change quite often, especially in the e-commerce sector. For example, the US has recently expanded the dollar limit under which shipments can be admitted to the US with no duty, fee or tax and with a bare minimum of customs formalities.
The limit had been set at $200 for over twenty years but the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 was signed into law by President Obama last February. The most comprehensive customs legislation in over twenty years, the Act sets a new limit at $800. Another example is the ‘positive’ list for 1,142 commodities permissible to be sold through cross border e-commerce in China which was released last month. The list partially or completely prohibits importation of infant formula milk, health foods, food for special medical benefits, fresh foods, and others. Or – always regarding the Chinese cross border e-commerce – the new duty rates for items sent directly through the postal system and through free trade zones have been in place since April 8th 2016.
What are your expectations for future digital trading?
The combination of technology and the services it enables is stimulating consumer activity as society spends more and more time online. Mobile devices have driven this change with sales of smartphones and tablets surpassing laptops and desktops in recent years. Activity on social media platforms reflect this transition to an “always-on” culture and for many brands mobile is the strategic growth channel amongst the range of channels they operate. If mobile devices have already changed the way consumers shop, wearable technology will reinforce the ability of consumers to buy anywhere and do so when and how it suits them. When the consumer is “always on” and the market consists of multiple touch points for display and others for sell-through, the market is literally everywhere. Brands will need to stand out and be destinations that consumers want to spend time with during and outside of the buying cycle. Without this they will be lost as more and more companies of all types compete for screen time with consumers. Brand owners will need to adopt the mentality of media companies, invest strategically in content and understand the best channels to distribute it, by optimising the mix of owned media, earned media and paid‐for media.
How can you optimise your website for an international audience?
I would start from planning an international domain strategy and decide whether to use a Top Level Domain or a country code Top Level Domain. There is an interesting article by MOZ that I always recommend my clients to read because it sheds light on some important technical elements that not all businesses are aware of – The Guide to International Website Expansion.
Keyword Analysis is vital. If you create one keyword list and assume it will serve your SEO purposes across all the countries you target, you definitely won’t be targeting your audience in those countries effectively. Different keywords may cater to different audiences depending on location, so you need to identify which keywords are most popular in each country you’re targeting, and optimize the pages on that country’s website accordingly. In addition, remember that even a correct and accurate translation of a keyword or term may not be what people actually use to search for a product or service locally.
Speaking of translations, they are also a key element if you target markets where English is not the first language spoken. Definitely stay away from machine translations. They often sound robotic, unnatural, and sometimes, completely nonsensical to anyone who speaks the language natively. Publishing poor quality content on your website can undermine your company’s credibility to an international audience. Get help instead from someone who is fluent in the language you’re creating content for, ideally someone who is not just a translator but also a copywriter, or someone with some technical knowledge who understands your products or services clearly.
Localise content to each market. Currency, contact details, sizes, measurements, visual elements (images and what’s pictured in them), characters accepted in contact forms, tone of voice (formal vs. informal), page layout (some languages take 25% more space than English), dates and times, payment and shipping options, customer service in the local language…this list could go on and on!
If you’re going to export successfully – whether it is through your website or not – you need to understand the language, traditions and ways of doing business in your new market. Then your website should reflect these. By making this a central part of your strategic approach to exporting, you can help to build your new customers’ trust and confidence in your company.
What are the benefits of being part of an international marketing network like Comvort?
Easy access to key information and contacts are definitely the top two advantages of being part of an international network like Comvort. If you are looking to export to the UK please get in touch with UK Trade and Investment as there are professional advisers in more than 100 countries.
*On behalf the Comvort Group, many thanks OWB and UKTI for the time in giving our members and readers all these interesting tips.