Blog / Beginner's handbook / Guide to Expanding Ecommerce Business to Europe
One of the advantages of running an online business is that you can get your products in front of anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, ecommerce was on track to take over offline retail. Now, when billions of people around the globe are ordered to stay at home, everyone is turning to online shopping as a way to help flatten the curve, which makes ecommerce one of the few industries to grow in 2020, rather than shrink.
Ecommerce market revenue in Europe is growing every year and it’s expected to reach a record high of $483.8 billion by 2023. Not only that, but the largest segment in this market belongs to fashion with a market volume of $112,079 million. This makes printed apparel a product category that has the potential to appeal to many European shoppers.
Entering a new market during this time can seem a daunting task, but if you do your research and offer relevant products (think face masks, athleisure, home decor, loungewear), it’s possible to scale up your online business even during these challenging times.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of getting your products in front of a European audience.
Before we dive into the ins and outs of expanding your business to Europe, let’s quickly take a look at the difference between Europe and the European Union as the two often get mixed up.
Europe is a continent with 50 internationally recognized sovereign states. European Union is an economic and political union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe. As you can see, not all European countries are part of the European Union. For example, Norway is geographically located in Europe, but it’s not an EU member.
There are two ways how you can expand your business to Europe, and that’s either by giving your existing store an international upgrade or opening a store on an online marketplace that allows easy expansion onto a local version of the platform.
If you’re looking for the easiest way to reach the European audience, open a store on online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay. These websites have a steady amount of incoming shoppers who probably have purchased something from this marketplace before, so they trust the vendors and know what the purchasing process is like.
But selling on marketplaces has its drawbacks too.
If you already have an online store up and running, opening a store on a marketplace means you’ll have to look after not 1 but 2 stores. Besides, getting ahead of the competition can be difficult, especially if your products aren’t one-of-a-kind.
Learn how you can increase sales and get more customers with multichannel selling.
Every market has its own unwritten set of rules that make one seller more successful than the other. The following practices are exceptionally important for sellers who target the European audience.
Europe is a culturally diverse region. This means that certain products and designs might be more popular in some countries than others. It’s fair to say, that Italians probably won’t be interested in a hat with Alabama-shaped design, and Brits are unlikely to purchase a baseball-themed t-shirt.
If you have a brand that’s built around your home state, local sports team, or social movement that isn’t popular in Europe, you might have a hard time making more sales. That said, you have to carefully evaluate which of your existing products can be potentially interesting for shoppers in Europe. It might be the case that you’ll have to create new products or change up existing ones to target customers on the other side of the globe.
Another thing that you should be aware of is that not every country in Europe has the same buying power due to different income levels. For example, the minimum monthly wage (net) in the Netherlands is €1,476, in Spain it’s €884, and in Poland it’s €379. So more expensive products might sell better in some countries than others, and vice versa.
There are 23 official languages in the European Union. To get the most out of this market, you should consider listing your products in more than just one language.
Apart from English, other widely known languages in Europe are German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. But, of course, this doesn’t mean that you should translate your product listings in all 6 languages. Be strategic about your choice.
If you want to add another language to your store, carefully think which market in Europe you’d like to target first. A few that are worth your attention are United Kingdom, Germany, and France as these countries are at the very top of the list of European ecommerce markets you should watch.
If you’re going after online marketplaces, check whether they have localizations, and how they work. For instance, selling internationally on Amazon is possible through their localized marketplaces:
With Amazon, you can translate the listings yourself, or use their Translate Your Products paid service that generates high-quality listings translated, checked, and validated by native speakers.
But again, each marketplace is different.
For instance, Etsy doesn’t have localized marketplaces for different countries. Instead, it’s available in 8 different languages. Product listings on this marketplace are translated automatically to let shoppers search the site in their preferred language. If you think that provided translations aren’t good enough, you can manually add them yourself and the automatic translation will be overridden.
Once you decide to translate your product listings into other languages, resist the temptation to use machine translation tools like Google Translate. Instead, get in touch with someone you know who can translate product listings for you, or simply hire a translator on Fiverr or Upwork.
There are 50 countries in Europe, and 19 of them have the euro as their official currency. So, it comes as no surprise that the majority of shoppers from Europe will prefer to make their purchases in euros.
By presenting product price in a currency your shoppers are familiar with you’re giving them a helping hand—they are able to make a value judgment to decide whether they can afford (or are willing to pay) the price marked on a product.
If you’re trying to reach the European audience through marketplaces, you’ll be able to list products in several different currencies hassle-free. Some of these marketplaces will convert product prices automatically, others might ask you to calculate your product and shipping fees to euros yourself. Whatever the case is, to get the most accurate price conversions, use XE currency converter.
If you use Shopify, consider installing Bold Multi-Currency app. It uses geo-location of the customer to automatically show the correct currency. If you’re a WooCommerce user, give Multi Currency plugin a go.
There’s one more thing you shouldn’t forget when readying your store for European shoppers, and that is product measurements. While you might feel very comfortable with measurements in inches, your European customers will find it confusing. So, to offer a pleasant shopping experience, you should convert all the product measurements from inches to centimeters, as Europeans are more familiar with the metric system.
British clothing brand Whistles has a size guide on their product pages with international size conversions, as well as product measurements in both inches and centimeters.
Creating a comprehensive size chart can increase sales and reduce returns. So do your customers and yourself a favor—provide product measurements in centimeters, too.
Printful size guides for each product have measurements in both inches and centimeters.
To make fulfillment and delivery times faster, we recommend you sell products that Printful fulfills in Europe. While we ship everything worldwide, we fulfill some products in Europe and you should sell those in your store. Doing so will also exempt your products from custom duties. Happy customer, healthy business!
If you don’t want your orders routed through the US or Mexico, simply uncheck the boxes in your store settings to put your wish into action. Go to Settings > Stores > Orders.
Whenever an order comes in for a product we fulfill in Europe and that’s going to a customer in Europe, we’ll fulfill it there.
Every country in Europe has slightly different laws and regulations. Here are just a few you’ll inevitably have to keep in mind when expanding your business to Europe, and especially to EU.
Value Added Tax or VAT is a tax that applies to all commercial activities involving the production and distribution of goods in the European Union.
For Printful customers, VAT applies to orders that are fulfilled at our Europe location with an end-address in the European Union. This tax doesn’t apply to orders fulfilled in the US. It also doesn’t apply to orders shipped to non-EU member states.
For more information, check out some of the frequently asked questions about VAT.
In case you’re not familiar, GDPR is data privacy law in the European Union that protects personal data of EU individuals which means it impacts all businesses that operate in and have ties to the EU.
Why should you care? Because you don’t have to be located in the EU to fall under this regulation. If your US-based business has customers in the EU, you need to pay attention to the GDPR.
When you think your store is ready to take off, it’s time to bring out the marketer in you. You see, even though you’re offering printed products with unique designs, there are a bunch of other sellers that might have something very similar up their sleeves too.
That’s why you need to think beyond compelling product descriptions and appealing product images. I’m talking about optimizing your shop for search engines, rolling out your email marketing campaigns, and putting together targeted Facebook ads.
But be smart about your marketing activities. Entering a new market requires strategic planning that will ensure your efforts won’t go to waste. So, keep cultural diversity, language, and income levels in mind. You should also take note of important ecommerce holidays that are relevant to the European audience. And when scheduling promotions, remember that Europe is on the other side of the word so adjusting to time zones is crucial.
Ecommerce market in Europe is growing every year. And for you, that means it’s yet another market full of potential buyers who are on the lookout for unique products.
Just like any big step in business development, expansion to Europe will require some research and preparations. But, hopefully, this blog post gave you an idea of what things you should keep an eye on during this process.
This article was originally published in February 2019; it has since been updated.
During her time as blog manager at Printful, Giedre learned the importance of content localization. Now she uses this knowledge as International Content Marketing Manager to overlook Printful’s communications in all languages but English.