Tips on cross border e-commerce from experienced retailers

Last week the largest e-commerce congress in the Benelux, the so called ‘webwinkelvakdagen’, again took place in Utrecht, Holland. Cross-border e-commerce was one of the main topics. Leaders from some of the leading Dutch webshops shared their experiences in international online sales in several interesting speeches. Here are the learnings:

Oscar Diele, managing director at Flinders.nl (a webshop in living and furniture with € 15m in sales, active in Holland, Belgium and Germany) had the following recommendations to webshops that are looking at international e-commerce:

  • Always prepare new market entries thoroughly
  • Use a leading market place to explore the market
  • Implement scalable IT systems and processes
  • Localize your webshop per country
  • Use local experts

Yuri Solinger, CEO at Athlete Shop, a specialist Dutch webshop in sports supplies (Sales € 30m, active in 14 countries, among which USA, UK and Germany) had the following advice:

  • Internationalization is a must do
  • Do research on the potential of individual markets
  • Make a sales pitch per country
  • Adapt your product offering to your target markets
  • Plan the execution
  • Analyse in order to improve your performance, e.g. through A/B testing

From his own experience he furthermore gave the following practical tips

  • Exclude the products that are not suited for international forwarding, due to size, weight or legal restrictions, from your international product range.
  • Beware of the differences in sales tax per country
  • Look at all your activities from a data driven perspective
  • Use local URL’s in every country
  • Translation into the local languages always leads to a substantially higher conversion

Mirela Belkoski, e-commerce manager at the Dutch omni channel fashion retailer Coolcat (active in Holland, Belgium, France and Germany) has the following 5 cross-border learnings, coming from Coolcat’s own experience:

  • Focus on webtraffic before conversion, especially when you enter a new market where your brand is not well known yet
  • Get your shipping shit together. Check the home addressing systems, they are different in every country. Parcels get lost in great numbers, as Coolcat experienced in France.
  • Look closely at the local regulations for season sales
  • There’s no such thing as one Europe. There is a huge variety in differences, even between neighboring countries in Europe.
  • Patience and perceverance are required in cross-border e-commerce. Pull customers in when there is movement in the market (sales period, Christmas), once they’re in they will stay.

Huub Vermeulen, CEO at bol.com (Holland’s largest online retailer and market place, with € 1.6bn in sales, active in Holland and Belgium) sees that localization is essential, even where the same language is spoken, like in Holland and Flanders (Belgium). Particularly in areas like:

  • Search terms/words, search optimization
  • Webshop content
  • Product assortment
  • Retail kalender (differences in market moments and sales peaks)

Altogether, these experiences from Dutch online retailers that went cross-border clearly show, that internationalization is not an easy job. It requires solid preparation, substantial internal resources, perseverance and the use of local experts to be successful. Please contact us, if you want to discuss in more detail.


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