Reaching EU customers: Why localization is more important than ever post-Brexit

March 26, 2021

Europe remains an exciting market for UK businesses, even with the borders Brexit created. Navigating tariffs on export goods and managing new delivery costs do pose challenges, but you can still ride the waves of opportunity that the post-Brexit landscape presents, particularly with cross-border eCommerce.

Selling to the EU through eCommerce shops opens UK-run businesses up, enabling them to present their products to new audiences and increase sales both now and in the future by building a loyal customer base across borders.

Not only does this create the potential for UK businesses to explore new markets, but also to achieve commercial goals far beyond what is possible on home soil. To transition seamlessly to EU selling, you should focus on localization and get comfortable moving beyond the English language.

English has left the building

English is the default language for business, right? Actually, it’s not as simple as that: Only 1% of adults within the European Union officially speak English as their first language. It’s spoken as a second language by 38% of EU citizens, but just because more than one-third of EU citizens can speak English, it doesn’t mean they want to.

The majority of online shoppers prefer to buy from websites when they can use their native language, and 56% said this was more important than price. Language is a big deal to customers, and this sentiment is reflected on the political stage.

It took four years for the UK to leave the EU, and it was towards the beginning of this journey that former President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said the English language was “losing its importance” in Europe.

Before Brexit, some might have assumed English was a dominant language across the European Union, but according to the EU’s policy of multilingualism, it was never meant to be that way. All official EU languages are equal, as evidenced through MEP speech interpretations and EU citizens receiving email replies from the European Commission in their own languages.

English remains an official language of the EU because it is the main language in Ireland and Malta, but how widely spoken will it be in the future?

How to take advantage of opportunities through localization

In recent years, customers have been taking back control of their purchasing power. Basing their decisions on more than just price, most customers have certain expectations of the businesses they buy from.

For some consumers, purchases must align with personal values, such as environmental or ethical principles. For others, customer service might be the most important factor. Some people may only make purchases through eCommerce stores that combine excellent user experience with bullet-proof cybersecurity. Everyone is different, but more often than not, it comes down to how your brand makes a person feel. This is why language and localization are so important.

Localized content shows your customer that you see them and makes the experience feel like it was created for them. Let’s say that, without localization, your website visitor cannot read your web pages in their language or find familiar terms, currencies or unit measures. If this is the case, you are forcing them to interact with your shop through the lens of an outsider. Instead of encouraging conversions, you may be blocking them.

While taking a localized approach to selling to the EU does present some challenges, many of these also create opportunities for improving business performance. For example:

  • Challenge: Ensuring your products appeal to an audience in a new location.

  • Opportunity: Digging into market research to gain confidence that your products are what the audience truly needs or highly desires.

  • Challenge: Managing localized content across multiple platforms.

  • Opportunity: Creating an experience that feels tailored to your target audience at all touchpoints, building rapport and encouraging brand loyalty.

  • Challenge: Providing localized support in your customer’s native language.

  • Opportunity: A personal touch that means getting support feels easy and makes your brand approachable.

Localization tips for UK merchants

How to adapt your strategies for seamless EU selling

1. Language options

When you’re planning which European countries to expand into, it’s useful to consider how comfortable different markets are with cross-border eCommerce and check the main languages spoken in those locations. While Spanish and Portuguese are important European languages on a global scale, German and French should be high priorities for selling to the EU.

Germany and France rank well in EU eCommerce statistics, and these languages make up two of the three main languages spoken in Belgium, which is the country that ranks highest for internet use and online purchases. Cross-border purchases are also very common in Austria, where German is the official language.

Translating your web store might seem daunting, but using an eCommerce translation solution like Weglot makes it much simpler. The translation is completed for you automatically but you retain control and can make edits to ensure your brand’s voice is maintained and style is polished before you launch. What’s more, it also takes care of the technical part of website translation, displaying your newly translated website under language subdomains/ subdirectories, without the need for duplicate websites.

2. Multilingual SEO

You want your eCommerce store to be found by your new markets, so you should consider localization and translation at all points in your sales funnel.

With multilingual SEO, you can optimise content for different languages, which means that consumers can read search engine excerpts in their native tongue. When they click through to your multilingual website, they should automatically be shown the content that matches their search and language preferences, providing a good user experience.

Your SEO strategy can be tailored to your target audience and adapted depending on which platforms and keywords they use to find products or information online, ensuring your marketing strategy considers local preferences.

There are also some general EU rules to comply with, for example, it needs to be made clear to consumers when search results are being paid for.

3. Cultural differences

Think about how your new audience will (and won’t) engage. What do they want to see, read, watch or listen to? Making time for research before you act increases your chances of commercial success when your business launches into a new market.

Not only does this make your business money, but it also saves your business the additional time, money, and resources it would take to fix anything that was missed.

  • You can adapt your media based on cultural preferences:
  • Adjust images so they are culturally appropriate and relatable.
  • Replace video content including translating and re-recording voiceovers.
    Update graphics, especially if they include text or icons and colours that have local significance.

Catering to the tastes and cultural preferences of local audiences goes beyond one-time sales. This process ensures you won’t alienate or offend your target market or damage your brand’s reputation, and instead works to build rapport and encourage lasting relationships so you can retain business. Satisfied customers are more likely to look to your brand again in the future. It’s win-win, many times over.

4. Currency and payment preferences

Supporting local currencies and payment preferences is really important, and allowing EU customers to pay in Euros can help you reduce your cart abandonment rate.

Integrating different payment gateways into your web store means that consumers can make their purchases using a technology they know, trust, and prefer. Remember, credit cards won’t cut it for all countries.

Digital wallets are popular in France, where concerns around fraud and security are prevalent amongst online shoppers.
More than five million people in Italy use person-to-person mobile payment systems, making smartphones an increasingly accepted tool for providing payment.
Online bank transfer accounts for about half of all online purchases from Finland, where people are less comfortable giving out card details online.

Customer preference is not the only factor at play, though. Buy now, pay later methods are popular in Austria and Germany, but eCommerce rules in Sweden discourage online shoppers from paying with credit, which could allow them to enter into debt.

Learn more about local eCommerce markets and payment methods in different European countries by reading Mollie’s eCommerce guide.

5. Legislation

Different countries have different legislation for eCommerce. In Germany, merchants have to provide specific information on buttons, such as:

  • product characteristics
  • contract terms
  • price, including VAT
  • shipping costs

These consumer protection and e-commerce regulations were breached by Amazon’s Dash Buttons, which top up popular household items through a press-to-order system without a visual interface. Consumers using Dash Buttons may not be immediately aware of product details, price, delivery methods and dates, or the specific terms and conditions of their purchase, German courts ruled.

As part of your foreign strategy, do your research to find out about local rules and regulations in the locations you are selling to.

Some broad eCommerce rules also apply across the EU. For example, online marketplaces need to make it clear whether customers are buying from a trader or a private individual, and GDPR affects how you handle your customers’ personal data.

6. Shipping

Consider opening a central European warehouse and using local transit options to improve your shipping infrastructure with faster deliveries, enabling you to offer shipping times and prices that benefit EU markets so that you can meet (or exceed) customer expectations.

This option also makes it easier for customers to make returns, so your business can provide the same level of service to EU customers and UK customers, albeit separately.

Using local warehouses means you can manage product inventories regionally and potentially keep your running costs down, especially if you’re using a manufacturer or supplier that’s also based in the EU.

If you’re continuing to ship to the EU from the UK, factor possible delays or additional costs into your shipping estimates because stricter custom regulations will likely impact transit times and tariffs.

Your next steps for reaching EU customers

There’s an increasing desire for businesses to provide multilingual options across their services and platforms, and this is true on a global scale. We may look back on Brexit as a major catalyst for UK businesses to step up to the mark.

Post-Brexit, UK merchants driving forwards with localization can achieve commercial success across borders. Remember to:

  1. Add language translations
  2. Implement a multilingual SEO strategy
  3. Cater to cultural differences
  4. Consider currencies and payment preferences
  5. Comply with legislation
  6. Make smart choices for shipping

Read more best practices for setting up an international store.