The biggest mistake retailers make when it comes to cross-border ecommerce in Europe

By Michelle McSweeney

137 billion euro. That’s how much ecommerce revenue in Europe was worth last year. Clearly, the opportunity for online success in the European market is something that retailers should be grabbing with both hands. But expanding your product offering into Europe really can’t be a slapdash job if you’re hoping to take a significant piece of that multi-billion-euro pie.

Sure, if the technology you’re using allows for it, you should be able to easily add some new languages to your online store. You should also be able to configure various VAT and shipping rates in the back end, and you’re essentially open for business on ‘The Continent’. However, there’s one thing that often gets overlooked by merchants, and it could be the difference between the success and failure of your European ecommerce strategy.

Forgetting to think like a local.

Let’s take a quick detour from European ecommerce and reflect on the digital commerce industry as a whole for just a moment. Because more and more often, it seems as though retailers are having a tough time seeing the wood for the trees. Let me explain.

We’re always talking about customer expectations, customer engagement, customer loyalty, etc. We treat ‘customers’ as if they are a separate entity to us, when the reality is that we are all customers.

We all shop online, as well as offline. And in spite of this, we can sometimes let certain things slide or slip through the cracks that would deter us from making purchases if another brand did the same thing. Like a checkout process that seems to take an eternity to get through. Or getting all the way to checkout to learn that shipping comes with an extra price tag that you weren’t aware of.


If there’s one thing that all retailers NEED to do when it comes to any aspect of their online store, it’s to ask themselves if they’d be happy not only to make a purchase, having walked through the entire journey, but to keep coming back for more.

Now think about what it must be like to step into the shoes of someone in your target market, taking that same journey. Chances are, if something is lacking for you, it’s probably not going to cut the mustard for ‘the customer’, either.

The same, but different.

We’ve established that we mustn’t forget that we are all consumers at the end of the day, right? Great. That’s the fundamental bit out of the way. But just as with most aspects of ecommerce, nothing is quite as simple as it may appear. As much as we’re all the same, we’re also very different when culture comes into the mix, and that’s why it’s so important to make sure that your online store serves all the cultural nuances that vary from country to country in Europe.

For example, you’d be forgiven for thinking that if you want to open up your products to the European market, particularly countries within the EU, that there’s not much to do as far as currency goes. And technically, that is correct. So long as all VAT rates and thresholds are being observed, there isn’t a huge amount to be done in order for you to be able to sell your products across Europe.


However, preferred payment methods vary greatly from country to country. For example, customers in Germany tend to opt for methods such as Sofort, SEPA Direct Debit, and PayPal for online purchases, whereas Dutch consumers prefer iDeal and Mastercard.

If you’re going to be opening up your products to the European market, it’s essential to serve the most relevant payment methods to their corresponding markets. Depending on your payment provider, you should be able to easily create logic around the payment methods that you wish to appear at checkout for each individual country.

Same thing goes for languages. It’s imperative to get translations right if you are displaying multiple languages on your online store. Remember that some countries will need to serve more than a single language - for example, a visitor from Belgium should ideally be able to view your site in English, German, French, and Dutch. Similarly, a customer based in Finland should have the option to view in English, Finnish, or Swedish (since over a quarter of a million people in Finland speak Swedish as their mother tongue.)

Map of Europe

Another very easy mistake to make is to have your online store translated into multiple languages, but in a literal sense, rather than adaptive translations. A user should never have to feel like their native language is your business’ secondary language. Not applying context to your content is far worse than having that content in English alone!

In order to give a truly localised experience to cross-border shoppers, you need to deliver the entire experience in the customers’ native language from start to finish. That means confirmation emails. Cart abandonment emails. Text notifications. Pop-ups on various product pages. Live chat on your website. What happens if someone asks a question about an item in French through Facebook or Instagram - is someone going to be able to give them an answer?

As the European ecommerce market continues to grow exponentially, there is so much scope for merchants to open up their product offering to new countries and achieve big results. However, you should always remember that while the market is within reaching distance, you will only truly make the most of the opportunity by exercising the awareness that customers are fundamentally the same, but culturally very different.  

Michelle McSweeney, Content Marketing Manager, Kooomo

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