British retailers looking to expand internationally this year may be interested to hear that China and the US – rather than our European neighbours – are Britain’s biggest online export markets. Given that these are two of the world’s biggest economies this should come as welcome news to British businesses.

PayPal, which helps businesses sell internationally online, recently commissioned research from Ipsos on global shopping trends. The research found that the UK is the second most popular market for US consumers making international purchases and the third most popular for Chinese online shoppers.

At PayPal, we’ve pulled together some top tips for businesses looking to start taking advantage of these global sales opportunities by building up their international customer base:

1. Get to know your markets: British exporters need to understand the subtle differences in international markets, and what local customers are looking for. British clothes, footwear and accessories are the most in demand when it comes to online purchases by international shoppers from both China and the US over the last 12 months.  In China the second and third most popular products are cosmetics or beauty products and consumer electronics. In the US, toys and hobbies and travel and transportation are tied as the second most popular. Jewellery and watches are third.

2. Understand your customers: There are some fundamental do’s that businesses need to get right to convert American and Chinese browsers into shoppers. Convenience is a big driver for US online consumers. 45% of US online cross-border shoppers are buying online primarily because of the time saving and ease it offers.  They also appreciate a bargain – 28% cited valuing low online prices as a key benefit of online shopping.

Whilst in China, international shoppers’ motivations are different. Only 9% of say that their primary reason for shopping online is to save money, and instead have responded that a safe way to pay and customer support in their language are two website functions that would encourage them to buy from international websites.

3. Be aware of online “turn-offs”: Shipping costs are the largest drawback for cross-border shoppers in both countries. US cross-border shoppers are also preoccupied with trust and reliability, with 41% saying that concern that they might not receive the item puts them off shopping internationally online more often.

4. Instill trust: To become a successful global business, retailers need to foster the trust of international online shoppers. Antony Comyns, Head of Ecommerce at renowned Jermyn Street shirt-maker Hawes and Curtis shared his experience of building a customer base abroad: “Selling internationally is about instilling trust in new customers who may not be as familiar with your brand as your home market. You need to have some points on your website that build confidence and one of those is an association with a trusted brand”.

5. Celebrate key shopping holidays in international markets: Both China and the US have annual shopping holidays which generate impressive retail sales. For example, Singles Day in China is the biggest shopping day of the year. Whilst in the US, last year’s online holiday retail sales (from occasions such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday) broke records, bringing in $89 billion. Retailers can take advantage of these annual sales spikes by providing free shipping, returns and good discounts during the holiday seasons.

For UK retailers looking for advice on taking their first steps in the global market, PayPal’s website PassPort helps businesses start selling internationally.

Unless otherwise mentioned data from this article is from the Ipsos study referenced in endnote ‘ii’. Findings from this research are available upon request.

Written by Cameron McLean, Managing Director, PayPal UK

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