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How to sell online in the UK

U.S. ecommerce businesses planning to tap into other international markets should look no further than the U.K. According to recent eMarketer research, retail ecommerce sales in the U.K. are projected to reach more than $99 billion in 2015.

Opportunity to expand

That volume of total sales will keep the U.K. at the top of the global ecommerce market. M-commerce has been growing rapidly thanks in part to rapid smartphone adoption in the U.K. According to the eMarketer study, one-third of all online sales in the U.K. will take place on smartphones or tablets this year. In the next four years, that figure will reach 40 percent.

Even domestic tech giants are exploiting the massive ecommerce growth in the U.K. According to market research firm Bain and Company, Google and Amazon have established a strong foothold in a country that boasts 85 percent rate of broadband access among households. The overlap between the U.S. and U.K. ecommerce, in both culture and digital marketing, continues to grow as American companies serve Britain - and vice versa.

Should I sell in the UK?

But is this growth reason enough to start targeting your online products to potential customers across the pond? Some basic competitive and market research can help you reach that conclusion. For example, take a look at what the demand is like for your products within the country. An easy way to do this is to find comparable businesses that are based in the U.K. and see what strategies they're using to target customers. In some cases, those businesses may be better positioned to serve the local market than you, just by nature of their being directly in the country. But it's possible there's an enough of a demand for similar products that it's worth your time and effort to pursue the market. You may even uncover an entirely new ecommerce opportunity to explore.

Speaking of effort, you'll want to consider some of the unique obstacles that come with cross-border ecommerce before making any big moves.


Selling your products in the U.K. requires compliance with constantly changing tax and trade regulations. Keeping up to date with these rules is necessary to shield you from hefty fines from regulatory agencies. If you're really set on selling in the U.K., consider enlisting the help of a legal consultant or importer of record to at least get you started with everything you need to know before you begin. Organizations like the Cross-border eCommerce Community offer extensive reports and insights on a variety of cross-border commerce issues as well.


You'll also want to prepare yourself with advanced payment processing capabilities so your international customers can easily pay using their preferred methods. According to The Paypers, overall credit usage in the U.K. has declined since 2008 as shoppers favor alternative methods like PayPal. Having a good grasp of this information before you enter the market can help set you up for early success.


Shipping is another big issue to consider. After all, you need a way to get your products to your customers' doorsteps in a timely manner that's competitive with other businesses already in the U.K. Think about the type of product you sell in the first place. Selling digital downloads across an ocean is a whole lot easier than shipping heavy or perishable goods.

Shipping overseas is also expense, but a great way to step around exorbitant costs is to negotiate deals or appropriate rates with private shippers. FedEx and UPS allow for package tracking, whereas the U.S. Postal Service could up to 90 days for an international package delivery, Inc. magazine explained. Localize your website

Localize your website

Once you've determined whether selling in the U.K. makes sense given your business model, you'll want to make sure your website is set up to reach a global audience.

Every communication on your website should be optimized for U.K. users. This includes currency, weight and measurement, and comma/period use in numbers. UK digital translation firm Media Lingo has a comprehensive list that serves as a checklist when localizing your website. The next step is reflect those changes across all digital marketing channels, including your paid search campaigns, display ads and email blasts, just so everything is consistent.

Selling overseas shouldn't be an impulse decision. Doing the upfront research and preparation is necessary to ensuring your efforts don't fall flat in the long run.

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