For online sellers looking to expand their market outside the US, the UK is a very attractive option. This UK online shopping and e-commerce guide provides everything the online seller needs to know to make that move across the pond, with the latest market data, trends and buying behaviour, vital shipping and courier information, and helpful tips and advice on how to appeal to British buyers.
The British e-commerce market is one of the easiest to access for an online American seller. British buyers love shopping online, for a start, making the UK the biggest market in Europe. But they don't insist on keeping it local, with 50 per cent of sales going to international sellers. They're also the first to adopt new technologies, so they shop at any time, any place, using mobile devices for a large majority of their purchases.
With a great shipping infrastructure to rely on and plenty of courier options to offer shoppers, not to mention a shared language and the Brit's love of a bargain, trading in the UK makes a lot of sense for American sellers. Read our guide to UK online shopping and e-commerce to find out more about how you can achieve great success in Great Britain...
With over two-thirds of the country's 65 million population shopping online, it's no wonder there's such huge buying power in the UK marketplace. In fact, the UK is Europe's largest online market, and it's still growing at a rate of around 15 per cent a year. With the country leaving the EU in March 2019, there may be some shaky moments in the market ahead, but in the long run, the British hunger for buying online will mean there's always big money to be made selling online.
Clothing and fashion rank as the number one sector in the UK's online marketplace, with electrical goods coming in second. This represents a huge opportunity for US sellers, as products from both these categories are considerably cheaper over here. Even taking into account shipping costs and duty charges (covered later on), this means American sellers can compete on price head on with UK sellers.
Even when it's impossible to compete on price, American retailers still have an opportunity to thrive in the UK, by offering goods that can't be purchased over there. So if you have a product that's unique to the US market, you could be sitting on a small goldmine...
Search marketing is where to devote your marketing resources if you want to make a success of your UK venture. Natural search provides nearly a third of an online stores revenue, while paid-for traffic using pay per click provides 20 per cent. Direct traffic accounts for 22 per cent, and the most effective way of achieving this kind of traffic in the UK seems to be with email marketing, which accounts for around 12 per cent of revenue.
Social media and banners actually provide surprisingly little towards online revenue, although these channels do play a vital role in improving brand awareness, so it's definitely worth investing time into platforms such as Facebook and even YouTube, which are both extremely popular in the UK.
As we've mentioned, the British jump onboard new technologies pretty quickly, so it's no surprise that they're big into shopping on mobile devices, whether that's smartphones or tablets. Actually, 52 per cent of UK retail sales online are done on mobile devices, a higher proportion than any other nation and 70 per cent of those sales are done on a smartphone. So it's very important that your online shop or website is compatible with as many different types of mobile device as possible, whether that be smartphone or tablet.
The biggest online retailers in the UK are Amazon UK, Apple, and Argos. Yet in 4th place is Amazon.com, proving the UK's willingness to shop internationally. When it comes to marketplaces, eBay and Amazon are kings, although there are other options, such as Flubit, Game, Onbuy.com, Fruugo, and Etsy.
If you're looking to set up your own online store, you can use a platform such as Shopify. Parcel Monkey provides a Shopify plugin, giving you and your customers a simple and straightforward delivery process. Thinking of going through a marketplace such as eBay? Then our eBay plugin will be perfect for that.
Mondays see a spike in traffic, presumably as people sit in front of a desktop computer for the first time after a weekend of trying on clothes - or try to get over their post-weekend Blues with some retail therapy! Sunday nights are popular with tablet users, while mobile users prefer to use the commute to work and lunchtimes to do their online shopping. With a time difference to overcome, you'll have to be extra quick processing orders first thing in the morning.
The UK is big into Black Friday and Cyber Monday events just like we are here, so make sure you have plenty of deals lined up for your British buyers and that you're fully prepared for the extra orders around this time. To get items over to the UK before Christmas holidays, you may have to prioritise shipping to UK customers over domestic ones.
By far the most popular online payment methods for UK consumers are credit and debit cards. Almost half of all purchases online are made with credit cards and 35 per cent are made with debit cards, while PayPal is the country's third most commonly used payment method. Make sure you can take payments from all three.
Also make sure you provide an efficient payment process because research has shown that over of UK shoppers have given up on an online transaction in the past simply because the payment process failed to meet the needs of the buyer, with half giving up because their preferred payment option wasn't available. You have been warned!
Generally, UK shoppers are very trusting when it comes to handing over their bank details to a seller, which is partly why the UK market is so strong. However, the British still cite fraud as one of the biggest fears when buying from companies abroad. Therefore, it's really important to make sure your website has clear information about how you deal with customer security, protect customer information and handle transactions.
The British expect an excellent delivery service and plenty of delivery options because that's exactly what they're used to. With a relatively large population squeezed onto a pretty small island, it's easy to guarantee next-day delivery for the large majority of the country, with an efficient infrastructure resulting in consistent delivery times, low prices and plenty of options for the buyer.
As a US seller, you can't compete with a local company on delivery times, but you can still offer a comprehensive range of shipping and mailing services that will allow you to compete in other areas. For instance, start by offering clear and accurate tracking options, free insurance, pick-up services and efficient and proactive email or live chat customer support, and you'll be ahead of many local sellers. Check out our excellent courier services to find out more about these features and more.
When it comes to shipping prices, obviously you'll find it hard to compete with local companies here, too, who frequently offer free delivery. However, with cheap shipping costs to the UK available through our courier providers, you'll be able to whittle that difference down to almost nothing. Use our shipping calculator to find out just how cheap US to UK shipping costs can be.
Using one of our market-leading international courier services is obviously the best way to get your parcel across the Atlantic. But what are the best services to offer to UK buyers? From premium express services to economy tracked postal options, we can provide them all.
We recommend providing a tracked courier service as a minimum because it's common practice in the UK for parcels to be left at an agreed safe place or with a neighbour.
Being able to return items easily is extremely important to UK buyers, so you must offer a high-quality returns service. The emphasis here is on the high quality - make it as easy and as simple a process as possible, and obviously ensure its reliable. Our carriers provide returns services that will take the hassle out of things for your customers without putting the burden onto you. 60 per cent of UK shoppers said they're put off buying from foreign sellers because the returns process won't be as straightforward, so get this right and you'll not miss out on these sales.
The UK doesn't have any specific postal regulations, but it's important to always refer to the packaging rules for your industry or the product your sending. Likewise, you should also refer to your chosen courier's prohibited item list. You can find ours here.
Please note all items shipped using Parcel Monkey are done so DDU. Learn more about Customs here.
For a parcel with a value of less than $22, no VAT or duty applies
For a parcel worth more than $22, VAT (20%) applies
For a parcel exceeding $170, both VAT and customers duties apply
Hopefully, this guide can help you make a success of selling to UK online shoppers and ensure you have everything in place to ship safely to UK eCommerce customers. The Parcel Monkey shipping calculator can help you find cheap shipping rates so you can connect to buyers all over the world, including those in the United Kingdom.