Knowing your new market and its clientele is an essential step in successfully planning your export project. This dossier focuses on the United Kingdom.
Exporting abroad has many attractions, including developing your reputation among a wider audience, diversifying your revenue sources, increasing your turnover and economic profitability, and stimulating your creativity and adaptability. It's tempting to think big. But before taking the plunge, you must prepare yourself. This involves conducting a market study of the country to which you want to export, as well as discovering its culture, the practices considered favourably in terms of professional relations and the habits and customs of its inhabitants.
So it is not recommended that you approach several countries at the same time. However, whether you want to export within the European Union or outside the EU, the approach should remain the same.
Start by asking yourself the right questions:
- Do my products or services have a receptive audience in the country I want to export to?
- Do these products or services already exist in my target market and if so, who are my competitors?
- Are there any language, cultural or geographical barriers I need to consider?
- Is the amount of the projected profits sufficient given the investments required to conquer this new market?
Below are our answers to several of these questions for the specific case of the UK.
Know your market
Is the market open to export starters?
The UK market does not pay attention to the size of the company (VSE, SME or LE) in terms of demand. It is the product or service offered that interests it. Quite the reverse, this market is used to start-ups, which are part of its corporate culture.
What place does the product or service you offer have in the UK market?
The UK market is looking for niche products, especially those involving new technologies, particularly in the following sectors: Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR/VR), Healthcare (Medtech), Fintech, etc.
Sectors such as fashion, food and consumer products are also in demand but are more difficult due to the extensive competition generated by the very large offer existing on the market.
Services are similar to consumer products. You really have to stand out if you want to penetrate the local market.
How to approach the market: directly via agents, distributors, e-commerce?
Selling directly to the customer is not impossible but is more complicated. In most cases, it requires the creation of a local structure, both for prospecting and for monitoring. The safest and most successful ways remain partnerships with a local agent or distributor. That said, retail chains can often act as direct distributors. It all depends on the product and its distribution channels, as what works for food products does not work for fashion, IT products or mobile applications.
E-commerce is experiencing exponential success, especially since the health crisis. However, it requires rather expensive logistical preparation if it is managed from abroad.
The more data you have collected about the market in the country you want to export to, the higher your chances of success. Some online sites provide statistics on the subject, so please consult them.
Know the culture of the country you want to export to
What language should I use ?
Try to obtain statistics on the languages spoken in the country you are interested in. Assess the extent to which you will need to adapt your content to the local language(s). It is possible that a majority of the local population speaks one of the languages you use.
For the UK, a good level of English, especially in documents, is often appreciated, if not required. Your website, the showcase of your business, should be designed and written in English. The content should be as comprehensive as possible and include photos to illustrate your products and/or services.
Working with foreign countries also means being able to interact with your customers. Knowing the local language, in this case English, is therefore an asset and a guarantee of quality.
How to understand British culture ?
For someone to buy your products and/or services, they have to trust you. Put yourself in the shoes of the local clientele and adapt your positioning.
Here is some advice:
- Think about what your brand name might sound like abroad. Could it have a different meaning in the UK?
- Belgian humour is not British humour. So don't assume that what works here will have the same impact on the other side of the Channel. Think about this when you communicate and adapt your marketing campaigns.
- Be careful not to confuse the UK with England. Target your customers correctly and take into account the cultural differences that exist within the British Isles. The Scots would definitely not appreciate being equated with their neighbours the English.
- In addition to the different nations that make up the United Kingdom, the multicultural richness of this country is also fuelled by its ethnic diversity. Avoid faux pas.
- The polite formulas used by Anglo-Saxons may seem more familiar than those used in our country (they prefer "Hi" or "Hello" rather than "Dear Madam", "Dear Sir"; they use first names rather than last names, etc.). Don't get it wrong. The British are attached to respect for social codes and rules of politeness. So stay polite, courteous and formal in your exchanges.
- Out of politeness, the British rarely express what they are really thinking. So take what you are told with a pinch of salt and don't be too direct (e.g. "very interesting" should not be taken word for word). It often reflects surprise on the part of your interlocutor).
- Punctuality is a must.
- Don't hesitate to network. The wealth of any entrepreneur lies in their address book. Trade shows, clubs, social events, etc. are quite rewarding ways to do this. Similarly, 'professional' social networks (such as LinkedIn and Facebook) are gradually becoming a must.
- In some ways, British culture is quite similar to ours. There is indeed a good chance that products popular in Belgium in the fashion, food, gardening and decoration sectors are also popular in the UK.
What are the purchasing habits of the local consumers ?
Payment practices differ from country to country. Giving your customers the opportunity to pay using a payment method that reassures them will allow you to avoid high bounce rates at the time of purchase.
Paypal is the most popular payment method for online sales in the UK, followed by credit cards and prepaid cards. In general, however, bank transfer is the most common method of payment.
A large proportion of the population also uses a digital payment method such as Google Pay or Apple Pay.
To determine if you need to be online, find out your customers' buying habits. What percentage of the population buys online? What is the share of online sales versus physical sales? For example, online sales rates in the UK are among the highest in Europe. It is also worthwhile finding out the percentage of cross-border buyers before you consider exporting.
Lastly, it is useful to know that marketplaces are very popular in the UK. So it is common for companies to start selling their products on a multi-brand sales platform before making a name for themselves and developing their own sales network.
|Do you have specific questions about importing or exporting to the UK following Brexit?
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