When selling across borders, reassure shoppers their data is safe, offer payment, shipping and return options they want and don’t mistake customers for criminals.

Sarah Zilenovski

Sarah Zilenovski, senior director of marketing, ClearSale

Cross-border ecommerce had a big year in 2020, with 32% of global customers making more cross-border purchases than usual last year and 51% saying they plan to shop more from cross-border merchants in the future.

These numbers from the 2020 International Post Corp. (IPC) 40-country survey show that cross-border ecommerce presents a growing, long-term opportunity for merchants. So, to start selling across borders, or to grow your existing cross-border reach, consider these strategies to provide the customer experience that international customers expect.

Study consumer preferences in the markets where you want to sell

American consumers have very high expectations for customer experience (CX)—one 2020 survey found that 96% of shoppers will leave a brand that provides bad service—and the desire for a great customer experience is universal. However, there are some differences among markets regarding what shoppers expect and what they won’t tolerate.

It’s essential to study each market where you want to grow your customer base, so you can deliver the experience they want. You can also look for markets where customer expectations are closest to those in your home market to make your first big foray into cross-border ecommerce easier to roll out and sustain.

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For example, when ClearSale commissioned a Sapio Research survey of consumers in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, the U.K., and Australia. From the responses, we learned that there are many similarities between U.S. and Mexican online shoppers. However, U.S. shoppers have adopted ecommerce at a higher rate than those in Mexico. These groups of shoppers align closely on their preference for shopping with stores that they know have fraud protection—and they’re willing to spend more with retailers whose websites they trust. They’re also the shoppers most likely to abandon a cart if checkout is a hassle. Because of these similarities, Mexico can make a good first cross-border market for U.S. retailers.

Keep in mind that Americans don’t set the highest bar for all aspects of the customer journey, so you may need to up your game in some respects to compete with in-country retailers. For example, only 33% of U.S. shoppers in the Sapio survey said they would abandon a merchant if the retailer declined their order by mistake—the lowest percentage in the study. In Australia, Canada and the U.K., 38% said they’d never return after a decline. Mexican shoppers were the most likely by far to take their business elsewhere: 51% said they’d never shop again with a merchant that declined an order.

It’s also essential to meet the expectations that cross-border consumers have for shipping costs and ease of returns. This can vary by market, but in general, the global IPC survey found that 61% of cross-border shoppers got free shipping on their most recent international order, and 84% were satisfied with the return process for cross-border items. Interestingly, 68% said they’d be OK with longer delivery times to reduce the environmental impact of their purchases.

Offer trusted payment methods for each market

Across all five countries in the Sapio survey, 44% of consumers said they’d abandoned online purchases because checkout was too complex or took too long. Offering a simple checkout process is one of the keys to a good customer experience. Still, the variety of payment methods in different markets and currency conversion fees and import duties can add to the friction of buying across borders. How can you streamline the process?

  • Offer digital wallet payment options that allow shoppers to buy without having to key in their credit card number. This saves them time and lets them buy from you without entering their card data on your site.
  • Consider offering BNPL (buy now, pay later) options, which are increasingly popular in markets like Australia and the U.S. and don’t require customers to share credit card data.
  • Make sure your checkout process is transparent and upfront about currency conversion rates and duty fees. In the U.S., shipping fees, taxes, and other costs are the most common reasons shoppers abandon carts during checkout.

Authenticate cross-border customers and avoid false declines

Checkout is where the customer experience succeeds or fails for cross-border shoppers. So, in addition to reassuring shoppers that your store takes steps to protect their data and offer the payment, shipping and return options customers expect, you need to make sure you don’t mistake them for fraudsters.

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False declines are the ultimate customer experience failure because they destroy the relationship you’ve worked to build with your customer. Remember that more than half of Mexican shoppers will never come back to an online store after a false decline, and a third or more will leave for good in other countries.

To verify your customers’ identities without making the checkout process so long that they abandon their carts. To do that, retailers can use AI-driven fraud-screening tools that check the customer’s location, device, online shopping history, behavior on your site and other factors. When the program spots anomalies that could indicate fraud—for example, a shipping address outside the country where the shopper lives—it’s critical not to reject the order automatically.

Instead, flagged orders can be sent to manual review experts to take a closer look and decide whether to approve the orders or reject them. Reviewers can also feed their findings into the AI, so the screening algorithm better separates fraud from good but unusual customer behavior. This two-stage process—screening plus a review of flagged orders—prevent fraud without damaging your cross-border customer experience. By understanding the experience your cross-border customers expect and working to create it, you can expand your customer base, diversify your revenue sources, and grow your online business.

ClearSale provides online retailers with fraud-prevention technology and services designed to protect against chargebacks.

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