Advice for European Retailers Selling Online to UK Customers

Swanky has helped many international brands branch into new territories with the design and development of innovative ecommerce solutions. Given our expertise and experience in cross-border commerce, our Chief Future Officer, Dan McIvor, was invited by hub.brussels to speak to ecommerce brands about selling online to UK customers. Here’s a look at his advice for European merchants selling into the UK market for the first time.

Written By
Catherine Lambert

With the fifth largest economy in the world and the most mature ecommerce market in Europe, the UK remains an important opportunity market for European brands. Since Brexit, many European businesses have felt less confident about selling online into the UK, but with the correct strategy in place, there’s lots to be gained by entering this particular market. 

According to Statista, the UK’s D2C ecommerce revenue surpassed €254bn in 2021. That’s more than double that of the second placed European country, France, at €123.4bn, and accounts for around 30% of all retail volume. 

What’s more, a recent report by Ecommerce Europe found that 86% of the British population shop online in 2022. And yet, despite the widespread adoption of ecommerce in the UK, only 32% of online purchases are from international stores, the lowest proportion in Europe. 

With an online store, brands can now reach customers across the globe, opening up new potential for expanding their customer base. However, in our experience, merchants sometimes underestimate the impact that their international structure is going to have on their team’s ability to deliver quality.

Without the right preparation and planning, you risk receiving negative reviews from international customers that could impact your brand value back home. 

So, what do European brands need to take into account before selling online into the UK?

Is your product right for the UK market?

In the first place, you need to know whether or not your product will be a success in the UK market. Here are some things to consider:

  • Competition. Be mindful of local competition. Can you match them on price, despite shipping from abroad?
  • Target audience. A report by Sendcloud found that the average order value (AOV) of millennials in the UK is significantly higher than other age ranges, with millennials spending an average of £139.70, compared to an overall £89.50 AOV across all age ranges. So if your products target this age range, you’re more likely to be able to achieve a higher AOV.
  • Sector. The report equally found that the largest sectors in the UK ecommerce industry were fashion, food & drink, and home & gardening. Again, if your products fall within these categories, that could be a good sign.
  • Product-market fit. Unfortunately, we have seen first-hand some merchants learn the hard way that their product isn’t right for the UK market. Having neglected to carry out thorough market research in advance of their launch, one merchant soon discovered that their product was not something that UK customers were willing to invest money in. This cost the business time and money as they battled to get their product accepted on the market.  

“Whilst expanding abroad is a tempting prospect, it is only worth doing if you know that it will benefit your business. Are your margins strong enough to provide you with a good profit even after increased shipping and administrative costs? Will your product sell? 

“There is no need to launch in full from day one. Validate the opportunity in advance by testing the market to see if your product is a good market fit. Start slowly, with a few items, and monitor the results. There will inevitably be risks and aspects that must be addressed fully as you start to scale, but there is no reason not to investigate in a small way and see if there is interest.”

– Dan McIvor, Founder & Chief Future Officer at Swanky

Internationalising your ecommerce store to sell online into the UK

As you begin internationalising your ecommerce store to reach customers in the UK, there are several important decisions to make.

Ecommerce platform

“I usually recommend Shopify as an ecommerce platform. It has about 22% of the market share in the UK

“Shopify gives you control of the design and functionality, whilst reducing your store management overheads through simple interfaces. It connects seamlessly with other platforms – reviews, loyalty, shipping, etc – and allows you to ride the wave of the latest technology advances. 

“However, WooCommerce (WordPress), BigCommerce and SquareSpace are also popular choices in the UK.” 

–  Dan McIvor

Store design

The UK ecommerce market is a highly competitive one, with a public that leans towards subscriptions and simplified repeat purchasing. Excellent UX design is expected and therefore well-worth investing in. A sense of customer journey and strong navigation hierarchy is essential. 

Around 65% of online retail sales in the UK are now made from smartphones, higher than any EU country. What’s more, this audience continues to grow as younger, more mobile-familiar generations enter the market. It’s therefore important to adopt a mobile-first design philosophy. 

Users are still prone to abandoning their carts more on mobile devices (with a cart abandonment rate around 80%), so choosing a platform that allows for a quick and seamless checkout UX will help you remove unnecessary obstacles to conversion. 

“Artistic design trends in the UK tend to follow those of the US,” describes Matt Giles, Chief Creative Officer at Swanky.

“For more innovative mid-market D2C brands, this means an emphasis on oversized elements and a neo-brutalist implementation of colour and typography. Think bold extended sans-serifs, condensed serif fonts and grotesque body typefaces, often within the same design framework along with heavily contrasting colour palettes. 

“Enterprise and mass-audience brands tend towards a clean, balanced and more muted typographic (grotesque typefaces, other sans-serifs and curved serifs) and colour approach (black, white and a simple colour palette of non-neons), with a primary focus on producing an experience that fosters accessibility, customer journey and usability.” 

Store structure

Will you keep your current store and adapt it to incorporate the UK, or will you launch a separate store, dedicated to the UK? 

Keeping one store is often the simpler and cheaper approach, whilst separate stores may enable you to offer better customer experience in certain key regions, or deliver very separate catalogues or campaigns. 

International womenswear brand and long-time Swanky client Needle & Thread launched a region-specific site for their Middle Eastern customers. The separate site allowed them not only to redesign the page layout to be read from right to left in Arabic or Hebrew, but also allowed them to vary their content for a new region that is culturally diverse. 

Following the launch, the brand saw the number of users in the Middle East increase by 272% and revenue for the region go up by 139%. 

You can read more about our work with this fast-growth fashion brand in our Needle & Thread case study.

URL structure  

Your international URL structure will have an impact on your SEO results in the UK. There are three options available when it comes to domain architecture:

  1. Using a country code top-level domain, or ccTLD as it’s commonly known: examplewebsite.co.uk
  2. Using a subdomain: uk.examplewebsite.com
  3. Using a subdirectory: examplewebsite.com/uk

Each option comes with advantages and disadvantages in relation to SEO, as explained in more detail in our dedicated article on international URL structure.

Multi-currency and payment

For currency conversions, you’ll need to weigh the balance between safeguarding your margins and providing customers with a consistent price. 

Look for a currency convertor that allows you to round up to the nearest logical number, to avoid customers seeing strange prices like £1.73. 

For payment options, Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted in the UK, while PayPal or other similar services are also popular. 

UK consumers are wary of online identity theft and generally conduct financial transactions only on secure websites.

Shopify Markets

For Shopify brands, it’s increasingly easier to stick to one store, and add personalisation, since the introduction of Shopify Markets last year. You can add multi-currency and multi-language functionality to your store, set up unique domains, as well as customise product prices and offer local payments.

You’ll find more advice about internationalising your ecommerce store in our internationalisation ebook, written in partnership with 14 industry-leading technology platforms, who share their expertise in areas such as financing, translation and logistics.

Translating your ecommerce store for a British audience

British shoppers have high expectations when it comes to shopping in their own language. Faulty translations with spelling or grammatical errors mean you’ll likely lose trust amongst a British audience – and quickly. 

You will also want to be sure you have the local dialect correct, since selling “pants” in the UK is a whole lot different to selling “pants” to an American audience.

When it comes to delivering customer experience, translating your site goes beyond simply language and currency. You need to offer your customers a localised experience, so that they feel your products are uniquely suited to them, and that they can trust that your customer service will be excellent. 


To guarantee your British customer gets a localised experience, use geo-location detection to identify where they are based and direct them to the correct URL via a pop-up.

 Ideally, your customers’ experience should be equivalent to if they were checking out on a British site. That implies that you understand their needs regarding shipping, returns processes and customer support, as well as their product tastes.

Shipping and return details will be unique to each country, so be sure to amend these so they are specific to the UK. With Shopify Translate & Adapt you can also amend elements such as product descriptions and FAQs so they are relevant to British shoppers.

You’ll want to ensure your promotions are relevant to the season and climate in the UK. You won’t sell many sunglasses in January, nor will jumpers top your sales in July. 

Ensure your onsite imagery is also localised to help customers relate to your brand. Beyond the basics, here are some ideas of ways to personalise your onsite experience to optimise conversions. 

Developing an ecommerce marketing strategy for the UK

Thanks to the cultural similarities and equivalent standards of living between the UK and other European countries, the cultural barriers are relatively low for European brands looking to expand into the UK. 

That said, it’s important to take into account some of the unique aspects of British consumer behaviour. You cannot assume the same marketing strategies for your home country will have the same effect abroad.

Here are a few ideas for your UK ecommerce marketing strategy:

Think omnichannel

According to a study by Sendcloud, 91% of consumers shop through marketplaces in the UK, compared to only 66% in Belgium. The popularity of marketplace platforms is down to their convenience, with many outperforming regular online stores when it comes to fast and affordable delivery.

If you’re going to start selling online in the UK, you’ll want to have an omnichannel approach, using an order management system to automate your processes and allow you to take advantage of multiple sales platforms.

The biggest player in the UK ecommerce market is amazon.co.uk, which had a revenue of US$18.6 billion in 2021.

Sell via social media

Sendcloud’s research also found that the UK had the highest percentage of online purchases via social media compared to other European countries studied. As such, social media marketing is a key channel that brands should consider for the UK market. 

Platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are refining the user journey from discovery to purchase, allowing merchants to sell directly from these platforms as well as from their stores. 

You can learn more about turning TikTokers into customers in our guide to leveraging TikTok as an ecommerce marketing tool. Or, if visual discovery engine Pinterest is a big part of your marketing strategy, check out these best practices for selling on Pinterest.

Leverage a subscription model

In 2021, 81% of British customers were signed up to receive subscription boxes, with an average spend of €62.3 per month. 

Subscriptions are a great way to build valuable, long-term customer relationships in a new market, and in the UK, you have a consumer base who are accustomed to buying via subscription.

As one of the leading Shopify Plus agencies for D2C subscription brands, we’ve no shortage of expertise to share when it comes to building powerful subscription websites. For food and drink retailers, we’ve detailed the ultimate recipe to a successful subscription store, and for ecommerce merchants in the health and wellness industry, our experts share their top tips for creating a subscription website that builds trust and fosters long-term subscriber relationships.

Repurpose customer reviews 

Marketing your brand and products overseas is a huge challenge. You need to build trust with a new group of consumers – and do it quickly.

User generated content (UGC) and customer feedback goes a long way in portraying you as a reputable brand with reliable products. Visual UGC is particularly effective at overcoming barriers to conversion and boosting consumer confidence.

Of course, it will take time to build up a base of UGC from new customers in the UK and reap the rewards, but in the meantime there are ways you can leverage that of your domestic customers to the same effect.

Repurposing photo and video reviews from existing shoppers in your home market will transcend cultural and linguistic barriers, and enable you to show validation for your products from day one in the UK.

Utilise a referral program

Nothing is better in a new market than having your customers not only return again and again, but advertise for you. Leverage a referral program to incentivise your new UK customers to refer friends to your brand. 

Harnessing the power of word-of-mouth to acquire new shoppers is a great way to quickly build a customer base and reduce acquisition costs in a new market. What’s more, referred customers often have a higher lifetime value and are more loyal than customers acquired through other means – what’s not to like?

Continue to improve your strategy with a test and learn approach

At every stage of your marketing strategy, from choosing your product names to planning your paid ads to designing your email campaigns, always be prepared to test each element, listen to the data and adapt your approach to optimise your results. 

By regularly testing and adjusting your strategy, you can avoid wasting time and resources going down the wrong avenue, and can instead use your marketing budget to maximum effect. 

Onsite conversion rate optimisation will help you continually improve your customer experience, allowing you to optimise your conversion rates and maximise your revenue growth.

The legal implications of selling online into the UK

Register your Intellectual Property in the UK

When selling online into the UK post-Brexit, your trademark and the Intellectual Property (IP) for your products will need to be registered separately in the UK, regardless of the IP you already own in Europe.  

Check your licences

Even if your products are approved in your own country, you may require additional certification to be able to sell them in a new region. Ensure that you acquire all the necessary licences or certificates needed to send your products to the UK. 

In addition, certain products such as medical equipment, electronics or food are subject to restrictions when shipping from Europe to the UK.

Shipping to the UK from Europe

“I know of a merchant in Brussels who travels to France each week to ship his products abroad, since the costs of high-value, recorded delivery for small items are much cheaper when shipping from France than from Belgium. Sometimes it pays to think outside the box.”

– Dan McIvor

Two of the biggest reasons why UK customers abandon their carts is because of expensive shipping or slow delivery estimates. With that in mind, you will need a reliable fulfilment solution to avoid high shipping costs or long shipping delays.  

UK consumers also expect a wide range of delivery options, including “click and collect”, as well as ideally the ability to choose a delivery time. 

Royal Mail is the preferred delivery company for consumers, but a well-established local distributor network is key to success, allowing you to negotiate more favourable rates for different shipping terms.

UK-based warehouse partner

Finding a warehouse partner in the UK will enable you to improve your customer experience with faster shipping times and the ability to offer a returns policy. However, having multiple warehouse locations will demand an effective inventory management system, such as Linnworks or Brightpearl.

With Shopify’s Multi-Location functionality, you can now track inventory from multiple locations within one back-office, and fulfil orders based on stock levels across your various warehouses. 

Shipping to the UK post-Brexit

Since Brexit, rules for exporting goods to the UK from Europe have changed, as the UK is no longer part of the EU.

Whilst you may choose to handle customs yourself, many brands manage this through a customs agent. For more details on the processes of exporting goods to the UK, you can check out Sendcloud’s post-Brexit checklist, which tells you what you need to know in order to:

  • ensure you have the correct paperwork;
  • make a customs declaration;
  • check which duties and taxes are due; and
  • understand VAT.

Internationalise your Shopify Plus store with Swanky

From launching HelloFresh in a new global market to setting up international stores for Wilkinson Sword, Swanky have helped numerous brands successfully scale cross-border. 

We can help you build a robust Shopify internationalisation strategy, encompassing your platform architecture, store design, marketing tactics, tech stack and more, equipping your brand to thrive in the UK.

Get in touch with our team, or check out our internationalisation ebook for more top tips on planning your international expansion. With teams based in France, the UK and Australia, we are well-placed to help European brands target the Anglo-Saxon market for the first time.

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