How to expand your e-commerce activities across Europe?

When you already have e-commerce activities in your own country in Europe and you want to keep growing, then selling to additional countries makes a lot of sense. From a legal point of view, Europe is a single market. For an American company, it’s logical not only to sell in its own state but also in the rest of the US. In both the US and Europe, each country has its own VAT tariff and regulation.

The big difference is that the US have one official language whilst Europe has 24, and even more cultures, payment methods etc. It might be possible to close the language gap by hiring a translator, although it wouldn’t be possible to hire a translator every time you needed to answer all your customer’s questions, but the cultural aspect is more complicated. Last but not least you need to generate traffic to your website, to be trusted by your new customers and also to ship orders.

Generating traffic to your website

There are no big differences between European countries when it comes to Digital Marketing.

  • Search Engine Marketing: Google is the number one search engine across Europe. In some countries such as the Netherlands, Bing can be used alongside Google at a lower cost. If you work in your home country with an external agency, you will need to find one in the country where you wish to launch your business. From experience, having a SEM specialist working with a translator doesn’t work.  You need a SEM who is a native speaker. If you have internal SEM specialists, it can be beneficial to let them work with native speakers from your own team, who also understand Search Engine Marketing.
  • Affiliation: working with European affiliation networks such as Awin, Tradetracker or Tradedoubler, will be helpful when launching in a new country. You will need to check if your current commission system is also relevant in the new country. If you work with a local player in your country, you will need to find one in the new country or add a European platform to your programme.
  • Banners/display advertising: like affiliation, it depends on how you currently work and whether you just need to add one country or to look for a new partner. Native speakers will need to be involved in the creation of the banners. Even if the main visual can remain the same, the call to action and additional texts should be google translated.
  • Social Media: as it is hard to communicate the same discounts in the same way in all countries because the language doesn’t always lend itself well, I recommend having one social media account per country and per language.
  • E-mail: like banners and display advertising, visuals can be the same as those in your home country, but a native speaker also needs to be involved in the set-up.

Creating trust

You have welcomed your first visitors on your website, now you need to convert them into customers. As you have already started a CRO trajectory on your home country website, you just need to apply the lessons learned to your new country website. Being unknown means you need to build trust. How do you do that?

  • Using the country extension for the URL. .be for a Belgian site, .de for a German site, .fr for a French site. Some countries, such as Germany and France, require you to have a physical address in their countries in order to be allowed to use their extensions.
  • Ensure your website has no spelling or grammar errors and doesn’t give the impression that it has been by Google Translate.
  • Become a member of the local TrustMark. Local customers are used to seeing one of these when they shop on webstores in their own country. They include Thuiswinkel in the Netherlands, Becommerce in Belgium, Fevad in France, Käufersiegel, Tüv Süd in Germany and Trusted Shops in Eastern Europe and German speaking countries.
  • Provide a local phone number for questions
  • Provide a local payment method. Later in this blog, I talk about countries such as  Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, who have their own payment methods that represent more than 80% of online payments.

Protecting your margins

Not all markets follow the same dynamic. As a newcomer on a market, you won’t be able to impose a price strategy. The price war in one country could affect your margins in others countries. This is why it’s important to set-up prices on country level and limit deliveries to the country itself. For example, if the customer goes to a .nl webstore, he will pay a Dutch price and will only be able to have his parcel delivered in the Netherlands.

Being paid

Once your customer has found the product(s) he wants, you need to obtain payment in order to send it to him. You accept, like every respectable website, payment methods such as Visa, Mastercard and Paypal. In some countries, due to the previously mentioned methods, you will only be able to cover 20% of payment needs. Some countries have their own payment methods that are directly linked to the bank of the customer, thus making them even safer for the webstore than Mastercard or Visa. They are :

  • Bancontact in Belgium
  • iDeal in the Netherlands
  • Sofort in Germany
  • EPS in Austria
  • Dankort in Denmark
  • Dotpay in Poland


If you sell to B2C customers, you also need to add VAT to the final price. Depending on the annual revenue from both countries, you will need to add your home country’s VAT tariff or that of the destination country.

VAT Scheme Distance Selling Europe

For example, if you are located in Belgium and you make sales for less than € 35 000 to Austrian customers, you will have to apply the Belgian VAT tariff. If you are located in Belgium and you make sales for more than € 100 000 to German customers, you will have to apply the German VAT. When you apply the country VAT, you need to have a VAT number from that country.

If you have a B2B e-commerce activity, that sells to B2B clients with a valid VAT number, then you won’t have to apply any VAT tariff.

Shipping orders

Your customers/clients have placed an order, now you have to ship it. Depending on your location, you have the following possibilities:

  • Use your current carrier
  • Work with European wide carriers such as DHL, DPD, GLS (if you don’t already do so)
  • Work with a carrier based in the new country (the carrier might also organise the journey from pick-up to your logistic centre to the local postal system)

If you send orders to Germany, you have to be compliant with new packaging regulation. You have to do the following:


Don’t forget to provide a solution for parcels that are returned.

By law, in Europe, consumers have 14 days to return their products without having to give any reasons.


GDPR has been a subject of great controversy in Europe. The good news is that privacy rules are the same across Europe due to GDPR.

In Germany it is also mandatory to have an “impressum” on your website. The following information must appear in the “impressum”:

  • Name of the website operator or legal entity behind the web presence
  • Address(commercial)
  • Contact information (email and telephone numbers should always be included; fax if applicable)
  • German trade register number or foreign equivalent
  • VAT identification number/business identification number
  • Job or trade-related information (professional association/professional title)
  • Information on the board of directors (should regulatory authorization be required)

How to organize your team

So, hopefully I have made it clear that selling online in a new country is not possible without native speakers. But how do you attract them to your country and integrate them into your company?

The current location of your company will have an influence on the way you recruit your native speakers. If your company is located in an international city such as Berlin or Amsterdam, you can recruit locally. If this is not the case, it would be best to get in contact with universities or business schools of the countries you are targeting and offer students there the chance to carry-out an Erasmus placement in your company, and to keep them if both parties are happy. The advantage of recruiting foreign graduates is that relocation is not a big issue. The downside is that students can have very limited experience. This means that your company needs to be well structured.

Depending on how advanced your e-commerce operations are and how many countries you already cover, you can promote your native speakers to country manager level and give them responsibility for the P&L or integrate them into the digital marketing operations.


Starting e-commerce activities in a new country is the result of a strategic decision which has to be carefully considered. It involves translating all your communication, your webstore, adding new partners and processes and recruiting native speakers.

With, my consulting company, I can make the first steps to launching your business in the Benelux a great deal easier. Contact me if you want to know what I can do for your company.

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