Your online store may be primarily operating nationally at the moment, but perhaps you have strong international ambitions. Or you are already looking to conquer other European countries. In both cases, it is advisable to find out whether your ecommerce software is ready for a European campaign. In this blog post I will analyze essential and desirable features of ecommerce software for the pan-European ecommerce entrepreneur. This article is also relevant for non-Europeans seeking to go international. In a next blog post, I will wholly focus on going global.
I already spent some attention to some nice ecommerce software features which are very handy when you are seeking international expansion for your ecommerce business. When reviewing the ease of use and design of Bigcommerce, I discovered the nice Avalara tax integrations, and while delving into the SEOshop system, I was impressed by how deeply integrated the multiple lanugages feature is on the Dutch platform. This series of blog posts will structurally research and compare SEOshop, the Dutch platform that promotes itself as a great ecommerce software solution to do business across boundaries, and the global Anglo-Saxon ecommerce giants Shopify and Bigcommerce.
This series will contain a total of three blogs. This first blog post focuses on Taxes, Languages and Trust Marks. The second blog post will deal with Multiple stores, Payments, Shipping, and the possibilities to scale up. The third and last blog is both distinct from the first two blogs and draws on them by summarizing the international features and looking what platform would best suit a truly globally operating ecommerce business.
When starting doing business across borders in Europe, one of the most important questions entrepreneurs face, is how to address sales taxes. Especially when you are selling B2B, you will want your ecommerce software provider to have this set up for you already. These are (a simplified version of) the EU tax rules:
- If customers buy from the same country, even if they are businesses, you need to charge VAT
- Customers from EU countries with a VAT number (that is, businesses), than there is no VAT charge. The VAT obligation is transferred to the customer.
- Customers from EU countries without VAT number (B2C sale) = charge VAT
- Non-EU customers = VAT needs to be paid in their own country
As I already discussed in the review of Bigcommerce’s ease of use, the Australian-American platform has a very useful integration with Avalara. Avalara helps with tax codes: you only have to add a certain US tax code to an item, and Avalara automatically calculates and adds VAT as necessary, dependent on in which state the customer buys.
If you want to use the Bigcommerce Avalara integration for more than the basics, be prepared to pay for the service
Avalara is focused on the US for the moment, however. The only European office – in the UK – is so far more a sales outpost. Avalara does, however, also maintain tax records for EU countries.
In Bigcommerce, it is possible to show prices either including or excluding taxes. It is possible to create customer groups and make them exempt of paying taxes (for groups 2 and 4 above). This is, however, a manual operation, and you possibly loose B2B customers if they can’t place an order without VAT right away.
SEOshop makes it possible to easily set up the option to either charge VAT or to transfer VAT (in the sense of transferring the payment obligation for your product’s VAT to your customers).
Shopify offers information and an easy setting for digital goods sold in the EU, according to new legislation that became active on 1 January 2015. But there is no information on options to charge VAT for some customers (from your own EU country, or from a non-business customer from another EU country) or to not charge VAT for others (the rest of the world and business customers from another EU country). It becomes clear the both Bigcommerce and Shopify are not easily set up for this EU VAT scenario.
The first time when I read about SEOshop’s many “available languages”, I didn’t quite understand what they meant with it. Every online store writes its own content, unique content is better for SEO, information and branding purposes. But when I looked a bit more closely, I understood better what they meant – and really appreciated this feature!
First, all the basic elements of the online store, such as the “order” button, “add to cart button”, and dozens of other standard elements, are already translated if it is one of the 14 languages provided by SEOshop (Dutch, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish). They advise that additional languages can be provided upon request.
Second, what I really like about SEOshop, is that it the multiple language feature is so fully integrated and native to the platform. Have a look at these screen shots:
Once you have added another language for a product, this product will appear on this language’s version of the online store. So if I have 2 categories and 10 products (5 in each category) in my English language store, and want to sell a total of 4 products from these two categories on a German language version of the store, all I have to do is to take the following two steps. One, add a German title and description for the two category pages. Second, add a German title and description for the four products that I want to sell. After having done this, have a look at your store and see that a British flag and a German flag appeared. By clicking on the British flag, you will see the online store in English, and all the products you want to sell to this audience of potential customers. By clicking on the German flag, you will see the German language version of the store. Cool!
Bigcommerce so far only has English as a possible language.
A store with multiple languages is also not easily set up, if at all. Currently, there are only some work-arounds available to have a store in multiple languages.
Shopify Doesn’t offer a native multi-language solution at present. Over the last couple of years, there have been efforts by Shopify partners to develop themes that are bilingual or even multilangual. Still, however, with each of these solutions, the checkout, which is hosted on the Shopify domain, can only be displayed in your base language.
A little over a year ago an app called “Langify” came out which garners a lot of praise. It costs 17.50 USD per month and it allows you to translate your content, and – if you want – allows storefronts to be hosted on specific domains. The app – so its maker claims – works well for SEO, and it lets you translate everything. Still, however, the checkout will remain in your base language.
In some countries in Europe – Germany and the Netherlands, for example – trustmarks really work like that for potential customers: if you don’t have them, they are a lot less likely to trust you. To increase your conversion when doing business in these countries, it is advisable to have a trustmark that is widely recognized and respected.
The biggest Trustmark in Germany and Europe (more than 74% of Germans recognize the trustmark) is Trusted Shops. Trusted shops has a standard integration with SEOshop and Shopify. It doesn’t offer an integration with Bigcommerce at present. Trusted shops is apart from a widely recognized trustmark also one of the more expensive ones. It does, however, offer quite a bit in return, including an integrated customer reviews feature.
SEOshop is a business partner of the best Dutch trustmark, Thuiswinkel Waarborg. And since SEOshop is also certified by Trusted Shops, it is much easier for online store owners to get through the auditing process and get the Trusted Shops certification. I, for example, when I started selling my hammocks in Germany, needed to do a lot of improvements and adjustments on my Magento store to get the certification. They are really strict about it, and it helps a lot to have a store powered by one of their ecommerce software partners.
When researching Bigcommerce’s links with trustmarks, I didn’t discover any links with either Trusted Shops or another big European trustmark. It is rather focused on trustmarks related to SSL certificates, payments, or North American organizations that are similar to trustmarks, such as the BBB (Better Business Bureau).