PayPal Exec Stresses Mobile, Currency Optimization To U.S. Retailers Going Global

International expansion can undoubtedly be a challenge for U.S. retailers, especially when attempting to enter new markets. However, even when conducting business in the three largest export markets of cross-border sales — Canada, the United Kingdom and Brazil — merchants suffer from many of the same pitfalls, preventing them from reeling in optimal revenues and building loyal consumers.

Melissa O’Malley, the Director of Global Initiatives at PayPal, shares some tips for U.S. retailers looking to extend their brand further into foreign territories, including:

  • Optimizing the mobile commerce site for all devices;

  • Offering more languages to relate to newer potential audiences;


  • Providing more currency options; and

  • Clarifying pricing to include taxes and duties within the checkout price.


Insights are based on a PayPal report which identified gaps in modern cross-border sales strategies compared to consumer demand. To collect the research, PayPal conducted two surveys: one which examined the shopping habits of 23,000 global consumers, and another that examined the business strategies of 1,200 global retailers.

When Optimizing Mobile, Eliminate Language Barriers

While mobile commerce is continuing to account for a significant proportion of cross-border shopping, with British shoppers making 30% of purchases on their smartphone or tablet, U.S. retailers are still falling short when it comes to delivering on these experiences. Only 54% of U.S. merchants offer a mobile-specific web site, while 17% don’t optimize for mobile whatsoever, according to the data from PayPal.

Going hand-in-hand with mobile optimization is the ability to introduce the native languages into these sites. Language remains a key factor in any shopping experience, but becomes even more important when accessing a retail site on the go, via a small screen.

“It’s one thing when you’re looking at a single language, but it’s important to start looking at offering your web site in multiple languages,” O’Malley explained. “If you look at U.S. merchants, only 19% offer their web site in a language other than English. It sounds understandable, but the number one market for U.S. cross-border sales is Canada, where 21% of shoppers speak French. Of the merchants we surveyed, only 9% actually offer French as a language option.”

As many as 71% of Canadian shoppers admitted they do not feel comfortable buying from an international e-Commerce site if it is not in their local language, while 70% of British shoppers and 57% of Brazilian shoppers share the same sentiment.

Offer Currency Options And Be Transparent About The Final Price

Similar to language, currency is another issue that becomes a major concern during a cross-border shopping experience. The PayPal data indicated that 42% of international merchants list their products and services in a foreign currency. With that in mind, shoppers from Canada (41%) UK (46%) and Brazil (44%) share concerns about making online purchases in a foreign currency.

“Currency is probably more important than U.S. merchants think that it is,” O’Malley said. “If you’re in a commodity-based market, and you’re not buying a unique product, it’s easier for people to price compare, but the revelations surrounding currency and cross-border taxes are still surprising. For example, 51% of merchants surveyed still don’t include taxes in their checkout price. Many shoppers abandon their carts because it’s unclear how much they’re going to have to pay for duties, customs or fees. These shoppers won’t finish the purchase because they don’t know what it’s actually going to cost.”

The PayPal surveys indicated that 32% of Canadians have abandoned a potential purchase due to the lack of clarity on final payment, while 27% of British shoppers and 29% of Brazilian shoppers also have done so.

O’Malley indicated that while retailers expanding internationally have struggles dealing with many of these issues related to mobile optimization, language barriers, currency or fees, these merchants can improve on all of these issues by educating themselves on global trends.

“Sometimes, it’s hard for merchants to know where to place their bets,” O’Malley concluded. “They have limited time and resources, these changes can be expensive and a lot of the time they don’t know what’s the biggest driver for cross-border shipping. If they’re going to try and address a foreign market, is it more important to have currency offered, or have it in their language or offer fully-landed costs? If 32% of Canadians say they need to see a landed cost, but 41% say they’re definitely not going to complete a purchase because it’s not in their currency, as a merchant you can start to see the things you need to address first.”

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