Mobile and AI at the fore, with cross-border trade 'daunting but doable', eCommerce Expo 2023 hears

Fri 29 Sept 2023
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Cross-border trade is “doable but daunting”, said experts at the eCommerce Expo earlier this week.

A panel featuring industry experts from Google, Meta, Shopline, the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) and the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) also said it was essential that businesses put mobile commerce and AI at the forefront of their future international growth strategies.

They were discussing the topic of ‘Cross-border e-commerce: Unlocking global growth’ on the first day of the annual conference, which took place at ExCeL London on 27-28 September.

Here and now

Emma Jones, lead for strategic partnerships and alliances for digital commerce at DBT, opened the panel by saying that users were increasingly online and on social media platforms, noting that 16-24 year olds spent on average over 7.4 hours a day online, with 1.38 hours of these on social media channels.

Jennifer McCloskey, senior manager of global government affairs and public policy at Google, which celebrated its 25th birthday this week, said online businesses increasingly needed to prioritise their customers’ mobile experience and make use of generative AI tools to go “deeper into what the customers are looking for”.

She said Google had been “mobile first” since 2013 and is now “AI first” too, adding that AI could generate £118bn in economic growth this year alone.

Ralph Aoun, global marketing manager at Meta, added that the company has used AI and machine learning to power all of their apps and services since the earliest days of News Feed in 2006 - whether it’s for feed ranking, community discovery, personalised ads or content moderation. Today, this technology is helping businesses reach new international customers with localised messages meeting their language preferences.

McCloskey agreed that companies need to think about how to ensure their marketing is “tailored to specific needs”, giving the example of people searching for ‘black dress for a garden party’, rather than just a ‘black dress’.

Overcoming ‘friction’

The panel all agreed that it was vital that businesses removed “friction points” along their customer journeys, especially when it comes to cross-border purchases. Hurdles mentioned included language, payment methods and taxation. Aoun said it was important that businesses strive to localise the entire journey from ad to checkout.

Susan Roe, an international trade specialist at IOE&IT and the secretariat lead for the E-commerce Trade Commission, which IOE&IT convened in June 2023, added that, as a consumer, if “I don’t get frictionless experience from the get-go, I’m gone”.

She cited the fact that approximately 76% of Europeans “want to buy in their own language” as evidence of the need for businesses to remove obstacles in their customer journeys.

Understand data and trends

The need to understand consumer buying patterns was a key theme throughout the discussion.

Deepak Anand, general manager for the UK and Europe at Shopline, pointed to the trend towards greater use of mobile shopping in south east Asia, saying the area was “far ahead” of European counterparts in this respect, but that this trend was likely to go global.

McCloskey added that this development is even more pronounced in the Middle East, where 90% of consumers are exclusively using their mobiles to access the internet.

“In markets central to the UK’s exports capabilities, mobile is essential,” she said in reference to the fact that these markets have been prioritised by the UK in its post-Brexit trade policy.

Jones added that this includes the CPTPP pact of 11 Pacific nations which the UK recently secured an agreement to join. The bloc gives the UK access to the “largest burgeoning middle class shopping community which is mobile-first,” she said.

McCloskey said it was vital that businesses “understand, deploy and monitor their data” in order to stay on top of their customers’ purchasing patterns.

“You know your customers best,” she said.

‘Daunting but doable’

Roe said that companies should not be put off international sales by customs requirements and logistical challenges, saying that trade is “daunting but doable”.

She highlighted the work of the E-commerce Trade Commission – which includes Google, DBT and Shopify among its members – in trying to encourage more British SMEs to sell online on ecommerce platforms.

She said the commission’s members were working together to tackle barriers to trade and to better organise and disseminate the abundance of free support and advice that is out there for businesses.

“Wouldn’t it be great if it was under one roof,” she said, before telling delegates to “watch this space”.

Roe added businesses should make sure to “have your voice heard” by feeding into the evidence sessions that the commission is planning to run throughout all parts of the UK.