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Going international: 3 tips for Central European web retailers expanding their business

Prague, Czech Republic – For a string of businesses, appealing to audiences outside of Central Europe may be a whole different ball game: to help you get off to a good start, we’ve gathered some advice for taking the leap and expanding beyond your borders.

Ask for help if you need it

Consumers are doing more of their shopping online and across borders than ever before, and there’s plenty to be won from expanding internationally. In the Czech Republic alone, online shopping has skyrocketed over the past few years, partly as a result of the Covid pandemic, partly following long-term trends.

But customer satisfaction with digital experiences is also decreasing, and in a recent survey conducted by McKinsey, users listed bad UX/UI (user experience/user interface) as their top reason for dissatisfaction with digital channels. Building a beautiful, user-friendly online shopping experience takes time and effort, though – and you risk spreading yourself too thin if you’re not careful. Preventing this is about knowing which tasks to delegate.

In the above case, that means choosing to either focus exclusively on building your website yourself or letting a developer handle it. If you love coding, handing off e.g. finances to someone else might be the best way to go. Paying taxes recently became much more difficult for Hungarian small businesses and entrepreneurs when it was announced that the popular “KATA” taxation system will undergo major changes – and entrepreneurs all over Central Europe face unprecedented budgeting issues due to inflation and war.

While the Czech Republic has put price caps on gas and electricity, Poles still suffer under rising prices and a ban on coal imports from Russia. There’s no telling what’ll come next, and handling finances alone will be increasingly stressful over the coming months. Business surveys conducted across Central Europe already show that the mood is low among both companies and customers.

If you’re struggling, there’s also plenty of help to be found. For instance, if they see potential in your business, EU-funded organisations and projects, such as Interreg Central Europe, offer funding, education and expertise that might come in handy.

Keep up with marketplace news

Staying up-to-date in the world of digital retail is easier said than done. What’s considered extraordinary customer service one day may very well become standard the next. And when it comes to website design, trends most certainly also come and go at breakneck speed.

Furthermore, running a business out of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia or another CEE country presents its own unique set of challenges. For updates about the latest developments, there are also plenty of available resources online, such as WebRetailer and the likes for insider tips if you’re selling products through online marketplaces.

If you’re looking for a more academic take on business issues in the region, the Prague-based Central European Business review (CEBR) offers just that. Since 2019, the online peer-reviewed journal has been coming out with five issues per year covering everything from entrepreneurship to corporate strategy and finance with a Central European focus. They only publish papers covering other parts of the world if they’re relevant for Central European researchers and business stakeholders.

Stay in touch with international consumer values

What’s important when choosing where to shop? The average consumer’s answer to this question has changed significantly in recent years. Conscious consumerism and circularity have especially been big on Gen Z’s agenda – and with their spending power increasing as they enter the workforce, there’s a lot to be won by staying on their good side.

While Central European countries are moving towards sustainability along with the rest of the world, they’re still far from first-movers: Czech lawmakers only recently banned single-use plastic items, a year after they were supposed to implement the ban. The Czech Republic’s current EU presidency might have been a welcome opportunity to position itself at the forefront, but the war in Ukraine and multiple crises might have relegated such an agenda to the background.

A recent Euromonitor study of the Polish consumer trends, among other surveys, all point to the fact that online businesses will have to adapt to evolving habits and expectations, including a renewed insistence on experiences rather than mere goods, and a focus on second-hand opportunities.

All the more reasons to pay attention to current shifts and increase chances of succeeding as an international web retailer.