International ecommerce on the rise with 68% of English speaking consumers shopping overseas

2020 changed the way consumers purchased online for good and that was seen with cross-border sales increasing by 35% in 2020, (in comparison with 2019). 

According to a survey conducted by Weglot and OpinionWay, cheaper products, faster delivery, mixed with being able to purchase products that aren’t available in their home countries – are just some of the reasons for this shift. 

More than two-thirds (68%) of UK consumers say they are regularly purchasing products from international ecommerce stores.

However, if you’re an ecommerce merchant, you’ll need to be mindful that when consumers buy from overseas there are still several barriers. 

The same survey also found that 61% of respondents said that shopping on a foreign language website was a significant put-off, and 49% went as far as to say said they wouldn’t buy a product at all if the website wasn’t in English [native language]

Let’s take a look at the study in more detail and later we’ll also see how survey respondents in France answered the same questions, for a comparison between European neighbors. 

UK purchasing behavior 

The Weglot study delved into the UK market and how consumers experienced purchasing goods internationally. 

One of the main reasons as to why consumers were looking to purchase abroad was down to one in two (50%) UK consumers tiring of consulting the same online marketplaces. This extended to 59% of respondents intending to order an international product in the next six months.

Naturally, there was a divide between age groups when it came to shopping overseas. As expected, 83% of digitally savvy millennials were curious about shopping internationally, but in fact, not so far behind were the over 50s – with 67% of respondents interested at some point.

A huge 96% of the younger generation surveyed had already purchased from an international website showing just how normal this consumer behavior is amongst the under 35s. 

Not surprisingly, clothing, textiles and footwear were the goods most purchased internationally (52%) with books/ games 40%, and DIY and homeware at 35%.

The attraction of novelty is also an important factor for visits to foreign marketplaces: one in two British people (50%) declared they were tired of consulting the same marketplaces. And, 52% of those surveyed were attracted by lower prices. 

Using cross-border marketplaces appears to be commonplace in the United Kingdom, with about 9 British people in 10 (87%) declaring to have already consulted or made a purchase on an international website.

Barriers to international ecommerce 

As we mentioned in the intro, it’s not all plain sailing when it comes to UK consumers shopping internationally. 

The biggest deterrents included fear of buying from fraudulent websites (72%), damaged or delayed deliveries (72%) and issues with customs (68%).

6/10 respondents had issues with understanding the full buying process when purchasing from a website not in their native language, which negatively influenced their decision to make a final purchase. A further 49% would not purchase a product at all if the website was not in English. 

Augustin Prot, CEO at Weglot, said: “With Covid-19, Brexit and customs confusion, many would have assumed that UK consumers would have lowered the number of products they bought internationally. In fact, many are realizing the benefits of shopping internationally, including cheaper products, ones not available in their region and even faster delivery. 

“Technology is making it easier for foreign retailers to enter new markets, tailor their services and personalize experiences towards customers in any country. Removing international barriers is also proving wonders for once regional brands who are now able to sell their products to international audiences. There are still certain barriers to entry, such as reputation, language and payments, but overall we’re predicting a positive future for online stores that can adapt their offers and open up shop to local consumers while providing international-level services.”

A look at the French market  

Whilst it’s clear English speakers are looking for websites in their native language (the UK was named as the worst language learners in Europe after all), other European countries such as France also have their own set of requirements when shopping internationally. 

Weglot carried out the same study within France to see the differences in consumer behavior in a country where “Made in France” products are gaining importance.  

And, perhaps that somewhat links to the findings from the study, with just 50% of those surveyed interested in consulting an international ecommerce website, compared with 68% in the UK. With just a third of those respondents occasionally purchasing on an international store. 

As with the UK there is again a generation divide in attitudes to purchasing goods overseas. The over 50s in France are far less open to purchasing internationally, with just 22% occasionally making a purchase. The under 35s at 54% are much more likely to carry out a transaction, albeit far lower compared with the UK at 83%. 

Interestingly, when it comes to the goods French consumers are purchasing abroad, there is a more even split between the top 3 industries compared with the UK, and on top of that, the second most popular industry is electronics. 

36% shop for clothing and apparel, closely followed by 34% purchasing electronics, with 28% decorative items. Perhaps again, these numbers can be attributed to the fact that the French prefer to shop local and purchase products that are made in France – especially when it comes to clothing.  

Deterrents to purchasing internationally 

Survey respondents in France were more hesitant than their UK neighbors to purchase products internationally because of a fear they would be counterfeit or the website fraudulent.

Nearly 8 out of 10 French people were worried that international ecommerce websites sell counterfeit products (81%) or poor quality products (79%). A similar proportion had doubts about its delivery service (78%).

And what about language? With a population of 70 million (France and French overseas territories), a lack of international ecommerce websites providing a French language option seems to be a big obstacle. 

70% of those surveyed said that they considered the fact that the website was in a foreign language to be a deterrent, and a further 74% were concerned the customer service would not be in their native language.

This led to 60% of respondents giving up buying a product because the website was not available in French.


For the British, it’s clear that shopping internationally is already very common, in particular for the younger generation who have integrated this behavior into their daily habits. 

Naturally, there remain some obstacles, lack of trust and doubts about deliveries are top of the list and language is still considered a barrier for 60% of respondents. 

When it comes to the French, shopping overseas is still not commonplace. But, it does appear to be growing within the younger generation who are the most active. 

Reluctance to shop abroad echoes the opinions of the UK, however it appears that language is more of a language barrier for these consumers. 

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