July 6, 2012, 10:50 AM

Office Depot aims to build a stronger online business in Europe

The retail chain pays heed to the differences of different countries.

Liam McLoughlin
Lead Photo

Retailers aiming for online success in Europe should take account of how the needs of online customers vary from one country to another, says Daniel Peters, senior manager for Europe e-commerce at Office Depot, a U.S.-based office suppliers retail chain. He says some non-European companies fail to take into account national differences when moving into Europe.

For example, customers in the Netherlands frequently use online chat to get help when shopping the Office Depot retail site, while those in France are less likely to use that feature.

There are also variations in the type of questions that online customers ask. In the Netherlands and Germany many consumer questions are related to the practicalities of when and how products will be delivered. In the U.K., shoppers more often ask for further details about products.

"We are aiming for at least 75% of our sales being online in Europe and are trying to drive our multichannel operation across all European countries," says Peters. The proportion of online sales in Europe for Office Depot differs from country to country, he says. Netherlands customers are the most likely to buy though Office Depot's web site, Peters says, while consumers in Italy and Spain shop online the least.

The goal of moving 75% of sales online is not outrageous for a company selling office supplies. In the U.S., 45% of office supplies are already purchased via the web, according to the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.
Office Depot launched in Europe after merging with Viking Office Products in 1998. It started its first non-US web site in the U.K. a year later and Peters says its online business in Europe has grown significantly since 2005, though he did not provide details.

"It is the small things that can improve your web site and differentiate you," Peters says. "For example if you use more video or images of a product than a rival, that product becomes more attractive."

Later this year, the company plans to start rolling out a new service on its web sites that displays a pop-up window offering assistance via online chat if a customer has conducted an unsuccessful search for a product.

"If you just replicate a web site with no differentiating features across all countries the only customer you will attract is a disloyal one who is only interested in price," says Peters. "You should go that extra step and do things such as using native copywriters, not just a good translator, to convey your marketing messages and unique selling points more effectively."

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