Consumer culture in France is perhaps better developed - and preserved - than anywhere else in the world. The historical home of high fashion is also a haven for physical retail businesses, with locals still flocking to bakeries, butchers and all manner of outposts for fresh produce and local goods. The downside to this is that eCommerce has been slow to develop - but it is growing at a positive rate.
With the new French President now shaking up the business landscape - and Brexit on the horizon for UK businesses - this could be the perfect time to expand your online enterprise to France. With some old quirks and new trends, though, you’d best be prepared first. Here then are our four simple tips to making the most of a new French eCommerce enterprise.
Keep it flexible
Working hours in France are notoriously shorter than elsewhere in Europe, and this often applies to delivery drivers too. As a result, France has only recently begun to benefit from deliveries on Sundays, a service the UK has enjoyed for a number of years. With less chance of receiving parcels at the weekend, 72% of online shoppers in France prefer to collect their parcel from a local shop, while 58% would be willing to let a courier access their home to drop a package off. Providing Sunday delivery will help you to stand out, while providing a pickup option is almost mandatory to ingratiate yourself with your customers.
Related article: Start A Business In France in 8 Steps
This flexibility applies to payment options too. While French consumers have traditionally been wary of gathering debt, credit and debit cards stand on more or less even footing today. Most of these are provided by Carte Bancaires, a national interbank network which offers both VISA and Mastercard verification. Carte Bancaires is often associated with the Carte Bleue payment system, though this has been phased out in favour of Visa. However, Carte Bleue branded cards are still a common sight, and you are still likely to hear Carte Bleue used in reference to any credit or debit card.
A number of alternative payment systems are also used in France. France has the 3rd highest number of Paypal users in Europe, and dominates payments on popular marketplaces like eBay. There are also a number of security measures for online payments that are unique to France. One of these is the e-Carte Bleue, a form of visa verification which generates a unique card number linked to the user’s account, meaning they do not have to enter their actual card number. Support for this should be baked into most if not all payment options, but compatibility with similar security measures is worth exploring.
Français, s'il vous plaît
The French aren’t quite as protective of their language as you might have heard - younger people will keep using imported slang, the Académie française be damned. But the language is important to people, both in practical terms and as a point of principle. 39% of French people claim to speak English at a decent level, one of the lower figures in western Europe, but it wouldn’t even be enough to target these speakers. Speaking to a French audience in French is vital if you expect your eCommerce offering to be taken seriously.
Related article: How do I pay VAT / TVA in France?
Whatever you do, steer clear of Google Translate, as it is notoriously literal-minded and unreliable for serious translation. It’s worth investing the money in professional translation for your main website, eCommerce store and product descriptions, as well as working with a native French branding agency. Your current slogan may be fine when translated directly, but there’s a chance that it won’t make sense - it might lean on a phrase that doesn’t exist in French, or rhyme in one language but not the other. It could also be inadvertently offensive, or funny in a way you didn’t anticipate.
While you should always be humble as a foreign company, it also pays to play on your strengths, and use your point of origin as a way to stand out. The French don’t dislike the English anywhere near as much as you might imagine, and the reputation of quality persists in many areas (food perhaps excepted). Providing a uniquely English product or service with a French twist could be a serious USP for your eCommerce store. Hiring French staff will help you to hone this approach - and may even save you money on translation. (Also see our article on How Does the Payroll System Work in France?)
Sign up to FEVAD
Trade unions and industry associations still wield significant power in France, and this is equally true for online shopping firms. The body formerly known as the SEVPC shifted from mail order and distance selling to eCommerce in 2007, becoming the ‘Federation of E-Commerce and Distance Selling’, or FEVAD. It now encompasses some 370 companies and 600 websites across B2B, B2C and C2C sales.
Related article: How to open a branch of your business in France the easy way
Members benefit from detailed reports on the state of eCommerce in France and around the EU, and receive invites to a variety of industry activities, networking events and conferences. They also get to include the FEVAD logo on their website, and receive access to business advice and expertise from French eCommerce veterans. And, of course, the body will also represent you and the interests of the broader eCommerce community in national discussions.
Joining a body such as this obviously isn’t mandatory, and you may find the language requirements are an impediment to engaging with the advice and events. But joining a union will put you in good stead with all of your competitors, and help to ingratiate you to the wider community. It’s a sign of commitment, in other words, and one of many small actions you can take to settle into the French business community.
Explore local marketplaces
Amazon is a viable route into France, and you may want to look into their Multi-Country Inventory (MCI), which allows you to deliver via Prime to France without committing to other territories. However, Amazon isn’t the only name in French eCommerce. The sector is the second biggest in Europe behind the UK, and tech startups continue to create viable competitors with varying audiences and goals.
Popular multi-category marketplaces include PriceMinister (part of the Rakuten group), Fnac and Cdiscount, while La Redoute is France’s largest fashion marketplace. All of these sites boast millions of users, with some branching out into nearby French-speaking territories. You’ll also be competing against a number of marketplaces specifically for used items, such as ‘clothes trading’ websites Vinted, Vestiaire Collective and Videdressing.
Related article: What are the benefits of starting a business in France?
It should go without saying that you’ll also be competing against local stores and outlets, and you shouldn’t just assume that being online and convenient is a distinguishing factor in itself. As a UK business, you may wish to play on your ability to source local goods from the UK, as the ideas of ‘homemade’, ‘fresh’ and ‘unique’ products are extremely popular in France. Authenticity is key, and you should aim to provide something different, without being too alienating to the French audience. Visiting some loca shops in person and browsing the above websites is advisable to see what they do well, and help to carve your own distinct niche.
If you’re interested in starting your business in France, or you need more information on how to expand your business in over 30 countries worldwide including bank accounts, virtual offices and tax specialists, you can call us on 00 33 (0) 1 53 57 49 10, email us through our contact page or download our free guide below.