"We're Number One!"

As I’ve noted before, I’m a sucker for cute. So when I received an email from Liberty London informing me of a new, exclusive collection of Hello Kitty goods, including fabulous Liberty fabrics incorporating the epitome of cuteness herself, I had to check them out.

Liberty is a British department store (and if you’ve never visited it, you should definitely make a point of doing so on your next trip to London, especially if you love textiles). A quick Google search, however, showed that Liberty has a U.S.-specific URL, us.liberty.co.uk, as well as its primary liberty.co.uk. address, so I figured that it must ship to the States.

And it does… for a flat fee of £25. Unless the order is especially bulky, in which case the price goes up.

As of this writing, £25 comes to $38.91. I like Hello Kitty, but not that much.

In any event, I was also somewhat annoyed that even though I clicked on the U.S.-specific URL, pricing appears only in pounds. There is no on-site option for converting the currency, and even the international shipping prices are given in sterling.

I decided to visit a few other U.K. websites to see if this is the exception or the rule. Harrods doesn’t have any country-specific URLs, and like Liberty it lists all pricing, including shipping costs, in pounds. Also like Liberty, it charges a standard £25. And Harrods even has its own Hello Kitty collection. 

Hello Kitty may be cute, but apparently she’s also quite the slut.

When I logged on to the John Lewis website, I was greeted with a geographically targeted home page: The top graphic was of the Stars and Stripes in the shape of the U.S., with “We now deliver to the U.S.A.” in large type. Below it were several links to a page detailing its international delivery policies and prices. Again, the fees are all in pounds, though at least it costs only £15 to deliver to the States.

It was more or less the same at the other British stores I visited, though Harvey Nicks and Selfridges don’t even ship overseas, and Debenhams and House of Fraser ship to the States for only £10. Both of the latter sites, incidentally, have a link near the top of their home page calling out their “low international delivery rates,” so they clearly seem to be trying to expand global reach.

Surprisingly, two U.S. department stores put these other sites to shame. I say “surprisingly” because U.S. merchants have long been considered less willing than their European counterparts to accommodate international consumers. But on the bottom of its home page, Macy’s has a flag icon and a link that reads “Change country.” Click the link, and you’re taken to a page with drop-down menus listing scores of countries and currencies. Select the currency of your choice, and as you navigate through the site, nearly all prices will appear in that currency. (The exceptions are the prices on nondynamic promotional banners that appear on some landing pages.) Bloomingdale’s offers the same functionality, with a link on the bottom of its home page that reads “International shipping.”

Both Macy's and Bloomies are well-known destinations for overseas visitors, so a failure to have included this option would have been a true missed opportunity. But Harrods is also a must-visit destination for tourists, so it seems that the venerable British retailer is in fact leaving money on the table. 

And while some retailers might not be able to justify the expense of adding a currency converter to their ecommerce site, surely they could at the very least give the international shipping fees in the intended recipient's local currency. This is particularly so if they're making an effort to woo international customers, as Liberty seems to be doing with its U.S.-specific URL and John Lewis with its geotargeted home page.

Who’d have thought that the xenophobic Yanks would have bested the more global-minded Brits at accommodating international consumers? If I were still living in England, this would be an opportunity for me to hoist my fingers in the air and declare, in my most American accent, “We’re number one!”


  1. Your point is well taken, but -- to explain without defending or excusing the UK "xenophobia" -- there is a bit more to shipping abroad than posting prices and P/P (S/H) in local currency. In addition to the export paperwork (which many of the int'l carriers can handle on behalf of the merchant anyway) there can be other special charges and surcharges based on size and weight of the package. And since the int'l carrier is not likely to be one that the UK merchant uses for domestic shipping, the carrier's manifesting system may not be integrated, so determining these can be a hassle. Even this assumes that the system the merchant is using is "direct commerce" friendly. Many a retailer's "back-office" system is not fine-tuned to do anything more than resupply stores (they can barely ship well or efficiently within the UK). And the merchant would probably need a separate shipping line to handle packages sent abroad. Plus, if the consumer's card is in US dollars there may be other transaction fees associated with completing the sale. So all in all, it can be expensive and somewhat complex to do, and requires major front-office commitment to do well. If the commitment is there (which probably includes cost-justification), then all of the above can be accomplished. That's why I explain rather than excuse....

  2. See two recent related articles:
    UK retailers must court overseas trade
    Tesco take clothing website to Europe