How to sell online in France
6 tips for companies wanting to make it big in the French market
France is one of the world’s largest e-commerce markets. In 2019, it ranked as the sixth-biggest e-commerce market in the world, valued at $43 billion. Selling online may be also a good first step to test the waters before launching a full-fledged branch for your brand in one or more French cities. French customers are technically savvy and benefit on the whole from a high-speed internet connection. Like everywhere else, online shopping has become the new normal since 2020. There are, however, some important points you should bear in mind if you want to effectively sell online in France:
You have to sell to the French in French
Don’t get influenced by your impressions and experience of France as a tourist, where everyone tried to speak to you in… your language. You were a customer then. When the French are customers, they want to read content, product descriptions, and terms of contract in French. People prefer to shop in their mother tongue, even if they know another language (and yes, there are many who speak excellent English). This attitude is largely in line with the “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” market analysis published by CSA Research. The report highlights the importance of “engaging the global audience with a full language experience that conveys their brand, reputation, and trustworthiness”.
Clarity and transparency
French customers appreciate respect, politeness and clear information about the products or services they are buying. You should be able to justify and rationally explain the value added of your product or service through clear description. The pure commercial praise is not enough.
French customers are not necessarily bargain hunters. They don’t mind paying a higher price if the quality is excellent and the perceived value is unique. There are specialized consumer protection magazines, tracking and comparing pricing and quality, and publishing consumer surveys on virtually any type of product. One of them, “60 millions de consommateurs”, even has a status of an EPIC. (Literally: “a public establishment of an industrial and commercial nature”, meaning a state-controlled entity of an industrial or commercial nature, such as research institutes and infrastructure operators.) A good review in this magazine (or in its competitor, “Que Choisir”) will boost your reputation. A bad review, or—God forbid— a label of “arnaque” (scam) can destroy it.
Be subtle about your advertising and CTA
There is a big difference in the tone of voice, and language in French advertising. CTAs tend to be more indirect and toned down. For example, we will write a contact button in a neutral form “Nous contacter” (How to get in touch), rather than “Contactez-nous!” (Get in touch!). Shouting “Buy now!” and “Click here!” at your customers can be seen as pushy and off-putting.
Security of data
Make sure that you are transparent about what you do with your customers’ data and how you store them. Offer payment options that allow them to avoid entering their credit card details in full on your website.
Provide an outstanding delivery and after-sales service
French consumers are particularly sensitive to a good after-sales customer service and appreciate a prompt and reliable delivery. Reassurance about delivery, tracking goods and receiving all the relevant information are very important in France, more so than in the UK. 85% of French consumers are happy to track every order, rather than just high-value items. In the UK it is only 60%.
Final point: in case of any queries or unexpected problems you should be ready to respond in French! Speak to a native French translator, preferably resident in France, to have your website and content translated and SEO optimised for the French market. They will be aware of the latest consumer and business information at home and will be able to localise your content so that it attracts customers in France.
If you want to learn more about effective business communication in France, read my blog post Effective business communication in France.