By Coman Fullard, Head of Digital Strategy
As we face the prospect of a new Europe and a new trading environment, many businesses are considering how they can start to offer their services in more markets – digitally. Continuum has already outlined how businesses can work in Germany and in this piece we are turning to the next big EU market – France. 
France is currently the third largest economy in the EU, behind Germany and the UK. However, in a sign of the new reality, last year PwC predicted that France would soon overtake the UK economy due to the fallout from Brexit. 
France is also a member of the G7 and is one of the largest economies in the world, positioned around sixth or seventh in the rankings this year based on the projected performance of the UK and Indian economies. 
After English, French is the most common second language spoken in the world. 12% of the EU use French as a first language, which is the same proportion of people who use English. A further 12% of the EU use French as their main second language. 
France is also an enormous country with opportunities that spread far beyond Paris and go all around the country. 
France offers a mature digital economy which has a strong track record in eCommerce.  This applies to both the B2B and B2C markets. In 2018 alone, the French market spent €92.6 billion online, which represented a year on year rise of 13.4%. It has also been estimated that eCommerce will exceed €100 billion the French market during 2019. 
The frequency of purchases is also growing. The French market recorded 1.5 billion online transactions in 2018, which was a 20.7% rise on the previous year.
A sign of how online purchases are becoming more commonplace can be seen in the average basket value of goods purchased. It dropped to €60 in 2018, a fall of €5 as more routine goods featured more prominently in online transactions.
A further statistics that shows the strength of the French online economy comes from 2017, when 38 million French people shopped online. That represents 80% of the entire online population. What this illustrates is that 4 out of 5 people in the French market were actively spending money through digital services – and that figure is likely to have grown further over the course of the past two years. 
French consumers also tend to shop more frequently than other online markets. The average spend per shopper on an annual basis is approximately €2,000. 
While US Government figures show that just over 20% of French companies make purchases electronically. 
What the French market is interested in
France is a big market for a wide range of consumer & B2B products.
They are Europe’s largest agri-producers, meaning there is a strong demand for support products such as machinery, tools and other agri-related supplies. 
France also accounts for 11% of the European construction industry value. This again highlights the importance of the market for construction companies, suppliers and support products. 
The French market is also the second largest medical device market in Europe, which presents a strong opportunity for the strong medical device sector in Ireland.  There is also a massive fintech market in France. 
These are just a few areas of interest, but broadly speaking, there are plenty of opportunities in France for Irish products and services, so long as you have the correct approach.   
French commercial culture
France is open to buying internationally – approximately 50% of their digital purchases are cross border. In 2015, 41% of French online shoppers bought from foreign eMerchants and 50% of eMerchants in France received orders from abroad. So cross border shopping is relatively commonplace.
However the market place can also be quite patriotic.
This means you can’t just offer the same product or service that is being delivered by your French counterparts, you need to be better.  The French market is constantly looking for the best value at the best price. 
The French market is not as transactional as the likes of the UK. They are looking for something extra – something that meets more of their needs.  Your offer needs to be superior than what is already available. 
If you can offer that USP, then your digital presence needs to capture it and needs to communicate that message effectively.  The digital challenge is to identify that point of superiority that you have and then to make it relevant for the French user. French customers need to see how your product or service will work for them. 
In the French B2B sector, the market can be quite formal and hierarchically structured. Significant value is placed on education and technical insight.  For example, the majority of French CEOs come from an engineering background. Technical expertise is seen as the path to leadership in France. If you are selling in a B2C setting, that technical know how needs to be effectively highlighted and conveyed.
It is a classic mistake for businesses to oversell their wares in France. It’s not sufficient to simply say “We’re the best”. You need to show how you can justify that claim. It is a “show don’t tell” market. 
That means if you have awards, display them. Highlight how you are better.
It also means you shouldn’t use overly positive descriptors if you aren’t prepared to back that assertion up. As far as the French market is concerned, you need to earn your reputation before you can try to market yourself on it. 
There is also a cultural expectation in France that you will provide a good quality service.

Importance of language
One of the first signifiers of your service effectiveness is whether it is being provided in French.  Language quality is something that market is very sensitive about. 
That means that the website needs to be written in high quality French. So Google Translate won’t suffice, you need to use well written, grammatically correct French. Native translators should be utilised as much as possible. 
Just like English language sites will stand out to the average Irish user if the language jars, the same goes for the French market. Attention to detail in getting the language right reflects the promise of service provided by your business. 
Consideration also needs to be given to how you digitally communicate effectively in French. If you hope to use social media as a mechanism to highlight your products or services, then you will need to use French specific social media channels.
It also means having an SEO profile that is built around people searching in French. 
Basically, your digital presence needs to seem like you are based in France. 
Service is crucial
The importance of offering a strong service in France can’t be underestimated. It’s a major part of the French commercial landscape and businesses that don’t offer a strong service will feel the impact. 
By law in France there is a cooling off period for all purchases and the consumer can return their products within 14 days and get their money back. This also presents challenges for digital businesses operating in France.
That ‘cooling off’ period needs to be built into your eCommerce activity and processes. It is not unusual for French consumers to make multiple purchases, receive the delivery, keep what they want and return the rest.  French consumers may be ‘buying’ simply to try on the product or to see it in the flesh – it is only then that they will decide if they really want it.
The cost of those returns can be borne by the business or by the consumer – but this must be made clear at the point of purchase. So again that needs to be effectively communicated. 
Any refunds are also distributed through the same channel in which they were received. So if a purchase was made via credit card, then the refund goes through the credit card. If the purchase was made by PayPal, then that’s the mechanism for issuing the refund. This needs to be set up as the approach provided and is another element that should be clearly communicated.

Domain name
In France the native domain name signifier is .fr
It is worth considering building a French specific site that would use that domain. It will help with your SEO performance and it will also signify that you are based in the market and operating in France with purpose. It is another signal that you are serious about doing business in France. 
If you are selling services to France then you need to be able to convey that your business is one who will be able to come and support them should help be required. They need to feel like you are capable of being there ‘in person’, so they don’t think of you as a foreign company – but a business that is active throughout France.
This may mean being prepared to travel at short notice. There are also market access strategies for ‘boots on the ground’ available, which may need to be considered in that context. 
Within the context of eCommerce, ‘Click and Collect’ and ‘Click and Reserve’ have been very successful in France. They are features that are well accepted and heavily utilised. So if you already have a physical presence in-market, these are mechanisms you would do well to consider.
Legislated sales
For those operating in the B2C market, it is important to know there are seasonal sales which run for six weeks from early January and again in the summer from late June.
Overall there is plenty of opportunity in the French market and it is one that Irish business should be considering. But is also a market that will require a bespoke strategy.
You can’t just expect to offer the same uniform approach as you have in the Irish or UK markets. You need to be prepared to make some subtle, but significant variations to your activity. However the rewards on offer will pay off if you get your methodology right. 
If you would like to speak to Continuum about how you can sell online in France, please contact us on or +353 (0)1 8558860/ +1-212-235—2076.
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