Author: Greet Dekocker, Director, SafeShops.be
Belgium’s position is understandable. There’s a physical store on every corner of a Belgian city, and Belgians are perhaps by nature a little more cautious of new developments. A Dutch business would be advised to bear that in mind if it intends to venture into neighbouring Belgium. But the Belgians have found their way to the online shops, and we find ourselves first in Europe for cross-border purchases.
A recent study showed that a third of online shoppers in Belgium make cross-border purchases without realising that they’re buying from a foreign website. This is of course because the retailers use a .be address for a local feel. It’s not for nothing that Coolblue have created 200 ‘Belgian’ online stores. The chances of being found on Google increase accordingly.
Mind your language
Dutch is no Flemish, and vice versa. There are some subtle and significant differences. Hiring a Flemish-speaking copywriter can prevent unwelcome laughter, or even add some fashion acumen to your copy. The Belgians are just an unpretentious people.
Don’t forget that Belgium has three official languages. So if you’re really after Belgium, you’ll probably want to straddle the linguistic borders. But even then, you’ll need someone who grasps ‘Belgiumisms’, like a Walloon.
Choose a Belgian certification
The EU harmonised regulation and legislation two years ago. As a result, the basic criteria for a quality label like Thuiswinkel or SafeShops.be is similar to something like IDIS. However, Belgians still rely on their local ‘tags’. This is partly because these local labels also takes into account sector-specific legislation in Belgium. For example, in pharmacies or banks.
Don’t forget that behind a certification mark there is a local body that deals with complaints, and assists the consumer in case of problems. Consumers want that in their own language, and they want to know it’s coming from somewhere familiar.
iDEAL is not Ideal
The Dutch use iDEAL a lot. A Belgian will use a credit or debit card, or a specific bank’s online transfer services. iDEAL will be totally foreign to him. Also, postpay billing is on the rise in Belgium. Belgian legislation doesn’t require the merchant to offer it, but it will increase your conversion rates. More and more companies offering postpay billing focus on the Belgian market.
Word of mouth
Using customer satisfaction tools and consumer reviews, or providing genuine and honest testimonials increases consumer confidence in your offering. Proximity also plays a role – Belgians appreciate the Belgian element coming from real Belgians. That said, that’s less of an issue when it come to the travel sector.
Yes, Belgians will share a meal and not expect anything to bloom from that straight away. They still do business in restaurants. They’re open to individual meetings, but they won’t be as quick to actually do business. And they’re not smooth networkers. So you won’t be collecting quite as many business cards.
Your product offering also has to appeal to the culture. It sounds obvious, but it’s a mistake that retailers make far too often.