There are many things to consider when expanding sales to a new region, but a simple fact that is often overlooked is the differences in address formats and shipping procedures when sending goods to customers in another country. Understanding these differences ahead of time not only helps in ensuring proper and timely shipment, it also allows the business to design their front-end and back-end systems to fit with and properly use the different address formats.
There are some fundamental differences between how addresses are formatted and read for delivery in the United States versus the United Kingdom. For a merchant just opening sales to the UK, they may be concerned when they are asked to send goods to addresses with no house number, but this is actually quite common. There are certain pieces of information that are required when sending mail in the United Kingdom to include the Postcode and Post Town, but often just a building name over a numerical address is provided.
The four basic elements of a deliverable address in the UK are the Premises, Thoroughfare, Locality and Postcode. Many addresses are numbered and the house number or numerical address can be listed ahead of the thoroughfare or road (Example: 5 Main Street). In this case the premises and thoroughfare are provided on the same line. But often an address will have a building name as opposed to a numerical address, and in these cases the building name will appear above the thoroughfare, like so:
Below the thoroughfare the Post Town and Postcode are listed and these parts of the address are always required. However, when customers from the UK are providing their shipping information it is important to offer a third address line ahead of the town and postcode as an additional locality name can sometimes be required. Within a Post Town where there are roads with similar names, the addressee will also provide a Locality Name to distinguish the two. When such Locality Names are required the customer will know to provide it, but not offering a third address line to supply it may lead to a lost sale or an undelivered shipment.
Other points to take into consideration are return address preferences and the Royal Mail’s preference for senders not to use periods in the address. In the United Kingdom the preference is for a return address to be on the back of an envelope or package as opposed to the corner opposite the stamp. Also, Royal Mail, the UK’s government-owned postal service, requests that periods or dots not be used in an address, although this punctuation mark is referred to as a “full stop” in the UK.
In terms of the customer facing web pages where address data is submitted, the differences between UK and US addresses should be considered. Three address lines should be included above the lines for the Post Town and Postcode, and if any data validation is used this should be considered as well. For example, a US-focused merchant may have inline validation to call out an address line that does not begin with a number. For UK customers with an address that has only a building name and no number, this would create an issue. Also, US Postal codes are only numeric, so any data validation requiring only numeric characters would need to be removed for UK customers.
Postal codes should also be considered for a merchant’s back-end systems. Many merchants use a shipping postal code along with other shipping information in velocity checks. In the United States a postal code, or Zip code, generally covers a broad area and can encompass hundreds to thousands of addresses. In the United Kingdom their Postcodes are much more granular and specific. One Postcode covers a much smaller area and may only include a handful of different addresses. In the US it can be normal to have several transactions from the same Zip code in a short period of time as these could be coming from thousands of different legitimate customers. But in the UK and other countries were tighter and more specific postal codes are used a high count of orders from the same postal code in a short time provides a higher signal of risk.
Overall, selling and shipping goods to the United Kingdom isn’t all that different from selling domestically, but there are several important factors that should be considered. Accounting for these differences will ensure more closed sales from customers abroad and will lead to more timely shipment.
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