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For small businesses, shipping and fulfillment can also be major expenses and challenges. This is especially true when a business doesn’t have an automated fulfillment platform it can rely on.
If smaller organizations want to think about shipping internationally, the challenges can become even greater. At the same time, not doing so can leave you without the ability to take advantage of opportunities.
So what’s right for you as a business? Should you ship to international customers or not?
Reasons to Sell Internationally
When you sell past your own country’s borders, it can be a big growth area for you. Even if you’re only offering some of your products for shipping internationally, you still are creating new opportunities for yourself.
A lot of shoppers expect international shipping, and many eCommerce businesses are rising to the occasion.
International shipping comes with other business advantages, as well as possible business growth.
For example, you might be able to enjoy year-round sales if you sell seasonal items. The seasons in Australia are different from America, so you might be selling winter items in the middle of your summer when otherwise you’d be in a slow period just as one scenario to consider.
When you enter new markets, the needs of those customers vary from the ones who are located in your country. You can meet their needs by offering more products or services and boosting sales in different areas depending on the market you’re in.
Of course, international shipping also means you’ll have a bigger customer base. You are opening yourself up to new target marketers and prospective customers.
While there are opportunities, there are a lot of challenges. For example, a recent survey found that 62% of international shoppers still expect free shipping, in spite of unpredictability in items crossing the border and higher costs.
How to Get Started
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of international selling and shipping, the following are tips to help you get started.
- Learn relevant rules and regulations. Every country is going to have its own guidelines. You need to know if certain items or approaches to advertising or marketing are prohibited in a location. Along with learning about how the product is regulated in new targeted countries, you also want to consider whether the demand exists for it and how customs regulations could affect you.
- Prepare for extra duties and taxes. You will need certain customs documentation to ship abroad because the duties and taxes you pay are determined by what you put on your customs forms. The things that affect duties can include the costs of shipping, associated insurance, and the value and quantity of the products you’re shipping. Duties can apply as DDU, which is delivery duty unpaid, and DDP, which is delivery duty paid. DDU means customers have to pay their own customs and taxes. DDP means that merchants pay this upfront.
- Value Added Tax or VAT is another thing you’ll think about. VAT only applies to certain generated amounts of revenue. You’ll have to provide a commercial invoice with orders, so customs has access to information like payment and shipping method, quantities and descriptions of the item, the seller and customers’ addresses, and carrier information.
- You’ll need to decide the specific companies you’re going to ship to because you can’t ship to them all. It’s best to start out with countries that speak your native language. This will help you avoid having to change the languages on your site or do marketing and customer service in a different language. It’s also a good idea to think about your current typical customers and countries that might have a demographic similar to them. If you aren’t sure which country or countries to choose, you can analyze your current traffic. Doing so will help you find the locations where there’s already interest in your brand.
- When you’re just starting with international shipping, Mexico and Canada can be good starting points. The cost to ship to those countries is less expensive than places far away, and items won’t take as long to arrive to your customers. If you choose any country with a free trade agreement with the U.S., it’s going to mean lower rates and simpler customs processes.
- Along with where you’re going to ship, you want to think about what products you’re going to specifically make available to your international customers. Choosing to make smaller and lighter-weight products available is going to save you on shipping and packaging costs. You want to think about durable a product is since it’s going to have to make a long trip. Again, you also have to consider the regulations of the country you’re going to ship to.
One of the biggest challenges or hurdles to offer your products to international customers is the shipping costs. If you include free shipping on every purchase, you are going to have to integrate the price of international shipping into your products.
If you currently offer flat shipping rates, you want to avoid complicating things too much.
Using a fulfillment software solution can be a good way to manage your shipping costs even when you are sending products to other countries.
When you sell and ship internationally, in general, the fulfillment, inventory management, tracking, and labeling tools you have in place are essential to your success. If you don’t have the right tools, you’re not going to be able to manage an expansion into international markets.
Shipping automation and fulfillment software let you have more predictability.
Tracking and Insurance
Finally, if you have a fulfillment platform that’s end-to-end, tracking is automated and simplified. Most carriers also provide shipment tracking, and you can add ePacket tracking, so customers have full transparency.
Insuring international shipments is a good idea for a lot of retailers, and it’s offered by most express carriers throughout the world. If it’s not automatically included in your shipping costs, it’s pretty inexpensive and simple to add.
When you’re expanding to international customers, just take it as slow as you can at first, and then grow from there once you figure out the ins and outs.