Cross-border sales account for a growing proportion of ecommerce orders. As international shipments grow, ecommerce retailers of all sizes are looking to get in the game and expand to international markets. However, international shipping can create commercial challenges, particularly for smaller retailers. Before you jump into international ecommerce, here are some things about international shipping you should keep in mind.
Don’t Offer to Ship Just Anything
The first rule of international shipping is to recognize that not every item you sell is necessarily conducive to being shipped long distances. For example, a farm and ranch retailer in the U.S. received an order request from a horse trainer in Israel. The trainer, who specialized in Eastern riding and ropes, wanted to order several Western-style horse feeds. While these feeds were under $150 each, shipping them to Israel would have cost upward of about $1,500, given that they are made of steel. Clearly, that item’s not good for long-distance shipping.
Shipping delicate items can be a challenge. Any items that are broken during transit will have a negative impact on your bottom line, as all of those items will add up. If you’re an emerging small ecommerce retailer, you can’t afford to be replacing broken items constantly. Therefore, if you have decided to go ahead and ship a delicate or hard-to-ship item, make sure that you’ve packaged it appropriately. If you’re planning to ship glassware across the Atlantic, for example, you will definitely need to be packaging items in dense packaging with shock-absorbent properties to ensure that it doesn’t break in transit. Do your research to figure out the best way to package a product to protect it.
Understand How Much It Will Cost You
Before you agree to ship something to a customer, make sure you fully understand how much it will cost you. Don’t assume it will be profitable unless you have actually sat down and crunched the numbers. For example, Brina Bujkovsky, CEO of Younique Boutique, got in an order for a dozen of its bespoke wedding-cake toppers and assumed shipping would be no problem at all. However, when that order snowballed from a dozen to well over 200 and the order destination was changed to China at last minute, Bujkovsky went ahead with the order is spite of the fact that she did not fully understand the shipping costs involved. Needless to say, disaster ensued.
"I just added $5 to our cost for each topper [to the bill] and crossed my fingers," Bujkovsky told Entrepreneur, explaining that the actual cost actually turned out to be much more than that estimated cost. The whopping $1,900 shipping bill resulted in the company incurring a loss amounting to several hundred dollars on the order. “We had no idea how heavy the boxes would be, how many boxes there would be, and which method we would need to ship. I was so afraid of losing a potentially valuable publicity opportunity I agreed to do too much for too little. Since then, my manufacturer and I have researched every possible shipping method and the costs. We will be able to come up with a better estimate [for similar projects] in the future."
The moral of the story? Before you agree to ship internationally, do the math to make sure it is profitable to do so.
Pay Attention to Customs Regulations
All products that are shipped internationally will be required to clear customs, regardless of the medium in which they are shipped. Whether you are shipping your product via plane, train, or even automobile, you need to make sure that whatever is in the package can make it through customs of whatever country your customer is in. Therefore, it can be a good idea to brush up on customs regulations to make sure you aren’t shipping anything that will be detained.
Many countries have strict prohibitions on the importation of foodstuff, such as fruit, for example. So, if you’re trying to ship dried fruit overseas, you could potentially be out of luck when it comes to your international expansion plans. Other regulations are much less intuitive. In Vietnam, for example, it is illegal to import foreign calendars for commercial purposes, so importing any more than 100 calendars at a time in the country is simply illegal. There are many odd regulations like this in the world, so it is good to be familiar with the requirements of the places you’re planning to ship to.
“Each country has specific customs requirements,” Jennifer Goforth Gregory explained in Entrepreneur. “The requirements you use for one might get your product stuck in customs in another. Before you set delivery expectations for your customers, research if your package fulfills the necessary requirements or regulations, such as certificates to prove the product’s country of origin.”
Problems that arise because of a failure to adhere to customs regulations can be expensive, so learning how to play by the rules can go a long way in helping keep costs down. The good news is that it isn’t too difficult to keep abreast of regulations in different countries. You can find trade laws and customs requirements for most countries online these days. When it doubt, you might want to consider hiring a consultant or trade attorney familiar with the regulations of a particular destination if it seems that you will be doing a lot of business there.
Make Sure You’ve Looking into Time of Transit
Don’t promise an overseas customer that you will be able to get the product to them in a week or less if you haven’t looked into transit times. If you’re shipping a product from your warehouse in Upstate New York to a customer at the tip of Patagonia, that is probably going to take longer than shipping something to London. When you’re giving customers estimated delivery times, make sure you’ve factored in travel time, how long it will take the package to clear customs, etc. It’s crucial not to make promises you can’t deliver on.
The risk of damage for international shipments tends to be high, especially if you are shipping items that are delicate or that break easily. Therefore, you may want to look into getting insurance to cover any damages or accidents, especially if the items are valuable. Remember, if you end up having to replace an order for a customer because of damage done during shipping, it can end up being a significant financial cost.
In conclusion, you need to consider a number of things before you ship internationally. First, you need to make sure that it is feasible to ship a given product. Then, it is critical to understand how much it will cost, how long it will take, and what kind of relevant regulations are involved. Remember, getting international shipping right can be complex, especially for a relatively small ecommerce retailer. While there is certainly a wealth of information available online, it may also be advantageous to ask a vendor's small-business specialist for some advice and assistance in navigating the international shipping process, consult with 10twelve today.