The Most Important Questions To Ask Before Shipping Internationally
One of the strongest appeals of selling online is the ability to distribute your products far and wide. With an online store, you can spread your brand across the country without ever dealing with the overhead expense of a network of brick-and-mortar stores.
It’s natural that after some time, successful online sellers start to seek new ways to open their doors to even more potential customers. In order to do so, they often turn to international shipping.
As we frequently discuss on our blog, shipping is one of eCommerce’s greatest challenges. Shipping internationally only complicates things further. And with the added variables of currency exchange rates, customs fees, and additional taxes, selling across borders can be expensive and time-consuming.
If you’re considering taking your online business global, you may be asking yourself if international shipping is worth the added difficulty. And while each business owner has to answer that question for him or herself, there are a few important things merchants should consider before committing to a global shipping model.
Without further ado, here are the six questions you should answer before you begin your international expansion…
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Will Selling Internationally Grow My Business Or Hinder It?
Selling internationally gives you a great opportunity to further your business, but it also has the potential to cripple your current operations. If you don’t have the resources to dedicate to your new international project, you could leave your domestic sales suffering.
As you should with every major business decision, make sure you do your due diligence to thoroughly research your target audience in any potential new market. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I expanding due to a global demand for my products?
- Have I had demand in the past from customers in one particular country?
You should also consider whether you have the resources to expand your business. Ask yourself:
- Do my products have a high enough profit margin to support increased shipping costs?
- Do I have enough personnel to handle more complex order fulfillment?
If you have reason to believe that your products will be received well internationally (and that you’ll be able to handle the increase in orders), you’re in a good position to proceed.
Which Shipping Carriers Fit My Needs?
As you set up your international shipping plan, you’ll need to think about which shipping carriers will work best for your business. Private and public carriers handle international shipments differently, and some may charge higher fees than others. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most popular options:
FedEx and UPS:
FedEx and UPS are both private shipping carriers. They offer a variety of shipping speeds and priority levels and often handle your international shipments from start to finish. The disadvantage of these services is their extra fees. FedEx and UPS both charge fuel surcharges on international shipments.
The USPS provides what is essentially bargain shipping. They often offer the lowest rates, but they don’t always provide the fastest shipping. The benefit of shipping internationally with USPS is that they won’t impose any fuel surcharges (unlike UPS and FedEx). The USPS will simply deliver your shipments into the hands of your destination country’s national shipping carrier.
Here are some other things to consider as you select your shipping carrier:
- How long will it take packages to ship?
- Is tracking information available?
- Can I insure my packages with this carrier?
You’ll want to make sure the carrier you choose fits in with your fulfillment strategy, your budget, and your business needs.
Which Products Should I Ship?
I’m certain all of your products are out of this world. However, not all products should go global.
As you surely know by now, international shipping rates can be truly astronomical, and heavy products may cost more to ship than they’re worth.
What’s more, different countries place different restrictions on what can be shipped across their borders. You may be surprised by some of these restrictions on seemingly innocuous products. Other products may be subject to additional duties and taxes.
My advice is to start small. Begin by shipping a few products internationally and expand from there.
Which Countries Should I Ship To?
As you make this transition, make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. With so many different regulations and a whole world of duties and fees to understand, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details.
Again, it’s a good idea to take your expansion one step at a time. If you’re based in the US, begin by shipping to Canada and Mexico.
Look into your neighboring countries’ local shipping options. Find out about any restrictions the country places on trade, and begin exploring multi-currency options.
For more information on selling to Canada (or to the US if you’re based in Canada), check out Orderhive’s article on the subject.
How Will I Handle Customs Forms?
In order to ship overseas, you will need to fill out the correct customs forms. These forms require the following information:
- Recipient’s name and address
- Package value and weight
- Contents value and weight
While you can fill out these customs forms by hand, it may take too much time to complete one for every international shipment. Fortunately, some shipping software programs offer autofill features to simplify the process.
Should I Use a Fulfillment Service Instead?
If you’re dying to sell and ship abroad, but all of this paperwork and rate calculations sound like too much work, you might consider contracting with a fulfillment center for your international shipments.
Fulfillment services like FBA and Shipwire warehouse, package, and ship your products for a price. Many of these services will also handle international shipments (and all the complexities included) for an additional fee.
You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of fulfillment services with regard to your company. You’re the only one who can determine whether the convenience is worth the extra expense.
Go Make A Plan
With all these considerations in mind, get moving on your shipping plan! Do your research and select a few good products and countries with which to begin your international expansion. Plan how you’ll handle customs forms and additional fees and weigh the merits of a fulfillment center. When you have everything lined up, don’t be afraid to execute.
You’re well on your way to taking over the world!