The world is a big place and you’ll have access to many, many more customers if you sell internationally. You should also bear in mind, many countries don’t have the same shopping opportunities most of us take for granted. Once customers from those countries discover an online store they like, they’re more likely to become lifelong fans than customers in countries where such products are readily available.
Although shipping internationally can be daunting, it really isn’t anymore difficult or confusing than shipping within your own country. Here are 3 tips to smooth the process:
Just like with local shipping, it’s important to get the costs right so you don’t lose money or customers. However, that doesn’t mean you need to know the cost of shipping to every single country in the world. I recommend checking online (for example with USPS’s shipping calculator) or taking a sample package to your local Post Office and finding out these key pieces of information:
- How much would it be to ship to the country with the highest shipping cost?
- How much would it be to ship to a few of the most likely destinations? (Which countries you pick depends on where you are based but the majority of Storenvy users are in the US and speak English so the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are good countries to start with.)
- How much extra would it cost to get tracking and/or insurance?
- What is the process for sending international packages? What forms will you have to fill out?
With this information you can start by setting up just 1 or 2 different international rates, using the highest cost to be sure you don’t lose money. As you get orders from other countries, you can research those as you go and expand your settings by adding rates for those countries, if they are very different.
Every country has different regulations regarding import taxes and acceptable import products so it’s unreasonable to expect you to research them all. It is standard practice, with retailers large and small, that the customer is the one liable for any import fees and duties. That being said, it is worthwhile to include that information in your FAQ section so it doesn’t take the customer by surprise when they suddenly get a bill for extra charges.
You should be aware of any regulations regarding the import (and export) of your specific product, at least for the countries you most-commonly ship to. Obviously animal and plant products, foods and chemicals are most likely to be restricted but some countries also have laws around items such as electronics, jewelry and precious metals etc.
Be sure to fill out any forms accurately and in detail. If customs has to seize a package because the description of the contents isn’t detailed enough or doesn’t seem to match the contents this will mean long delays on shipping times or even the destruction of the package. It is also illegal to mark an item as a gift when it is not. Customers may ask you to do that so they don’t have to pay import taxes, but you will be the one liable if it is discovered.
Tracking and insurance can mean a significant price increase on international shipments, depending on the shipping provider. However, the risk of packages getting lost in international transit is typically higher because the package is usually transferred from one shipping service to another. Providing the option of tracking at an additional cost to the customer is one way to mitigate this. Alternatively you can build sufficient leeway into your pricing such that you are able to replace the occasional package when it goes missing. This option may work out cheaper in the long run, depending on the additional cost of insurance and the frequency at which packages go missing.
Don’t be freaked out if your shipping costs turn out to be quite high once you have done the research. Obviously it’s great if you can find cheaper solutions but there’s no point cutting costs if it’s just going to lose you money. International customers are usually well aware that they will have to pay high shipping costs and they are happy to do so to get hold of the products they really love and can’t find anywhere else!