International business. For many eCommerce businesses, the idea of expanding to new markets is compelling, but the challenges involved in international trade are daunting. Ecommerce owners often have questions like:
- How do you set up your website’s shipping page for different address formats to match other countries?
- How do you anticipate unknown shipping charges and tariffs?
- Can you track shipping?
- What countries present more difficulty with international trade than others, and should you avoid them or forge ahead, if they offer significant potential?
If you’re considering growing your business in other countries, these are significant issues to consider. But for several ecommerce business leaders who faced those questions and answered them, the challenge is definitely worth it.
Why Sell Internationally Anyway?
For specialized markets, international sales can represent a huge opportunity. Think about this–96% of the world’s population lives outside the U.S. borders. That’s 96% of your potential customers. And right now, competition is low, with only 1% of small businesses shipping internationally.
Businesses that can navigate the system and get their products established in other countries will certainly have a leg up on the competition and significant room for growth.
Scott Campbell, co-owner of Motorcycle Goodies, an eCommerce site selling power sports equipment, says he first considered selling internationally when he was with a previous company once he realized how many customer requests he was getting from outside the United States.
“We were losing an incredible amount of sales to international inquiries because we couldn’t accept orders,” he says. He did his research and realized this was a good opportunity for the business. Thirty days later, the process was up and running, and he quickly noticed an uptick in revenue. In nine months, he says, the total volume of international orders was equal to domestic orders. When he started with Motorcycle Goodies, he implemented an international shipping plan immediately.
Kontrolfreek, a niche gaming controller and accessory developer, shipped internationally from day one, says Matt Konigsmark, vice president of marketing. But the majority of their abandoned shopping carts came from international customers. That led the company to look more closely at their international shipping potential so they could better answer the needs of interested customers.
If you’re like Campbell and are already getting numerous requests internationally or if you’re like Konigsmark and see that international customers are delving into the buying process, it may be time to look at building your business internationally. If your research shows significant growth potential overseas and you offer a specialized product or if your domestic growth has peaked, increasing international sales may be your best bet.
Keys to Getting Started With International Sales
- Thoroughly research the potential for international sales for your business and determine which countries you want to focus on. Use country search engines (i.e. Google.com.au) to search for competitors in your target country.
- Ensure your target countries are ones the U.S. has trade agreements with, and make sure they are not considered a high fraud risk. Although the easiest places to ship to are Canada, Australia and Western Europe, both Konigsmark and Campbell say it’s important to weigh the demand and competition against the potential gain. Brazil, for example has multiple challenges for international shipping, but the potential benefits are great.
- Use the numerous resources out there to save time and money. The Small Business Administration provides a variety of information for businesses looking to expand internationally. USPS, UPS, DHL and FedEx also offer a wealth of resources as well, and can help you develop a specific shipping plan for your needs.
- Make sure your website can be translated into the primary languages of the countries you are targeting. If you’re working with English-speaking countries, your original website should suffice, but don’t assume that all of your customers speak English.
Provide a currency converter in your website to help your customers easily understand how much items cost.
- Code your website so the shipping addresses match each country’s address specifications, including space for region, neighborhood, area or alley if necessary.
- Be able to estimate customs, duties and taxes, and build those into pricing.
- Compare shipping options. One of the main issues with international sales is the cost of shipping. Items like a Kontrolfreek controller might sell for $20, but international shipping could add another $10. Through negotiations with shippers, Kontrolfreek was able to bring down the cost and provide free shipping for both domestic and international sales, which Konigsmark says has helped growth.
- Understand that there will still be challenges. Brazil is ripe for international sales, Konigsmark says, but the lack of easy access to an international credit card among the target audience of 13-24 year olds still impedes progress. Shipping in many countries is not tracked, and it’s not unheard of for a truck full of products to sit on a dock for a week. Rules and regulations can change without notice, with each country having its own system and demands. Trade embargoes and troubled international relations can affect your business in a country. Patience and foresight is key.
Despite the numerous details and risks involved in international shipping, Konigsmark and Campbell agree: their businesses’ increased sales show that the potential for ecommerce sites to expand globally is wide open.