The holiday season comes with big expectations of growth and sales for many ecommerce brands. A key component to a successful peak season is creating a great experience for your customers.
If you ship internationally, don’t forget about your customers abroad. It may take some extra work to ensure they get the same great treatment, but every effort will be worth it when your customers are happy.
This post is focused specifically on Canadian shipping, but many of the tips apply to international shipping in general. If you are unsure how to meet your international customer’s needs this year, it’s important to work with an expert to get your supply chain right. At DCL Logistics, brands work directly with Passport Shipping, the number one international shipping carrier for ecommerce, to get seamless fulfillment and international expertise.
Here are the top holiday season tips to ensure your international customers remain happy and loyal.
Tell Customers What They’ll Pay
Proactive communication is the first step in setting your customers up to have a good experience. For international customers there may be surprise fees along the way—duties and taxes, for example—being upfront about all extra fees and charges is extremely important.
The final payment amount needs to be communicated throughout the checkout process. If not, customers may be hit with surprise fees when their package arrives. For example, if the carrier shows up at your customer’s door with a bill for duties, taxes, and brokerage fees, your customer may not be expecting that. Even worse, if the order is a gift and the recipient is charged for something they didn’t even order, that’s a recipe for a very upset customer.
Brokerage fees from legacy carriers like UPS and DHL can exceed the cost of shipping.
To avoid disgruntled customers, it’s always best to include all duties, taxes, and fees when the customer places the order so that packages can be delivered without issues or surprises.
One of the ways to get a complete view of what your customers will pay is to get a clear total landed cost estimate.
One way to get a good landed cost estimate is regularly audit a sampling of recent shipments. Carriers can give you an entry summary packet, when requested, that shows the duties, taxes, and brokerage fees assessed.
Be sure you are thorough in your estimate. Many ecommerce brands leave out things like provincial sales tax (when applicable), reduced tax rates for qualifying products (books and children’s clothes), or free trade agreements that can lower or eliminate duties.
Avoid Customs Holds and Delays
The easier it is for your products to get through customs, the less likely they are to take a closer look at your shipments. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) conducts random compliance checks, as well as targeted monitoring of commodities like footwear and apparel that they identify as higher risk for compliance violations. If you are subjected to checks, your products may be held at the border and delayed getting to customers.
Here are a few best practices to avoid delays at the border:
- Correct HS Codes. Your product’s 10-digit Harmonized System (HS) code tells customs what your product is, what import regulations apply, and what the duty rate should be. Don’t assume that your US code will work for Canada. If the HS code does not exist for Canada, you’re leaving customs clearance up to chance.
- Accurate Commodity Descriptions. Many merchants use their marketing or product name as the commodity description that they send to customs. While Exploding Kittens is a fun party game, both “exploding”, and “kittens” are words that CBSA’s system will automatically flag for review. Better to give customs a commodity description like “playing card game” instead.
- The Right Valuations. Under valuing orders to reduce duty and tax liability is something that CBSA continuously monitors. The price actually paid should be used as the value for customs declarations. If CBSA has questions about the value declared on the order, they may ask for a sales receipt to demonstrate the purchase price. Declaring shipments as gifts or applying a very low valuation like zero or 10 cents will raise flags.
Ensure New Products are Admissible
If you have new or altered products for the holidays, make sure they can be imported into Canada without issue. Depending on the product category, there could be import restrictions. For example, nutritional supplements and vitamins shipped to consumers should contain less than a 90-day supply to qualify for Canada’s personal use import scheme.
Import restrictions are tied to a product’s HS code, so the first step is to ensure that you have the proper classification. While there are many free HS classification tools out there, it can be worth asking your carrier or customs broker to review your codes for accuracy and trade restrictions, especially with new products that you haven’t previously shipped.
Over Communicate To Your Customers
For many customers, knowing what to expect is the best possible scenario. Whether it’s updating them on shipment times or letting them know about anticipated delays, keeping customers in the loop will set you up for success.
How to maintain a positive customer communication strategy during the holiday rush:
- Make sure you have enough customer service support. Properly staff your team to meet customer requests, respond to questions, fulfill orders, and provide real-time updates.
- Empower your customers with tools that will help them know what to expect. For example, the ability to track their own packages will go a long way and limit outreach to your team.
- Be proactive about all communication. By giving customers the information, they want before they ask for it, you’ll limit the time your team spends responding to requests.
- Use all your marketing channels to communicate. Put your messages on a website banner, checkout addendum, social posts, and more.
- Set proper shipping cutoff dates. Giving customers a clear deadline to order will limit disappointment when they don’t receive their products on time.
Be Mindful of Cutoff Dates and Shipping Options
Most carriers publish their cutoff dates, which is the last date that an order can be placed and still arrive in time for Christmas (the holiday that is the most popular as a deadline in the US). Add very clear messaging to indicate the anticipated delivery window and cutoff dates so that no customers are left without gifts when they expect them.
Many merchants choose to give customers two options: an economical solution that allows for free or inexpensive shipping, and an express service that guarantees delivery in 2-3 days. Keep in mind that too many shipping options can reduce conversion rates. Make it a simple choice; it will help customers choose and help your operations team manage a bit easier.
Add Sustainable Shipping Options
A big incentive for many consumers these days is knowing their purchases are eco-friendly.
As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of their order, they are demanding that merchants and carriers do their part to mitigate their carbon footprint. Sustainable packaging and materials, properly sized boxes, and even carbon offsets help consumers feel good about their purchases.
Ask your 3PL which environmentally friendly fulfillment services they can help with.
Proactively Resolve Problems
No matter which carrier you ship with, problems are bound to occur. The international journey from warehouse to doorstep has even more variables which leaves more room for errors and issues. Layer on top, the higher-than-usual volume of packages that need to be processed during the holidays, and there are always problems that arise during peak season.
Many issues can be anticipated and mitigated. Here are some steps you can take to proactively resolve problems:
- Take advantage of insurance options. Many carriers offer affordable insurance for as little as $1/package that will cover the total cost of replacing a lost or damaged shipment.
- Capture your customer’s phone number and email. One of the easiest ways to resolve delivery problems is to give the carrier a way to get in touch with your customer.
- Work with all supply chain partners before peak season to create crisis plans for a smooth transition when issues come up.
Offer Flexible Returns and Exchanges
Experts expect brands to have 31% more returns after the Black Friday rush of orders. With more orders to process, a smooth return process is instrumental in keeping customers happy. Easy and efficient returns will help you net repeat business and develop long-term positive relationships with customers.
Tips for a smooth returns management strategy:
- Automation. Any time you can add automated processes, you’ll limit errors. The returns journey is complex and will benefit from as much automation as you can add. Allow your customers to initiate the return online, generate their shipping label, and drop off their package with the correct carrier. Setting up these tasks for your customers to execute will limit the need for your team to do it.
- Incentivize exchanges. Many times, customers just want a different size or color. With a simple returns process you’ll empower the customer to receive a corrected version of their product and you’ll keep the sale.
- Expedite refunds. While it requires a little trust on your part, it is best practice to refund the return as soon as the customer hands off the package to your reverse logistics carrier. When customers are ordering on a compressed time-table like the holidays, making them wait 4-6 weeks until the return is received, inspected, and restocked before they see their refund can add to their frustrations.
If you are looking for ways to streamline your holiday international shipping, reach out to us for a quote. We have a close partnership with Passport Shipping to offer brands seamless integration of US and international fulfillment.