What most sellers already know is that launching an international shipping program is so much more complex than doing just domestic. When you add international markets there’s a higher margin for error and there are more costs involved; it’s not without rewards though—increased revenue, expanding your loyal customer base, and higher sales volume.
Sellers often wonder, is international shipping worth the effort? With the right partners you can launch into new markets successfully, it takes knowing which countries are right for you and making sure you have your systems ready to support a growing customer base.
Benefits of Cross-Border Shipping
There are a few baseline benefits that sellers can gain by introducing an international shipping program.
- Brands who ship to international markets report that (on average) customers cost less to acquire in international markets than in the US, often by a wide margin.
- The cart size is (on average) higher with international customers, by multiples for many—they are more likely to add more items to their cart because they know they are not going to order as often from international sellers.
- Due to the global nature of ecommerce, consumers are (on average) used to buying from sellers across the globe without noticing it until they reach the cart.
Choosing the Right Countries
It’s difficult to know which countries will derive the highest value for the amount of energy output. The simplest answer is: the countries that have the most similarities to where you sell currently.
If you are a US seller, choose countries that have:
- Same or similar language (English speaking)
- Stable currency conversion (EUR, CAD, GBP, AUD)
- Similar product regulations
The data shows that Canada, UK, Australia, France, and Germany, are often highest on the list for sellers coming out of the US. These countries have more mature ecommerce channels set up as a whole—they are the early adopters. Having consumers who are accustomed to the ecommerce process is going to be a lot easier when you’re figuring out your fulfillment, shipping, customs, currency conversion, etc.
“I think that the opportunity for international shipping usually organically presents itself, especially when you’re already taking advantage of global platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Those are places where you’ll still see organic growth just come up from a certain region even when you might not be directly targeting your marketing spend.”
Another consideration is proximity. Canada is a likely option because it’s close to where US sellers are already shipping. Some brands may choose to keep it simple and just sell to Canada, while others might add Canada plus the UK, or a European country or two.
Often brands who start selling in new markets will first see sales traffic coming from that region. It’s a great marker of where to focus outreach before fully launching in a new country.
“One of the easiest things for brands to do is to start seeing new opportunities is to rely on their traffic. It won’t look like 10% of sales are coming from Canada, for example, but it will be noticeable that there are eyes already in a certain country or region, without doing direct outreach there.”
Key Markers of Readiness for International Shipping
Every brand is different, and will have different cues that signal they are ready for a new market. But there are a few universal markers that matter when considering cross-border shipping: package tracking, customer support, and cart display.
Package tracking may seem like a no brainer, but it can be surprisingly challenging for brands who are new to international shipping, or shipping in general. Packages are identified during the sorting, warehousing, and delivery. Tracking is the first line of defense you have in helping customers with late or lost packages. Plus if you can relay the tracking information to your customers automatically (in customer notification emails, for example) the less inbound requests you’ll get—that means more time for your customer support team to help resolve bigger issues as they may arise.
Stellar Customer Support
The number one question that your customer support team will field is: “Where’s my package?” That goes for any company selling any type of product.
If it’s domestic it’s a bit easier to track down a package because there are fewer places it can get stuck. International shipping has so many more handoffs along the shipping journey; customs brokerage alone adds multiple opportunities for shipments to get stuck easily.
This is true for international returns as well. Merchants need to think through their international reverse logistics in order to offer customers the best service possible. Reclaiming the import and customs fees for customers who return merchandise is a big area where merchants get stuck. There are many ways to reclaim duties and taxes for international returns, brands need to work with an expert to figure out which is right for them.
“Sellers are looking for faster transit across the border. To get that, it’s important to ensure custom brokerage is as smooth as possible. Our tools automate many of the important aspects of cross-border compliance that customs officials require from sellers.”
There are certain places sellers can get easily tripped up at customs.
- Packaging requirements can change based on the type of product. For example, shipping perfumes with a high alcohol content will need special packaging depending on the carrier used.
- Product labeling should be considered as certain products regulated differently from market to market. Consumables like nutritional supplements, for example may need certain nutritional information in one country but not in another.
- Customs fees are a big decision sellers need to make—choosing DDU (Delivery Duty Unpaid) makes the buyer responsible for customs fees upon arrival of the shipment at customs, versus DDP (Delivery Duty Paid) where the buyer pays for customs fees upfront during checkout.
- Documentation is also a place packages can get held at customs—it’s important for sellers to work with experts who know the country requirements well (plus any trade agreement updates for new taxes, duties, or tariffs) so that the appropriate paperwork is filled out correctly.
Last mile transit is an area that multiples in complexity with international shipping. There are often many international carriers that get stitched together to support the final mile before delivery. If you’re getting customers asking where their package is it can be near impossible to field those questions in-house if you’re working across multiple countries.
“A big benefit of working with Passport is that we integrate with several last mile carriers in target countries. We intercept all international shipping related customer service requests and answer them on behalf of brands. It saves the ops team a ton of resources because they’re not scrambling to track down packages scattered across multiple markets.”
Getting Your Cart Right
Displaying the right options for customers as they checkout is key. A few reasons cart abandonment may be high include: too many options (decision fatigue!); too few options (not right for me!); or a confusing process (too time consuming!). You don’t want to lose customers in that last phase of the buying cycle.
“What we’ve done at Passport is figure out what works best for conversions. Brands who come to us get the benefit of that long term research. They get to put the tried-and-tested option into their cart without having to do the work of A/B testing. Plus we integrate with most major cart platforms like Shopify and Bigcommerce so that integration is a breeze.”
Providing Visibility on Duties and Taxes
Shipping internationally can be more complex than a domestic shipment because it involves incremental duties and taxes, plus import regulations vary by country. Providing clear visibility on these fees, and who is responsible for paying them can have a significant impact on shopping cart conversions.
One of the primary considerations is whether you ship your international orders DDP (Delivery Duty Paid) or DDU (Delivery Duties Unpaid). DDP means that the seller pays for the duties and taxes upfront and DDU means the buyer has to pay the duties and taxes upon delivery. For some ecommerce sellers, selling DDP and paying for the duties and taxes upfront increases their shopping cart conversion and leads to a better overall customer experience.
How to Start Selling Internationally
Sellers are likely going to start shipping internationally before they officially launch a program.
“Normally the first foray into international shipping comes from those one-off questions like, ‘Hey, can you ship here again?’ ‘Can you ship to the UK?’ So then brands decide to turn on a full fledged international shipping program by getting more into the intricacies of shipping cross border.”
It’s important to start with a successful announcement; get clear on the marketing, communications, and customer support that will help bring in more customers at the outset.
A few things to think about as you launch:
- Announce it!—create a thorough campaign of emails, website banner, social posts to get the word out to the appropriate segments of your audience.
- Ensure you’ve got support—make sure customers have clear answers to anything that might come up; fill out your FAQ, support page, and tutorial videos.
- Flex your partnerships—if you have influencers or partners with sway in that country, leverage them to promote your product.
- Streamline all systems—check and double check with your international shipping partners, you want to make sure your customs documentation, shipping options, and carrier relationships are ready to run smoothly.
It’s important to work with high quality, knowledgeable partners, they will be your advocate throughout the supply chain. It’s ultimately brands who have to think about the whole picture and make sure that they are covered because if a customer is unhappy when a package gets stuck at customs, they will see it as a brand’s failure, not the fulfilment company’s error. Work with your partners to ensure international shipping is right for your brand, right now.
About Passport Shipping
Going global is complex, not complicated. Passport is a modern international shipping carrier built with customer experience at its core. We partner with modern DTC brands to build international shipping solutions that deliver the experience their international customers deserve. Passport gives brands high-touch support that help them through many of the common pitfalls like shipping, tracking, notifications, and customs compliance.