Even with postage rates and delivery expenses on the rise, there's no question that opening online selling to customers in other countries can boost your profits tremendously. However, doing so also opens the door to headaches that can reach international proportions.
In March, AuctionBytes asked readers to tell us about their experiences with international shipping (http://blog.auctionbytes.com/cgi-bin/blog/blog.pl?/pl/2008/3/1206655038.html). Sellers contributed their thoughts on the AuctionBytes Blog, and I've included some of their responses (in italics) in this article, which should help sellers steer clear of some world shipping woes.
At first glance changing your sales from domestic to international seems easy enough - simply substitute the cost of shipping to country A, B or C for the normal postage included in your price.
Ah, but not so fast. As industry expert Mark Taylor (of RedRoller, the shipping superstore) will tell you, "When it comes to international shipping, my advice is the same as with domestic shipping; know your options. Compare shipping rates among various carriers. No carrier is the best carrier for all packages."
So if you use a government-run postal service domestically you may discover (especially if you deal in large, heavy or multiple-item sales) that another shipping company can give you a better price, bigger bargain or faster delivery time. So your first assignment is to research and find the best match for your particular needs.
"I just don't understand why most eBay sellers (think) they have to use eBay or FedEx or USPS or UPS or DHL directly for shipping international. I Google around and find the cheapest international shipping company..." (Celion)
There are hundreds of shippers so you might want to check out www.shipping-international.com or one of the other clearinghouse sites that offers website links or company comparisons. And remember, not all rates are created equal. So once you've narrowed your search - check to see if there are package plans that give you a discount for high volume, or loyalty programs that reward you for spending a certain amount each month, or any other incentives that you can use to your favor.
Then, before you commit, remember that the cheapest plan is not necessarily the best - especially when you consider customs regulations, ongoing security checks and the complicated import rules of other countries.
Delivery across even the friendliest borders (like Canada/US) can result in delays. And ignorance of foreign laws (like Spain's used clothing import restrictions or Australia's ban on some bedding items) can easily lead to undelivered merchandise, angry buyers and out-of-business sellers. Here again, a little research can make a big difference to your success.
"USPS.com has sections regarding restricted items and rules for each country (http://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immctry.htm). They also have a section that shows the status of foreign country mail systems (delays due to strikes and such)." (Zeak)
Also keep in mind that a shipper that offers first-rate customer service, package tracking and reliable delivery insurance can save you from costly errors or losses which should be considered at least as important as price when choosing a carrier. Remember, expenses escalate when shipping abroad, and delivery problems can send costs through the roof.
"International shipping is definitely risky. I have had great success in getting my items to where they need to go, but one mishap erased my profits on 15 sales." (Gravy)
Some sellers cite customs hassles (including both country-by-country regulations and individual customer threats) as the main reason to forgo foreign sales.
"I have had several buyers demand that I circumvent customs by labeling my item as a gift, which I refuse outright. (Gravy)
"I don't want to cheat anyone but sometimes a higher price and lower handling fee would make a BIG difference in what I have to pay for an item. I look for sellers that understand that." (Cree_a_tive_tina)
Which brings up the issue of justifying shipping costs to buyers that often have purchase prices doubled or even tripled by the import and delivery fees that get added on by their own governments. Especially with eBay's new evaluation system, buyers can take out their displeasure with "the system" by leaving negative "postage and handling" feedback.
"Some sellers charge a huge handling fee on top of postage. The problem with that is - say you're importing from the U.S. to the UK - the shipping charge gets added to our customs charge, which is 17.5% of the item's cost + the shipping (if total is over $36.00 USD) + we have to pay a handling charge of $16.50 USD to our postal service for delivery. You can see how even a small purchase can get expensive." (Verity)
Finally, make sure your listings (and email communications following a sale) make all charges clear and specific. It's especially important when English may not be your buyer's first language.
"If you charge a handling fee above the cost of actual postage, disclose this to your buyer up-front. It's smart to include a list of any packaging costs in your initial invoice so if they have a problem with it - they can mention it BEFORE you've shipped the item. I've been given less than 100% feedback by buyers that see $2 worth of stamps on a package and wonder why I charged $3 shipping. They're not thinking of the bubble envelope and foam packing I had to pay for or the time and gas I use to get to the post office daily so I can assure a quick delivery." (Carter James)
In the end, even with the challenges of international shipping, following good business practices and simple rules of logic should make expanding sales beyond your own borders an exciting and profitable proposition.
Comment on the AuctionBytes Blog:
Note from the editor: Canada Post and eBay Canada have just introduced a new flat-rate box (http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y08/m05/i16/s02).