You can't always predict just what your hottest selling items will be. That's especially applicable to overseas markets. Sometimes, foreign buyers provide additional sales for products that are already your best sellers at home. Other times, they express their enthusiasm in surprising ways.
Take the example of 80sTees.com. Owner Kevin Stecko sells quirky, 1980s-style clothing and T-shirts like those worn by the character Sheldon in the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory. His clothing items feature cartoon and TV characters of that era such as the Transformers. Stecko says more than 20 percent of his revenue comes from international markets like the UK. So he wasn't surprised when the Optimus Prime Costume Hoodie, which was already a big seller in the U.S., took off in Australia and Japan.
But for Adam Sheridan, owner of The Purple Store, international sales came as a surprise after one of his Facebook posts went viral. Sheridan's store, based in Seattle, WA, sells more than 800 items that have one thing in common - they're purple in color, ranging from watch bands to trash cans to sofas.
"We've worked hard to cultivate a sense of friendship with our customers and have built a fan base more than just a customer base," says Sheridan. "We designate each April as "Tell A Friend About The Purple Store Month" so we posted a set of purple product pictures and asked our customers to pass it on. They did. Posts on The Purple Store fan page are usually seen by 3,000 to 15,000 people. This post was seen by over 720,000 in a matter of days, mostly by Australians who were excited and told their friends."
Luckily for Sheridan, he had a system in place to respond to the dramatic increase in international orders that resulted from the viral posting. He uses one of the international shipping packages provided by Endicia, the mailing and shipping service provider.
As you probably know already, international shipping can be a daunting prospect for a small business. There are tariffs, taxes, other fees, forms, unreliable shippers in the destination country and, of course, the shipping charges themselves. Not to mention the complications involved in accepting returns.
According to Sheridan, Endicia catches addressing mistakes before packages go out, "which is even more important with international shipments. It's costly to send items to the wrong place or have them returned from abroad, and hard to fix that mistake if the customer needs their purple items quickly for a wedding or other event."
Stecko uses the service to automate the process of filling out customs forms. "It saves the 80sTees.com shipping team a ton of time versus having to manually fill out the paperwork." He says he doesn't run into the problem of what happens when an overseas customer wants to return something. "This one doesn't really apply to us. We have lots of happy customers who share feedback on our low shipping costs and quality service."
Endicia co-founder and CTO Harry Whitehouse explains that international shipping services are available in the company's Standard, Premium, Macintosh, and Professional packages, which range from $9.95 to $34.95 per month. These are programs that businesses download to their computers rather than Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions.
Many of the advantages of using Endicia for international shipping fall under the categories of streamlining and automation. The software provides a businessperson with the cost, weight/size restrictions, and delivery standards for the chosen mail class and destination. It also lists a destination country's prohibitions, explains any restrictions that apply, and shows the areas served in that country for Express Mail International and other mail services. However, as Whitehouse points out, customers also get slightly lower shipping rates because of the agreements his company has struck with shippers like the U.S. Postal Service.
"Endicia users save on the order of 5 percent compared to what they would pay going to the Post Office. We and the USPS offer deeper discounts if the customer has certain package volumes. This is true for domestic and international rates. These deeper rates are called CPP (Commercial Plus Pricing), Cubic Pricing, GEPPS, etc. Even higher discounts are available through NSA's - Negotiated Service Agreements."
The level of delivery service in destination countries varies widely. As stated in my recent article about the international shipping service Direct Link, in some countries, couriers are the most practical and reliable option. In Russia and some of the Russian Republics, it makes sense for business to rely on the USPS's most expensive international shipping option, Global Express Guaranteed (GXG), says Whitehouse.
"GXG is a guaranteed delivery, which means you get your money back if the package isn't delivered as per the time presented when the label is created. It features date-certain delivery in 1-3 delivery days to more than 180 countries with money-back guarantee to all destinations. There can also be fewer chances of delays with customs clearance being handled directly by a local FedEx branch."
For Sheridan, the shipping software enables him to focus on developing a "fan base" around the world - especially those in countries that are "just starting to appreciate purple more, such as those in Latin America, who buy small household items and jewelry."
"European and Australian customers like the purple leather briefcases and purses," he added. "Our purple tea kettle is always a favorite and we've had several Australian groups clean us out of "Fear The Purple" T-shirts. The most fun part is meeting the Australians and New Zealanders who've been making the trip in to our retail store in Seattle because of the viral post."