International sales can be a challenging, but rewarding, endeavour for ambitious e-commerce merchants. It’s an opportunity to introduce your brand and products to the world, attract diverse customers, and create new sources of revenue. Once you’ve established that your business is, your next step is to develop an international shipping strategy.
Understanding the global shipping process
Developing a basic understanding of the international shipping process should be your first step in creating your strategy. The infographic below highlights all the steps involved – from an international customer placing their order to delivering that order to the customer.
Now that you have a high level understanding of what’s involved, it’s time to consider what’s important to you in a shipping partner. This relationship will be critical for your business, so you need to select a partner that can offer all the services that your business will need. Here are some of the key services that shipping partners can provide:
- Visibility and liability. You and your customers will enjoy greater peace of mind when you’re able to follow along on your shipment’s international journey. Full visibility entails options like global tracking and a signature requirement upon receipt. Insurance on goods shipped is another reassuring option for vendors and customers alike. If you ship high-value goods, not providing these layers of extra security can be a deal-breaker for customers.
- Savings options for specific dimensions and weights. How heavy and large, or lightweight and small, are your products? Look for savings options from shippers that favour your products’ dimensions.
- Variety of delivery speeds. Many international shoppers understand and accept that international shipping simply takes longer, but some don’t want to wait. Being able to provide your international customers with the option to receive their packages faster – especially when it comes to seasonal products – can be game changing for your business.
- Automation. Try to find a shipping partner whose services can be integrated into your e-commerce platform of choice. It will help make fulfilling your international orders a breeze and can increase your productivity by enabling automation for things like label printing, customs forms completion and more.
Using postal vs. commercial
There are many notable differences between using the postal network and the commercial network for your shipments. You’ll have the option of sending your packages through either, but there are distinct benefits to using the postal service that are worth consideration when making your decision. Here are just a few things that the postal service can offer that many commercial carriers can’t match:
- Greater reach and wider retail networks
- No surcharges
- Payment in the sender’s currency
- Cost-effective shipping rates
- Less complex customs forms
- The ability to scale during peak seasons
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Setting your fees
Several factors can impact your international shipping costs. The weight of your package and the destination will play a big part. In general, the heavier a package is, and the further it’s going, the higher the shipping cost will be. Some shippers, like Canada Post, offer no-zone pricing to places like the United States – meaning you can ship to New York or California for the same price. This can be extremely cost-effective when you’re trying to budget your monthly expenses. Shipping discounts, based on volume or the size of your company, are also available from some shippers. If you qualify for a discount, you can lower your shipping costs and potentially save your customers money, too.
One you’ve established what the cost of shipping is for your company, you’ll need to determine the cost of shipping for the customer. Virtually every customer wants free or low cost shipping as an option, but offering it can put a real dent in your bottom line. To appease your customers, consider these options:
- Variable fee structure based on local exchange rates
- Increasing your free shipping threshold for other countries
- Offering a lower shipping fee option, but specifying that returns are not accepted
- Increasing your product prices internationally to offset the cost of shipping
Communication is key
Clear and honest communication with customers is so important. Be transparent with them and ensure that they’re well informed throughout the customer journey. Ensure they know about any applicable fees, delivery information, your returns policy, tracking details and insurance on the package – plus how to contact customer support if necessary. Being there to support your customers fuels loyalty and contributes to stronger shopping cart conversions.
Monitoring, measuring and tweaking
It’s important to assess if your shipping strategy is working. What you start out with might not be what you end up with. With proper measurement, analysis, testing, monitoring and refinement, you can strengthen your strategy over time.
Your international shipping strategy is multi-faceted and complex. You need all of the pieces to work in harmony with each other to achieve success. If you invest time into researching, planning and refining your strategy, you’ll be poised to take the leap into the international market with your best foot forward.
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