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How To Navigate International Shipping As A Small Business


One of the benefits of running your own business is the ability to scale it up and serve as far as you can reach with the internet and shipping.

However, figuring out international shipping for a startup isn’t always as easy as it sounds. The costs might seem prohibitive, but there are some solutions when you know where to look for them.

According to Statista, around 80% of goods get carried via sea, so maritime shipping may be the way to go. You can also consider air freight for lighter items as a competitive option. Knowing how much your items weigh is an excellent first step to seeing how much international shipping rates might be.

So, where do you even get started with international shipping as a small business? Language and currency differences might make the task seem overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. Here are some straightforward steps to take to begin selling globally.

1. Understand Customs

Before shipping items, could you get a handle on customs in different countries and ensure compliance throughout the contract lifecycle management? You may want to start with just a handful of locations you’ll sell to and expand from there as you learn more. Each site has its own rules, regulations, and fees. A minor paperwork mistake can cost you time and money.

The process is similar in most places. An agent inspects the package and documentation. They usually verify that everything matches. Then, if the item's value exceeds its minimum, they add duties and tariffs. If the customer has already paid for the delivery, customs will release it. If they owe money, they collect payment first.

2. Streamline Order Processing

When shipping out of the country, you can expect potential delays. The faster you can get items through the order process and out the door, the faster international customers receive the item. Setting up a supply chain management strategy improves results by as much as 40% and keeps your clients happy.

Invest in software that manages inventory, selects the best shipping options based on the time and cost of delivery, and helps with customer relationship management (CRM). International shipping presents different challenges than domestic shipping. The right software tracks where your products are and ties into your customer database to keep them informed.

3. Calculate Duties and Tariffsa perwson calculating duties and tariffs

How much should you expect to pay? You obviously can’t memorize the fee structure for every country in the world. Look up the product category HTS code to see where your product falls. Although heavier items are costlier to ship, you can send them via less expensive transport modes.

You can also use online calculators to input your HTS Code, the item's value, country of origin, and destination. This will give you an idea of your fees according to trade treaties and other factors.

The more an item is worth, the more your fees will be. However, essential things also command more money. For example, it isn’t cheap to ship a vehicle across the ocean, but auto manufacturers know they can cost top dollar once it’s there and make up the tariff difference in most cases.

4. Offer Transparency

Costs can add up for international shipping, but your customers may want items they can’t get in their home country or a better-quality product. Be upfront about what the final costs might be and that they can vary.

Send an invoice listing the charges so the customer doesn’t think you’re just trying to pad your pocket with a few extra dollars. Once they see the actual cost to you, they’ll realize the duties, tariffs, and international shipping charges.

5. Accelerate Growth

Online retailers grow 60% faster when offering international shipping. It makes sense that if you expand your reach, you’ll increase your customer base. However, you must also create buyer personas for each location, as cultural differences can impact how people view words, colors, and fonts.

For example, black might present a serious look for a business in the United States, but someone in another country could see the color as bad luck. Could you create landing pages that work for each segment of your audience?

International shipping allows you to speed up growth, but you must monitor the customer experience (CX).

6. Buy Durable Packaging

Your item has to make it a long way to its destination. The bubble mailer that excels for a shipment from one state to the next within the continental United States may need to be more vital to make it overseas.

Please pack the item as though it will be dropped, stomped on, and run through a grinder. The more protected the things are inside, the better chance your customer will receive their order in perfect condition. You should also include branding on the outside of your shipping container. Could you add your logo, website, and tagline in the destination country's language?

7. Compare Companies

You have several options when sending products overseas. You can use the USPS's old standby, likely your most cost-effective option for minor, lightweight packages. You can also use FedEx or DHL. Many smaller delivery companies specialize in sending larger orders or bulk items.

Please look at the costs and requirements for each and see what works best for you and your customers. One charges a bit more upfront but offers perks. Another doesn’t. It would be best to try different providers to see which gets your items there faster and in the best condition.

Ask for Customer Feedback

Dip your toes into the waters of international shipping slowly. Try out a few sales in a nearby country and ask your customers for feedback on the delivery times and condition the package arrives in. If one carrier doesn’t work for you, try another.

Keep a close eye on the costs of packaging and shipping items in the early days to ensure you’re charging international customers enough for the service. You should also provide any currency exchanges to your benefit, as the exchange cost can quickly eat into your profits.

This article originally appeared on the Growave blog and is available here to educate and cast a wider net of discovery.
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