Practical Ecommerce

Configuring an Ecommerce Site for International Orders; 8 Tips

International orders are an often overlooked market for ecommerce merchants. Prior to accepting them, however, merchants should configure their sites to increase international profits and reduce potential losses. Here are eight tips to help.

1. Enable Fraud Protection

Fraud is a huge concern when accepting international orders. Working with payment processors can help to reduce fraudulent orders. Although, experience and detective work usually trumps all technical firewalls.

Payment processors are usually equipped with fraud prevention services that detect the shipping address, bank lookup, and security-code number of the submitted order information, all of which can help reduce fraudulent orders.

If an order looks fishy, some ecommerce companies will call a customer, or request the customer send a copy of the front and back of their credit card for verification. Companies may also call the bank that issued the credit card to verify the address.

At ThinkGeek.com, a highly visible link is provided to explain why certain countries are disabled for ordering.

At ThinkGeek.com, a highly visible link is provided to explain why certain countries are disabled for ordering.

2. Restrict Promotions

Carts should have the ability to limit promotions — such as free shipping, gifts with orders, large discounts, and bulk discounts — based upon a specific country or state or province within the country. Free shipping offers in the U.S., for example, often exclude Hawaii and Alaska.

You do not want your cart to offer shipping options that you cannot actually provide.

You do not want your cart to offer shipping options that you cannot actually provide.

In graphic above, the country — i.e. France — has already been entered. Ideally, the “Free Shipping” promotion, as well as the U.S. shipping methods, should be eliminated from the list, since the customer is based in France, and these promotions and methods do not apply.

3. Limit Shipping Options

There is a small list of shipping carriers that offer international shipping. The U.S. Postal Service is a low cost method, but it sometimes has issues with tracking and delivery and signature confirmation with international orders.

UPS and FedEx typically offer more delivery options, but they charge more. Shipping options should be configured on a per country basis so the customers are not shown options that do not pertain to them, or are not profitable to the merchant.

The leading shipping providers provide lists of countries they ship to — here’s the USPS list. Unless the shopping cart can filter the shipping options based upon countries accepted by the shipping provider, however, the shipping estimate will be wildly inaccurate.

4. Properly Identify Postal Codes

Many countries have numeric postal codes, only. Some countries have spaces and hyphens in their postal codes. Countries like Canada contain a mixture of letters, numbers, and a space.

When on the checkout page, the system should be able to verify the code based upon a country selector first, which should use the applicable logic to determine if the code is proper — characters, length, and spaces. This will prevent incorrect data, mismatched codes, and allow for accurate shipping estimates.

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Your shopping cart should be able to handle the full variety of postal-code inputs for all countries you ship to.

Your shopping cart should be able to handle the full variety of postal-code inputs for all countries you ship to.

On the above cart page — prior to checkout — as customers enter their country then postal code, the system is not properly configured to decipher the numeric and letter based postal code. The customer is not provided a shipping estimate, and no error message is shown, leading the customer to assume the site does not ship to the selected country. If that is the case, why is the country available as an option?

5. Understand the Provinces and States

Not all countries have provinces or states. Others require them to be included in the shipping label to be delivered. Carts should be set up to allow for flexibility in requiring province or states on a country level. Also, unless the cart has a full list of every country’s provinces or states, it would be more effective to allow customers to type in their state, rather than select from a list, which may not be accurate.

Be sure that any province or state selectors you use are appropriate for the country your customer is in.

Be sure that any province or state selectors you use are appropriate for the country your customer is in.

This checkout page, above, allows shoppers to choose a country, but then forces them to choose a state that has no relation to the country. The state and province field needs to be updated based upon which country is selected. Moreover, if the merchant’s payment processor is set up to verify addresses, it is possible this customer will get an error as the state will not match with the country.

6. Accommodate All Addresses

Some customers have addresses that span more than 50 characters. It is important that your shopping cart accepts longer addresses, and you can to print them on the shipping label. This may require investigating the addresses, or speaking with the customer to refine what they provided. Trying to fit the address on packing slips and shipping labels may prove to be a challenge.

7. Understand All Payments

Make sure the payment methods you offer align with the habits of shoppers in your customers’ countries. Credit cards are a staple form of payment within the U.S. and many other counties. Other forms of payment include PayPal, Google Checkout, and direct bank draft. Chargebacks, fees, and other associated costs in accepting payments from international customers vary from domestic customer orders. Most payment processors configure their products and services to streamline the acceptance of payments from other countries.

8. Check Local Restrictions; Character Encoding

Items that can cause headaches in international orders include returns, taxes, duties, product selection (what can and can’t be shipped internationally), and character encoding (acceptance of foreign language, such as vowels with an umlaut — ä ö ü — in the German language).

Many of the leading turnkey carts handle these scenarios quite well out-of-box. However, the business owner must configure the business rules for these scenarios and use the tools provided to make sure the customer experience is smooth.

Louis Camassa

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  1. Derek Bacharach March 13, 2012 Reply

    I recommend two tools to help decide which countries to include for shipping:
    (1) Google Analytics – you’ll find where your website visitors are located. You’ll be surprised where they come from!

    (2) USPS – go through the Calculate A Price for the country you’re considering for a 1 pound package. On the following page where there’s a table that breaks down the price of shipping to the country you’ve selected, click on the link called "Price Charts And Complete Information For [Country]." And there you will see prohibitions and restrictions for that country. If what you sell falls under either of these two headings, cross them off your list because you will lower your chances of getting your goods to a customer in that country due to their customs restrictions.

    I found out the hard way about this when I sent a new t-shirt to Italy and discovered after the fact they have restrictions on apparel coming into the country. Even though I wrote "new" on the customs form at the post office, Italian customs didn’t care.

  2. Jason Bibbings August 3, 2012 Reply

    Great tips Derek. Thanks!