Practical Ecommerce

10 Low-Budget Ways to Sell Internationally

In “10 Ideas to Grow Ecommerce Profits in 2012,” my previous article, I suggested that merchants expand into foreign markets to grow profits. In this article, I’ll address how to do that without spending a lot of money.

1. Sell on Current Website, Ship from U.S.

Your international customers can buy directly from your U.S. site and you can ship their order to their international location. This is the fastest way to start selling internationally. Though you will have to know the customs, duty and shipping restrictions, your existing shipment provider can provide assistance.

For example, DHL offers “Trade Automation Service” that helps you estimate the total landed cost that your international customer will have to pay. It is a free service that can be accessed from a browser, or integrated into your checkout process using XML. Most small retailers that have low volume of international shipments can use the browser-based version to determine the total landed cost and then notify the end customer of the total order value — which includes the shipping cost — for payment.

2. Sell Your Products on an International Marketplace

You can sell products on international marketplaces like eBay, and Rakuten to start generating revenue from customers outside the U.S. For business-to-business sales, Alibaba is a good site to list your products. We spoke with an Alibaba executive about that recently, in “How to Source Products from China, and Sell There Too.”

Your business will have to comply with the rules of the international marketplaces before you can start selling. For example, Rakuten requires that you register your business in Japan before you can sell on the site.

3. Ship Internationally Using a Third-Party Service

There are several options available to ship internationally if you can afford to spend a few dollars a month to work with a third-party.

  • Use a service like Bongo International, MyAmericanShipper or GetMyUSMail, which allow you to ship all international shipments to a single U.S. address. The service provider then forwards the order to the international destination, handling all the complexities of customs, duty and regulations.
  • Use a shipping consolidation service like BorderJump to ship international orders to a U.S. hub and the service provider will consolidate the orders by country and ship them together to the end customers, reducing shipping costs
  • Sign up with a site that shops on behalf of the international customer and then consolidates and ships the order internationally. Companies that offer this service are MyAmericanShopper and American-Checkout.
  • You can also sell using services like iGlobalExports, where the service provider buys products at a discount from you and then fulfills the order for the international customer. Your site just needs to integrate with the service provider.

A third-party service can help you sell internationally without handling the complexities of international markets yourself.

A third-party service can help you sell internationally without handling the complexities of international markets yourself.

4. Drop Ship Internationally

If you use drop-ship vendors, check if they will ship orders internationally. This can enable you to start selling there immediately. Otherwise you can pursue two other options: (a) Find drop-ship vendors who will ship internationally; or (b) Find drop-ship vendors in foreign countries. This will work only if your site sells products that are offered by foreign drop-ship vendors or you are willing to change your product set.

5. Partner with an Overseas Company to Stock and Ship your Products

This option will work well if your customers are concentrated in a certain region. You can establish relationships with one or more fulfillment and logistics companies in that region and ship them your products in bulk. They can then fulfill the orders directly for that region. This is being practiced by numerous larger retailers, for example, who source their products from the China and Taiwan region. Instead of first shipping the products to U.S. and then shipping them back to customers in China and Taiwan, they are using logistics partners in those regions.

Similarly, offers a program to Fulfillment by Amazon U.S. merchants, to store and ship their products in Europe.

6. Support International Payment Methods

JCB credit cards hold more than a 40 percent market share in the Japanese market. Bank transfer is the preferred payment method for online transactions in Germany. eWallets are growing in the Nordic region. With so many different payment methods used worldwide, it’s important to use them based on your target markets. You can integrate with these payment methods directly from your ecommerce platform — the cheaper option — or integrate with a company that offers these services, such as WorldPay, CyberSource, and 2Checkout. Most of these companies integrate easily with popular ecommerce platforms and they also offer payment settlement and fraud management.

International payment methods can integrate quickly and easily with your existing shopping cart.

International payment methods can integrate quickly and easily with your existing shopping cart.

7. Support International Currencies

There are several different ways to support international currencies on your site. You can manually create prices in different currencies and, depending on the end user’s country, show prices in the associated currency. You could also integrate with currency exchange rate sites like to display prices in local currencies based on the current exchange rate. Some retailers prefer integrating with services like E4X, which displays the product price in the customer’s native currency but the retailers are paid in U.S dollars.

8. Offer Local Customer Service

To meet the customer service needs of your non-English-speaking customers, hire native speakers or partner with companies like Orium to assist your foreign customers. This can be expensive; it is important to identify which markets absolutely need these native speakers. In other smaller markets, provide as much local-language customer service information online as possible, in a FAQ page and a customer service knowledge-base page. Also provide an email address for those customers.

Importantly, train your customer service team on all aspects of your business. They should understand (a) the calculations for customs and duty, (b) how to process refunds based on your policy and (c) how to help customers with their returns-related questions.

9. Localize your Site

To offer a better experience to your customers, localize your site based on their country and language. This can be done using a translation vendor like FoxTranslate or by using a software solution like OneLink from or by integrating your ecommerce site with, which provides localization services. All of these options need to be reviewed based on your needs and your target markets. The priority should be to localize the checkout flow first, then the product catalog, and lastly the instructional text on the pages.

Translation is only one aspect of localization. It also includes making changes to support local address formats, date formats, and cultural variations. Localization involves setting up country-specific domains for your business. This helps improve the natural search engine ranking in that country and also helps compete better with other local businesses.

Localization adapts your site to the language and culture of your customers, making them more comfortable.

Localization adapts your site to the language and culture of your customers, making them more comfortable.

10. Implement a Global eCommerce Solution

A global ecommerce solution will provide much flexibility along with a well-structured process for on-boarding countries for international selling. The solution will have a matrix to manage rules for different locales — e.g. shipping providers by region and payment methods. This is a relatively expensive option as it requires time and effort to design and implement the solution. But it can eventually be cost effective if your global site generates millions of dollars in annual revenue. Larger retailers use products like Oracle’s ATG or IBM’s WebSphere Commerce package to do this. Those solutions resolve the technology aspect of international selling. The people and processes still need to be worked out by the retailer.


As a retailer, one or more of these options may help you start selling internationally. The key is to identify your larger target markets, know your product offering, determine a budget, and then pick the options that will work for your business.

Gagan Mehra
Gagan Mehra
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Comments ( 7 )

  1. autoban11 February 28, 2012 Reply

    great article. even greater if one is just starting to think more seriously about upgrading their int’l practices. nice work and thanks!

  2. Alice Delore March 18, 2012 Reply

    Great article! I read recently that international buyers will spend an average of 16% more than US buyers for the exact same item. Selling internationally seems like a great option. Thanks for the tips.

  3. preston41 March 26, 2012 Reply

    Well Alice in my experience it is the citizens of the US that will buy anything, regardless of price.

  4. Manuel Gallego April 19, 2014 Reply

    Yes, this article is thinking in US market, but you can apply to europe too, if you select the right order fulfillment company / mail /parcel forwarding company.
    Spainbox can help you to sync your inventory at the most popular marketplaces in europe amazon, ebay and etsy.

  5. Shikha agrawal July 24, 2015 Reply

    Sir it’s been gud to read ur ideas about how to start a business internationally but still my problem is not solved.
    As I want to know the first step to create demand of ur product in foreign markets n how to find the potential customers n market for selling.
    So please if u could help me out in that case

  6. Gagan Mehra July 25, 2015 Reply

    There are several steps you can take. First, understand what the competition is doing in the market. This will provide a view of what works and what does not. Identify how your product is different from the other products in the market. Then setup a marketing campaign and use SEO and SEM to market your differentiators. If that does not work, then attend events in that region / country that focus on your product. I hope this helps.

  7. Jacob June 17, 2016 Reply

    When thinking about price and repeat business in an international setting, Daniel Lafontaine, expat in Korea for 15 years affirms that the “sweet spot” can be attained only when the sales director and other C-suite executives understand the cultural aspects, such as the country’s needs, behavioral patterns, and goals of the company in a particular country…

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