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