How to Handle International Shipping


One of the biggest advantages of owning an eCommerce business is the ability to interact and sell to customers from all over the world. But, especially when it comes to smaller retailers, the practicalities of actually shipping a package internationally can be quite daunting. We’ve already written about some of these (especially international regulations) in our blog, “5 Tips for Fulfilment and Shipping for Ecommerce”, so be sure to check that out.

However, since the Boston Consulting Group, as well as many others, have predicted that the Internet Economy will almost double by 2016 – with cross-border sales making up a large portion of this growth – we thought we’d write a little more about international shipping generally.

Though some eCommerce businesses restrict their operations to the national or even local level, many are starting to venture into the international market. Doing so increases their potential customer base exponentially and, in turn, can make their business far more profitable.

So, in order to give you the best chance of being successful if you’re thinking about cross-border selling, we’ve listed a few things to bear in mind.

Make Sure Your Products Are Suitable

Unfortunately, not all products are suitable for international shipping.

For some less expensive products, shipping rates may actually exceed the value of the order being shipped. If you deal exclusively with such goods, international shipping may not be for you. Sorry.

Similarly, if you deal with small, delicate products, you may need to think carefully about whether your packaging is strong enough to ensure your products arrive unscathed. You can learn about shipping and fulfilment best practice here.

On the other hand, if you sell large items, then you also may need to consider whether shipping internationally is a realistic goal. The cost of shipping large items can be extremely high, and the damage this will do to your profit margins may not make international shipping tenable.

Who are the best candidates?

The best candidates for international shipping, then, are relatively small, light, and expensive items. Technology, for example. Or niche goods, such as collectable train models.



Make Sure You Target Specific Countries

The world is a big, big place. So simply opening yourself up to the global market is unlikely to significantly benefit your ecommerce business.

You need to select some specific countries to target. This will mean that you can market your wares more effectively and learn in detail exactly what shipping to those countries consists of.

Part of this will be gaining an understanding of those countries’ international shipping rules and regulations. Since these can vary substantially from county to country, it’s important to know exactly what you’re up against so that you can make sure your shipments are compliant. More on this below.

But you also need to make sure that there’s a demand for your products in the countries you are seeking to ship to. So, get stuck into any relevant industry reports and predictions – remember, if there’s an existing demand or a rising demand, getting in first can be a huge bonus.

Understand Country-Specific Regulations

It is illegal to import foreign calendars to Vietnam for commercial purposes. Yes, as strange as that may sound, it’s the truth. And there are plenty of other weird and wonderful regulations you may have to contend with when shipping internationally, so, in order to remain on the right side of the law, you need to do your research.

UPS provide a pretty good tool that should help you get the basics. Simply enter the name of the country you’re based in, as well as the country you wish to ship to, tick the boxes next to the regulation topics you want to see, and you should be shown all of the information you should need.

If you’re unsure, don’t just risk it. Else you could face fines, fees, or worse.

Know Your “Landed Costs”

The landed cost of a product is the total cost of sending that product internationally. If you don’t know and communicate what this figure is, then you may be put in a situation where your customer is suddenly expected to pay an extra, say, $10 in duty tax and refuses to accept their order. This means you lose both the sale and the cost of freight.

To avoid this, make sure you know exactly what it costs to ship goods to the locations you’re targeting. And make sure you communicate the final cost to the consumer very explicitly (landing cost + profit margin). This will allow you to dodge situations such as that outlined above, and is essential for making accurate financial forecasts.

Use a Fulfilment Service

After you’ve proved the viability of international shipping, you may wish to use a fulfilment service to help you save time and money. International shipments will always be more of a headache than national ones. But there’s a chance for you to make money, it’s doubtful that you will want to stop. As an aggregator of shipping services, ParcelBright can help you get the best deals on international shipping and fulfilment.


International shipping offers a wealth of opportunities for eCommerce operations of all sizes. And, even though getting started can be difficult, it wouldn’t be wise to write international shipping off for that reason alone. Unless there are real reasons for why international shipping may not be viable for you, we recommend researching the topic in more depth. Failing to embrace this huge benefit of eCommerce could mean damaging your business and struggling to keep up with the pack.

Are you shipping internationally? If so, what are your tips for getting it right? And if not, why? We’d love to hear from you, so let us know with a comment.




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