There was a time, not so long ago, when Americans only bought “made in America” and China only sold pottery. OK, not really. Global trade has been around since way before traders moved Italian silk across Eurasia and brought back spices to sell to the nobles. Luckily, for most of us, the spice trading days are behind us. Thanks to the marvelous Internet and the wonders of ecommerce, 130 million “major market” shoppers buy stuff from other countries online. They account for $307 BILLION in international purchases, and those numbers only include shoppers from the US, UK, Germany, China and Australia.
Sadly, less than 5% of small businesses in the US take advantage of the opportunity to sell online internationally. What they don’t know is that the volume of cross-border online ecommerce is expected to triple by 2018. That’s a lot of money to be made, and if you don’t take your online business global, you may be one of those poor unfortunate souls staring through the window at the fat cats eating all the pie.
2018 may seem like a long way away. But right now, as you read this, 80% of sellers exporting on eBay are selling in five or more export markets, and 35% of their exports are going to Trans-Pacific Partnership countries. Their products made it across the sea. If you’re not selling globally, some of your products might not have even made it to Canada.
Take Me to the Mountain
Not sure how to get started? Here are some tips.
You need to determine where you will sell. Very few vendors can sell everywhere. How can you determine where you should be? You need to do market research in your target countries. If you just jump in headfirst, you may find that the pool is empty and you are in traction.
Languages and Currency
Even in the days of the spice trade, not knowing the local language made it difficult to sell wares. Online sellers face the same challenge today. If you want to sell somewhere, you should be able to show your site in the local language. But please, for the love of all things holy, don’t use Google Translate. Not that we don’t love it—it can be hilarious—but unless your business is a gag shop, you need proper localization. Choose languages that address a large market: French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese. Don’t forget, while you’re localizing your site, to make sure you are supporting international payments. Seems like a “duh!”, but make sure your payment processor supports the local currency.
Of course, now would be the right opportunity to mention that AbandonAid supports multiple currencies and languages with no special implementation – instantly and on the fly. See how international we are? Make sure your payment processor is also equipped to handle global payments with a frictionless checkout.
Shipping and Tax Logistics
Another huge challenge is shipping: do the legwork. Go the extra mile to ensure that you don’t lose customers with shipping that sucks. Find a third-party company (try getmyusmail.com or bongous.com) or a shipping consolidation service like boderjump.com or shapiro.com – someone that can help with the heavy lifting. Try to offer free shipping if you can make it work. Everyone likes free!
Going back to our spice merchant from days long past, although he risked his life on the road, he didn’t have to contend with border control and international tax implications. Unfortunately, nowadays, customs, regulations, taxes, and the local governments can make things just as risky. Take the time to learn about local legislation wherever you choose to market your product. You can choose from over 20 countries that have established free trade agreements with the US. Learn about how to label your shipments, and give customers a heads-up about local taxes and customs duties.
When you’ve chosen your destination countries, learn about their religious, national, and bank holidays. Not only will it make your life easier (they don’t celebrate Christmas as a national holiday in India, but try delivering next-day air on Diwali), you’ll also know when to schedule strategic sales. Customers will really appreciate that your business is aware of their local festivals.
Finally, as if you didn’t already know it: provide stellar customer service. Inspiring loyalty is hard, but by being accessible and honest, you make a great impression that will be shared with others.
That should be enough to help get you going global. Think of it this way: at least you’re not risking malaria, the plague, bandits, malnutrition or typhus in order to make a profit. Not like that poor spice merchant.