Cross-border ecommerce is growing, with consumers increasingly happy to buy from retailers abroad (around 61% in the UK). Selling internationally doesn’t make the fulfilment of operations any easier though, especially as consumers demand the same choice and convenience that domestic companies can provide. Large numbers of consumers are also saying they would choose one retailer over another offering the same item because of a positive delivery experience (89% in the UK, 84% in France and 83% in Germany). Ecommerce companies looking to grow internationally need to have a robust shipping strategy in place, and this might mean adopting a multi-faceted delivery approach in order to avoid costly shipping mistakes, writes Philip Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt.
For us, good shipping is about managing for the best and expecting the worse, especially at peak times. Better to promise a longer delivery time and surprise the customer by a day, than have a frustrated or worried customer. Even off-peak, good shipping is about testing the alternatives to get the best value for customers in terms of service vs. cost, and then managing the customer’s expectation to exceed that value. Unfortunately, delivery errors are often learned the hard way, after customer complaints and lost time and money. At Spreadshirt we now work in 20 countries and ship to nearly 200. Here are our top five tips, on how to avoid the most common cross-border shipping mistakes as you look to grow internationally:
Research relevant custom regulations
Let’s start with some of the boring stuff. Each country has specific customs requirements and the requirements you use for one might get your product stuck in customs in another. Research whether your package fulfills the necessary requirements or regulations, such as certificates to prove the product’s country of origin before you set delivery expectations for your customers.
Check your labels, seriously
As part of our global expansion drive we investigated why our shipping costs were so high. We soon realised that we were paying more than $60,000 simply for products that weren’t deliverable because of invalid customer addresses. Our shipping company would then charge to ship the package back to us so we were paying customs and shipping charges twice for each undeliverable package.
We have now turned to a more cost-effective address verification system to cut down on error. Keep in mind that your packages and labels will also need other specific markings, revealing information such as the country of origin and the presence of any hazardous materials. It’s important to brush up on labelling requirements and to also talk to your shipping provider who can advise on any labelling errors that should be addressed.
Choose the right shipping company for your destination
We have found that no one international shipping company or method is the best provider for every circumstance. Certain shipping companies have established relationships with customs in specific destinations so selecting a company for specific countries may speed up delivery to your customers. Most shipping companies with a strong presence in a country will also have a physical office location in the destination.
Know who will be handling your product
Make sure to ask who is actually shipping your products! When you contract with a shipping service, that company might not necessarily be handling the actual shipping. Often the company then turns the package over to a shipping management organisation, which then handles the shipping timeline and method. Since the management company is out to make a profit, they often ship via the cheapest way possible, which is often the slowest.
Check your products are packaged correctly
Find out the number of times a package will be handled and the mode of transportation and ensure you safely package your product so that it is intact on arrival. You should also be aware of any regulations on shipping containers for the destination country. Businesses using wood pallets, for example, might not realise that some countries regulate wood packaging to control pests and ask companies to follow specific standards.
As we have grown internationally we have learned that shipping is a complicated process and most ecommerce companies won’t ever become shipping experts. However, you will need to be curious about the issues surrounding international shipping because they are important to your global success and often change daily.
A good start is to check all the basics such as labels and regulations and to adopt a multi-carrier approach, as the same process won’t work in every country. This will allow you to provide your customers with more flexible delivery options. And with four out of five shoppers in the UK happy with the delivery options currently available to them, you will need to be as competitive as domestic retailers from the get go. If you don’t customers may begin to imagine that your product will not arrive in time and their delivery fears will quickly become your cross-border expansion nightmares.
Main image – European flags in front of EP Building in Strasbourg. © European Union 2015