First of all – let’s be honest – not all products and services lend themselves equally to international e-commerce. The practical logistics of shipping spoilable goods remotely are challenging. But there are countless opportunities outside of this distinction. The ideal is to start with something easy.
Your ideal start in international e-commerce
Offering international delivery is a series of discoveries to find out what works best for you, your client, and your product. This may require rethinking packaging solutions and even assembly. For example, if you leave fastening the last nuts and bolts to the client, shipping your wares may require a significantly smaller packing size and, in turn, a lower cost of fulfilment.
For finding your feet, the easiest goods to ship internationally are:
1. Easy to pack
Orders that arrive damaged may cost you writing off the content, the price of a replacement, and additional shipping. Even hardy products require good packing. Consult this guide for best practice in packing an international delivery to ensure it arrives in one piece.
2. Not too large
Large products are cumbersome to manage, have higher shipping costs, and require more sturdy paking material. Stick to products you can pack by hand and that easily fits into one standard box size you keep in stock. This makes preparing a shipment quick and easy, and ensures a relatively predictable cost of shipping.
If you’re running your online store from home, take storage space into consideration. Offering smaller goods means you can have more on hand and fulfil your orders faster.
3. Ambiguous in value
The reality of international e-commerce is that clients can instantly compare your offer to what a large pool of competitors are selling. Well-known brands and commodities, like electronics, have a fairly standard market value and offer the same benefits regardless of where clients buy them, so they will generally go for the lowest price.
Custom wares, art, keepsakes and novelty items have no set price. The client makes their purchase decision based on whether they believe your asking price is fair.
Especially in the case of new companies, or established companies new to the online space, the rate of sale is likely unknown. Steer clear of fads that date and lose market value over time – at least until you’ve established a strong client base and predictable sales stats.
Never underestimate shipping costs
Be careful of offering free shipping on international orders. Depending on the destination, worldwide courier rates can be surprisingly high.
As long as the weight and dimensions of your shipments are the same, you can work out a flat fee for a particular destination country, but give enough margin as even these rates tend to fluctuate.
Get export savvy
Before fulfilling international orders you’ll need an export license. Also look into trade agreements that can give you international clients reductions on their import duties.
Invest in training on export compliance an international trade to avoid learning the hard way – by incurring SARS penalties and customs delays.
Join industry organisation for assistance from people who have been around the block and get in touch with experts who have all the advise and services you need to get started.