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20 years ago, international selling seemed only possible for the largest corporations. Today, businesses of all sizes have the opportunity to do cross-border selling via international ecommerce — without a billion dollar budget, a multinational team, and a physical presence that they own and operate themselves.
According to Oberlo.com, global ecommerce sales reached $2.5 trillion worldwide in 2019. In 2023, it’s estimated to reach $6.5 trillion. These numbers tell us that the opportunity is there, but you have to be willing and ready to make changes to your current fulfilment strategy to meet the needs and demands of your international customers.
In this international selling guide, we’ll go over how to expand internationally and what to consider before you start selling overseas.
Expanding your ecommerce business internationally: 3 reasons why you should
If you’re seeing ongoing success in your home country, it might be time to expand internationally — to increase your customer base, continue to scale, and expand your brand’s recognition. Here are some of the top reasons established ecommerce businesses decide to go global.
“Through our crowdfunding campaign, we ended up shipping to 55 different countries and all 50 states. There’s a pair of Ombraz on every continent, so international shipping is very important to us — not only in terms of costs but also the customer experience.”Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses
1. Bigger customer bases in target markets
According to a study by Pitney Bowes, 40% of online shoppers purchased an item sold from another country. If you go from selling in one country to selling in several, you’ll have the chance to expand your customer base significantly. Even better, some of your existing products might sell better internationally than they do in your home country due to a higher level of demand, larger population, or lack of competition.
2. Brand expansion opportunities
By having your brand recognized internationally, you can expand your brand’s recognition outside of your home country. Of course, when expanding your brand internationally, you must make sure your branding and messaging tailors to the beliefs, values, and cultures of international buyers.
3. Faster growth in global markets
Cross-border purchases will comprise 20% of all worldwide ecommerce by 2022. By expanding into international markets, you’re able to grow your business faster by reaching new customers on a global scale, escalating your growth at a more rapid speed than you could do locally. As long as your international shipping strategy is set up to ensure you’re profitable and keep logistics costs down, there’s a lot of unmet potential in expanding across the globe.
4 tips to get your online shop selling internationally
Selling internationally can be a challenge at first, but there are ways to make the process simpler. Before you start selling to international customers, here are a few additional tips to help you get started.
1. Check your payment provider
Many payment providers have rules and restrictions in place for countries you can accept payments from. PayPal (owned by one of the biggest online marketplaces — eBay), Square, Visa, and other payment processors can let you know where they accept payments. Different ecommerce platforms will work well with different payment methods.
If you’re looking for a payment provider to assist in international payment processing, be sure to look for one that has a strong global reputation. To signal trust to customers on the different payment processing options available, you could add their logos to the footer of your website.
When it comes to international sales, the payment options you offer will be the deciding factor for a wide range of customers. Make sure you do your research and opt for the preferred payment methods in foreign markets!
2. Pre-calculate shipping costs
International shipping is more expensive than local shipping due to distance, tariffs, and taxes. Before you start selling internationally, make sure you calculate shipping and handling costs to ensure you come out profitable at the end. This includes not only international shipping fees, but also fulfilment costs, warehousing, and shipping supplies.
This may help you find solutions to reduce shipping costs, such as storing inventory closest to your customers — or determine that certain international markets are not feasible for you unless you increase your average order value.
“We partnered with ShipBob to scale up operations in the United States. We’ve seen a reduction of 70% on shipping costs in the US, which helps keep conversions high.”Greg MacDonald, CEO & Founder of Bathorium
You also have the option to tailor shipping methods available and how you charge for shipping based on the customer’s destination country, including slow and expedited options, flat-rate shipping, real-time rates, or free shipping over a certain threshold.
3. Optimise your online store
No matter where your customers are shopping from, your store’s website is the buying hub. Depending on the size of your business, you may want to open unique online stores tailored for each country or region. Another option is to optimise your current website for international buyers with a multi-language translator tool or create landing pages optimised and tailored for different countries or regions.
For example, many ecommerce brands will provide an option (sometimes with flag icons on the top of the page) for international customers to view a page that’s in their language and featured products available in their area.
4. Get a third-party fulfilment partner
A third-party logistics (3PL) partner can help you with almost every aspect of digital fulfilment and shipping when launching into a new international market. When researching 3PLs, ask them about their international fulfilment services and how they can help you get set up quickly.
“As we’ve grown internationally and in our general order volume, we’ve seen satisfaction go up. ShipBob was a key player and significant partner in helping manage what became unmanageable. And we have access to live inventory management, knowing exactly how many units we have in each location.”Matt Dryfhout, Founder & CEO of BAKblade
If international selling is a big part of your ecommerce growth strategy, you’ll want to make sure that the 3PL you partner with offers fulfilment centre locations internationally and has plans to expand into new markets. That way, you can split your inventory across multiple locations worldwide to reach your customers faster and track the entire fulfilment process in one central location.
6 factors to consider before you start selling internationally
International expansion does come with some challenges. It’s important to know what products can be imported, if the expansion will lead to profit, and if you’ll need to find retail fulfilment resources that can help you navigate each country’s local laws, taxes, and shipping regulations.
1. Cultural and consumer behaviour
Cultural norms and consumer behaviour in different countries have to be accounted for. Does the country you’re looking to launch into have a need for your product? For example, if you sell football equipment, it might be popular in the US, but it may not be as popular overseas since football is largely a US sport, and ‘football’ refers to soccer in other countries. Additionally, not all products are acceptable in certain cultures or legal in certain countries.
Keeping an eye on international product and market trends will help make better decisions on which products you should offer in certain countries.
2. International pricing
Product pricing also has to be considered. If you’re expanding into international markets, you have to factor in how much spending power the average consumer has. For example, if you run a US-based business and want to start selling in Thailand, you’ll have to offer lower prices since customers have less per capita income.
As mentioned before, shipping will be more expensive internationally, so if you sell an inexpensive product whose shipping cost is even higher than the item, then you will likely have a higher cart abandonment rate as more shoppers will bounce when they’re surprised at checkout. Be sure to keep a very close eye on your landed cost, which takes import duties and shipping costs into effect.
“We realised we needed a global fulfilment provider as our customers in the UK/EU were tired of paying for international shipping. People often bought two boxes of needles at $30 each and then paid $60 for shipping on top of that.”Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
3. Payment and buying habits
Most countries have their own local currency, but payment providers aren’t guaranteed to support every country’s currency. Since your ecommerce business can’t accept cash, you’ll have to ensure that international customers have a way to pay online. Credits cards are the standard online payment system, but depending on the market, you might have to support digital wallets or other payment types like PayPal in order to accept payments.
4. Advertising and marketing differences
Effective advertising in different countries can happen through channels you’re not used to working with. Did you grow your business heavily through Facebook and Instagram ads in your home country?
Paid social media might not be as effective in other countries where, for example, traditional TV advertising might work better. Where do these citizens begin their search online? You might need to think outside of Google or Amazon and create an entirely different marketing strategy.
When researching how different countries advertise, spend some time learning about how other ecommerce businesses in the country market and what channels have the most opportunity. Keep an eye on your competitors — are any of them selling internationally? Check out how they’re advertising in different countries.
5. Fulfilment costs
To sell internationally online, you can be at home, but you’ll still need to optimise your supply chain including moving inventory and fulfiling orders. However, the costs of international fulfilment can quickly add up. Many ecommerce businesses choose to work with a fulfilment partner that can help them with international order fulfilment — whether through global locations or discounted shipping rates — to help support their international ecommerce strategy.
“When I first started looking at ShipBob, it sounded too good to be true with their international locations that could cover all my bases (eventually even getting into the United States and Canada). We just got started in ShipBob’s EU fulfilment centre, and will next expand into their London facility to continue building momentum in the UK.
When I was shipping orders myself, what I paid per order is the same price now to pick, pack, and ship orders through ShipBob. It’s even much cheaper to ship to certain countries, which used to take ages and often got lost with localised post here. Now, I have very transparent pricing, and I can easily run and plan my business.”Leonie Lynch, Founder & CEO of Juspy
6. Laws, fees, and taxes
Many countries restrict the types of products that can be imported from other countries. It can even come down to a single ingredient found in your product. On the other hand, even if your product can legally ship to a country, it doesn’t mean it will be cheap.
When expanding internationally, make sure you do thorough research on import laws, taxes, and import duties (which can be different for each country) to determine where you can legally sell your products and how much it will cost you to do so. Here are some tips on how to start selling in the United States.
International ecommerce orders will need to stop at customs upon entry to a new country. Sometimes, packages will be handed off to a different carrier (e.g., when you’re shipping from the USA to Germany via USPS, it will change carriers to Germany’s local Deutsche Post). This transfer can cause order tracking to break and delays in transit.
If a buyer is not aware upfront of the additional duties they will have to pay to receive their package, they may never claim it and you are liable for packages that get held up at customs. While DDP shipping may seem more expensive than DDU, you won’t risk orders getting sent back when a consumer refuses to pay additional duties and fails to receive the package when it enters their destination country.
For example, as BAKblade expanded their online presence into Canada, they knew they needed a trusted fulfilment partner with a physical presence in Canada as well as the U.
“We have seen that Canadian customers order more when they know the order ships from within Canada and they do not need to worry about additional taxes if the order comes from the US. From our history through the years with ShipBob, it was a no-brainer to expand into other markets with them knowing that they have done their due diligence to meet the ShipBob standard.”Marc Fontanetta, Director of Operations at BAKblade
International ecommerce shipping: ShipBob
Setting up the infrastructure for international shipping can be time-consuming and costly, but a tech-enabled 3PL can help ease the headache of expanding internationally with shipping and fulfilment solutions that help you scale faster.
By working with a 3PL like ShipBob, you can launch into international markets quickly and become a recognizable brand worldwide.
International selling doesn’t mean you only have to ship products from your home country. ShipBob offers a growing network of fulfilment centre locations across the US as well as Canada and Europe.
With ShipBob, brands selling internationally can store inventory closer to their customers.
“ShipBob has multiple fulfilment centres in the US, one in Canada, one in the EU, and one in the UK. All locations filter back into one centralised warehouse management system, so everything is under the ShipBob umbrella.”Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
By partnering with a 3PL that offers international fulfilment, you can continue to deliver fast shipping while cutting down on shipping costs.
“Speeding up deliveries and keeping them affordable for customers is a top concern for us. With ShipBob, we can comfortably assign a shipping cost to each order by pinpointing the product weight and destination postcode. In comparison to shipping products to the US from Canada, which can be extremely variable in cost, fulfilment by ShipBob is much easier to estimate because we know the true fulfilment cost.”Greg MacDonald, CEO & Founder of Bathorium
International shipping discounts
The costs to ship internationally will depend on the destination country. You’ll have to factor in additional shipping costs, such as getting your inventory from the manufacturer to the fulfilment centre location by air or freight.
It might seem more expensive to ship inventory to multiple locations before shipping to the end user, but in the long run, storing inventory closer to your customers will save you money in the long run.
“By distributing our inventory across countries and regions through ShipBob, all of our customers are able to get their orders much faster while paying reasonable domestic shipping rates.”Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
But no matter where you’re shipping to, ShipBob partners with major carriers to offer shipping discounts for ecommerce businesses looking to expand their reach.
“As our customer base grows, so does our global reach. Having orders shipping internationally, ShipBob’s affordable rates solved our need for international fulfilment capabilities.”Carl Protsch, Co-Founder of FLEO
Easy ecommerce platform integrations
ShipBob integrates with all of the leading ecommerce platforms including Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and others. If you created a custom-built ecommerce site or need a more robust technology solution, ShipBob’s open API allows you to connect your entire ecommerce tech stack to ShipBob’s technology and fulfilment network.
There are a lot of benefits to launching into new markets, but making international ecommerce work and learning to ship products abroad can be a challenge. That doesn’t mean that selling internationally is impossible.
“We want to continue to spread our brand internationally and are glad that more of our customer base can get better shipping rates and delivery times. We’re still a small operation, but with ShipBob we can be a more global company.”Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
Before you start acquiring international customers, be sure to do research on product demand, fulfilment costs, and international selling regulations for the countries you want to expand into.
If you find there is an opportunity, ShipBob can help you get started by offering fast, affordable international shipping to reduce cart abandonment, increase average order volume, and drive more revenue.
“We had a distribution point in the UK in London, but anticipated that cross-border shipping issues would become more prevalent with Brexit pending, as we realised a good chunk of our customer base in the EU wouldn’t be able to as easily receive shipments from the UK, as it may be more expensive with longer shipping times.
We reached out to ShipBob, as we became more concerned with Brexit and wanted a fulfilment centre in the European Union. Beyond taking care of all of our European orders, we quickly became very impressed by ShipBob’s transparency, simplicity, and intuitive dashboard.”Harley Abrams, Operations Manager of SuperSpeed Golf, LLC
If you’re ready to start selling internationally, click below to request a fulfilment quote.
International ecommerce selling FAQs
Here are some of the most common questions related to selling online internationally:
How can I grow my ecommerce store?
The best thing about ecommerce is that you have the opportunity to expand into new markets across the globe. As long as your products are in high-demand, then you can ship or fulfil orders internationally. Expanding internationally can be done efficiently and affordably by partnering with an international 3PL.
What are the 3 types of ecommerce?
There are more than three types of ecommerce when selling to consumers: direct-to-consumer (DTC), consumer-to-consumer (C2C), and government-to-consumer (G2C). For selling to businesses, the most ecommerce model is business-to-business (B2B).
Which countries buy the most online?
What is international ecommerce legislation?
The UNCTAD Global Cyberlaw Tracker is the first ever global mapping of cyberlaws. It tracks commerce legislation from payment processing to data protection and privacy and cybercrime.
How do you enable international ecommerce transactions?
It depends on your ecommerce platform and payment processing provider, but the first thing you will need to do is decide what payment options you’ll offer, and then set up your international shipping options on your online store. There are several payment processing options for international ecommerce transactions, so you will need to provide options based on how your international customers prefer to pay, from digital payment methods to credit cards.