/ Bill Widmer -

Almost half of all online consumer spending will come from overseas by the year 2020. Things may be too expensive in their local markets, or they might not be able to find certain products, and so foreign consumers are going online.

Yes, we’re only about to hit 2017 – but those three years are going to go by quickly. If you get on the train now, before it’s reached that point, you could be ready to capitalise on a massive trend.

Besides… Shipping outside the US isn’t the huge expense it used to be. Improved shipping efficiencies, bulk orders going overseas, and better vehicle fuel economy are all contributing to this fact.

If your products have international appeal, now might be the right time to expand. 

Before I go into the thick of things, there’s one thing to keep in mind: Testing and experimenting are the most important aspects of running an online store. You can open your store to international shipping for a limited time to see how it goes, then make a decision if it’s right for you or not at this time. Don’t feel like you have to fully commit to keeping international shipping.

How to Know if Expanding Outside the US is Right For You

Expanding Outside the US

Opening up your business to international shoppers can be a huge revenue stream for you, but it also comes with some of its own headaches. It’s important to know if you’re ready to open your store to the global marketplace.

Expanding outside the US is right for you when:

1. You’re receiving a lot of traffic from certain foreign countries.

Expand outside the US when you see international website traffic.

If you’re noticing web traffic from certain countries, like China or Nigeria, it might be right to open shipping to just those countries. You can see where your traffic is coming from by using your Google Analytics account (if you don’t have one, I recommend setting one up).

2. You want to grow your sales.

It really doesn’t cost much to start shipping internationally as long as you pass the high shipping costs to your customers. Most people shopping on US websites know it’s coming from overseas and expect a high shipping cost. Keep in mind, however, that this may deter some people from shopping with you – More on that in the next section!

3. You sell items you know are hard to find in foreign markets.

If you happen to know your items are difficult to find in, say, China, it could work well for you to ship to that country. This requires some research, however. It’s not always easy to find that kind of information.

Shipping over sales may not be right for you if:

1. You sell restricted items.

Some items are restricted from international shipping.

The US has a fairly long list of items restricted from exporting. Make sure you check your products against this list before you try to export anything. Unfortunately, if your products are on this list, you simply can’t sell internationally.

2. You don’t have any extra time.

If you have a full-time day job and your online business is a side gig, or your store simply leaves you with little to no extra time in the day, it may not be right for you to expand outside the US. While you already have most of the structure set up, it will take time to add internationally shipping to your site, go through the legal hoops of shipping internationally (like filling out customs forms), package extra boxes, and deal with international returns. I’ll talk about how to deal with not having time in the next section.

How to Successfully Expand Outside the US

If you’ve deemed your business ready to tackle the global marketplace, here are a few tips to help you become as successful as possible.

Offer multiple shipping options
Increase international sales by offering multiple shipping options.

As I talked about above, you can pass the shipping costs off to your customers. However, 50% of international shoppers cited free shipping as a key determinant of whether or not they’ll buy from an international shop. By passing your costs to your customers you will deter a lot of people.

To get around this, you can offer two shipping options: Expensive, expedited 3-5 day shipping and free (or low-cost) shipping that may take up to two weeks or more. This way, you won’t lose much money on the people who prefer free shipping and you’ll still get the people who want it fast.

Display safety/security badges

Expand outside the US: Increase your chances of success by displaying safety badges.

The same study as the one above also found that 47% of international shoppers cited a safe way to pay as their deciding factor to purchase. One of the best ways to show the safety of your website is by displaying safety badges on your site, such as Norton Security or McAfee Secured.

Additionally, you can get an SSL encryption (the green lock in the address bar). If you’re using Shopify, they have SSL already set up. However, other sites need to get it themselves.

Accept foreign currency

This is the most difficult thing to do if you begin selling internationally, but also potentially the most rewarding… 73% of shoppers said they want the flexibility to pay with their own currency. Of course, this requires much more time to set up – you need to determine exchange rates and conversion charges and watch out for fraud (which I’ll talk about in the next section.)

Chances are high that you’re already using PayPal as a payment option. They have the ability to accept multiple currencies. If you don’t like PayPal for some reason, Shopify has a list of other third-party payment processors you can use instead.

Sell to countries with no local markets of your product

Continuing with the statistics, 41% of international shoppers are shopping internationally because their local market doesn’t offer the items they’re shopping for. I mentioned this in the previous section – if you can find out about scarce items in certain countries, you can do well expanding outside the US.

Hire a Virtual Assistant

A virtual assistant (VA) is someone who can take over administrative tasks for you, like placing orders, updating product info, data entry, or customer service. Why do I mention that in this article? Because hiring a VA can help you free up some time to spend on becoming an international seller. If you’re interested, check out A Better Lemonade Stand’s podcast about finding and hiring a VA.

Automate parts of your business

Another method to free up your time to work on expanding outside the US is automation. One of the biggest time-consuming headaches of eCommerce is updating inventory levels and product information. You can automate both using an inventory automation platform.

Sell clothes

Increase international sales by selling clothes

What better way to show your uniqueness than by wearing foreign clothes? via Joylin

No matter what niche or industry you’re in, it’s likely you can find some kind of clothes to fit in with your brand. Why do I say you should sell clothes? Because 49% of foreign shoppers are buying clothes and that number is continuing to rise.

Everyone needs clothes – but to many people, clothes are another aspect of their personality. They are a way to show your unique style. What better way to be unique than to wear foreign clothes? Of course, this is just a minor point compared to the others, but it’s still something to think about!

Want more tips to market your business? Check out these 200 marketing hacks & tools.

How to Avoid Fraud

I mentioned above that selling internationally can increase the likelihood of fraud. Many businesses won’t touch international shipping for this reason.

Don’t worry – while fraud is a concern, there are actions you can take to minimize the risk.

If you have any doubt about an order, take the following steps to prevent customer scams (in this order).

1. Check that the billing address and shipping address match.

Or at least that they are within the same country. One of the major signs of fraud is someone in one country buying something with a credit card from another country.

2. If they don’t match, check that the IP address matched the billing address.

Example IP Address:

If you have access to their IP address (a unique string of numbers which identifies the location the internet is accessed), check it against their billing address to see if they match up. Use an IP address location finder.

3. If they still don’t match up, or you still have doubt, contact the customer.

First, try to call them. If they don’t answer, send them an email. Simply explain that you’re double-checking to ensure it was, in fact, them that placed the order and not a credit card thief or scammer. More often than not, they’ll be happy to confirm this with you, and even thank you for checking.

4. If they don’t answer, or you’re still concerned, cancel the order.

Cancelling an order you’re unsure about is a much better route than being scammed. Yes, you’ll lose out on some money and potentially a legitimate customer, but it’s far less than you would lose to a scammer.

Ready to take the plunge?

Becoming an international business sounds daunting, but it’s actually not as hard as you might think! If you use Shopify, they have a really simple way to add international shipping. Otherwise, you need to talk with your developer or figure it out with whichever platform you’re using.

I hope this article has cleared the air about whether you should begin international shipping. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or chat with us using the live chat feature in the bottom right corner. Good luck!

Bill Widmer
Bill is a content marketer and eCommerce lover. From video games, to vitamins, to imported products, he's sold them all. Find out more at www.billwidmer.com!