Moving Forward: International Shipping

Your web store is up, you are moving product at a good rate, and now you are looking at expanding your market overseas.  More consumers, more sales, more profit right?  Not if your shipping costs eat away that profit.  Shipping internationally can be a great addition to your company, but it has the potential of being a black hole you toss money and product into.  Before you decide to offer international shipping you need to weigh some variables to see if it’s worth it.

  •  Shipping Costs

Shipping overseas can already be expensive, but the price difference between basic shipping service and guaranteed with tracking can be substantial.  Depending on the package contents & destination, shipping with insurance & tracking can increase shipping fees 200% or more.  You will have to figure out how much you can absorb versus how much your customers are willing to pay.

  • Carriers

There are a few different carriers that offer international shipping services, but just one carrier may not offer service to all of the locations you need.  Though the U.S. Postal Service offers Priority Mail International to almost everywhere in the world, it cannot be tracked or insured.  In some parts of the world you may have a 50/50 chance of an un-tracked, uninsured package arriving at its destination.  If you really want to offer reliable worldwide shipping, you need Multi Carrier Shipping capability.  This gives you more flexibility to offer the most reliable and/or economical options to your international customers.

  • Damaged / Lost Goods

With all shipping there is a possibility of damage or loss, it’s a physical world and things happen.  Packages shipped internationally spend more time in transit and go through more hands, so the chances of damage or loss increase.  If you are using a tracked and insured method you are protected financially, but you have to pay for that peace of mind.

  • Customs

Customs Agencies control what comes into their country.  If you ship internationally, your packages will have to go through customs at the destination country.  Every country has different restrictions that change all the time.  Between shifting regulations and the personality of Customs Agent on duty, it isn’t always consistent.  For instance, you ship two orders with identical contents and packaging to the same street somewhere in Europe.  One may be flagged and held for inspection while the other moves right through without delay.

Unlike domestic shipping, retail shipments usually require paperwork to be submitted identifying the package contents.  Some shipments can slip through below the radar, but it’s best to have all of the proper paperwork filled out for every shipment.  Incomplete, missing, or falsified paperwork can result in loss of the package, as well as hefty fines.

  • Tariffs / Duties

International shipments are assessed customs fees, called tariffs or duties.  It is not unheard of for these charges to exceed the cost of the items purchased.  You can choose to absorb these fees up front, or allow them to be billed to the customer.  However, if the customer refuses to pay on delivery, the charges can be billed back to you.  In cases of refusal the packages may be sent back to you with a bill for the return charges as well.  If you choose to allow them to be billed to the customer, we suggest letting them know ahead of time so it is not a surprise.

  • Address Variations

International addresses are often longer and can have different requirements than U.S. addresses.  If you allow international shipping on your website, be sure your shopping cart can properly accept these addresses.  Spelling and abbreviation errors can easily lead to delayed or lost shipments, so we recommend using a predefined drop selection of countries.  This can also be helpful if you only want to ship to a select group countries.  Check with your Web Designer or Shopping Cart provider to see options you have available.

  • Integrated Carrier Services

Some carriers do offer integration services for international shipments.  They can have some degree of address verification and submit Customs documents electronically.  If you have the volume and require tracking, it will save you a lot of headaches.

If you have a fulfillment center, see what kind of international options they support.  Get some estimates and weigh the options.  You may find that international shipping will add to your bottom line.  You may also decide to strengthen domestic sales before you go take that international step.  I won’t tell you that international shipping is a viable option for everyone.  Whether it is for your operation is for you to decide.


Best of success.