Going E-Global: A Guide For Online Retailers (Part 2)

Ordering, shipping and payment tips for taking your business global.
December 26, 2011

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You’ve worked hard to build a globally marketable product. Now you need to fill the orders for those products by providing flexible payment options, cost-effective shipping solutions and a clear return policy.

Create customer-friendly Web pages

Creating a compelling and user-friendly website is essential for any business, but especially so for businesses that market worldwide. Make sure to collect the appropriate information from your international customers and communicate all the responsibilities of buyers and sellers in any online transactions. The following tips can help you create clear, customer-friendly payment and shipping pages online.

Tips for your business

• Label your form fields clearly and provide more familiar alternatives for non-English-speaking customers (for example, “Last Name” could be “Last Name, Family Name or Surname”).

• Add another line to the address field to accommodate longer international addresses.

• Add a “Country” or “Country Code” field.

• Ask for “State/Territory/Province” rather than just “State.”

• Request “ZIP or Postal Code” rather than just “ZIP Code.”

• Post international shipping terms clearly on your website (never assume that your buyers know about international shipping fees).

Maximize payment options; minimize fraud

It’s important to offer your international customers as many payment options as possible. American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover and PayPal are the most frequently used payment systems worldwide. In some countries, other payment methods are just as popular, if not more so.

If a large market for your products exists in a particular country, research alternative payment methods to see if they could increase sales. Remember that accepting online payment, even with established credit cards, exposes you to some risk for fraud. So be vigilant and explore methods to limit credit-card fraud.

Tips for your business

• Find out the cost of each payment option and how each company resolves payment disputes.

• The best resources to combat fraud are your bank and the credit card companies themselves (ask them to share that information with you).

• Visit USA.gov and type in "Internet Fraud" for information on how to combat fraud.

Shipping

Like tariffs and other taxes, shipping costs can significantly affect product pricing. Your shipping rates can be based on item value, its dimensions, its weight and your profit margin. When selling small, light items with high margins (such as jewelry), you may want to charge the customer a flat rate or nothing at all. When selling a low-margin item (like consumer electronics), use inexpensive shipping options and calculate the cost accurately to preserve your profits. Shipping companies can help calculate your shipping fees; many offer real-time calculation tools that can be used on your website.

Tips for your business

• Package dimensions are just as important as weight; pack your products in the smallest container possible.

• Shipping providers consider account volume when bidding; stick to one vendor and maximize your shipping account with them to keep your shipping prices lower.

• Your shipping company might not deliver to every country, so ask (and build relationships with both a primary provider and a reliable backup).

• Find more information on shipping at export.gov in the “International Logistics” section.

Returns

You’ll also need to clearly communicate your return policy to international customers. You must specify the exact terms (shipping, returns, insurance costs, etc.) when your customer places an order. Returning an international package is costly and time-consuming; clear communication about returns could save you money. However, the best way to avoid returns is to provide the most comprehensive product description you can. Your online description should contain everything you know about the product, as well as several clear photos.

Tips for your business

• To defray the additional costs of international shipment (document preparation, broker’s charges, etc.), you may want to add a flat handling fee.

• Warranty laws differ from country to country; shipping directly to consumers might require you to honor a longer warranty period.

• Buy package insurance from your shipping company or a third-party insurance company.

For more information about taking your online business global, visit the FedEx Online Retail Solutions website and access a wealth of online-retail-industry knowledge and best practices, including the complete white paper, “Preparing Your Business for Global E-Commerce.”

Debbie Kuehn is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer covering a wide range of topics in a variety of industries, including retail, financial services, home improvement and many more. FedEx compensates Debbie for reporting on small business topics for OPEN Forum.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.

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