How to Grow Your Online Business with International Customers

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This post is contributed by Robert Gilbreath, Vice President of Marketing and Partnerships at ShipStation.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that international e-commerce sales are growing rapidly.

In 2017, e-commerce sales worldwide reached $2.304 trillion, a 24.8% increase over the previous year, according to eMarketer.

While international sales may sound like an exciting opportunity to grow your business, you may wonder how to get started. It’s easier than you think.

International Marketplaces

The easiest way to get started selling to customers around the world is to list your products on international marketplaces such as Ebay UK and Amazon Australia. ShipStation integrates with all of them, and makes shipping to international customers as easy as shipping to Florida.

Country Choices

Next, determine if you have interest from international customers already, and if so, from where.

You can find that out by using an analytics tool that shows where your website traffic comes from. In addition, you may have received messages via social media or email from around the world.

Consider shipping to English-speaking countries first, as this will require less work and customer service support. Many US-based sellers start selling internationally to Canadian customers. Canada has fewer shipping regulations than other countries since it falls under NAFTA trade agreement rules.

What to Sell

Choosing the right products to sell to international customers requires some thought. Consider items that will be easiest to sell and ship to internationally, such as:

  • Products of interest to international customers (you may have learned this from analytics or messages, as described above)
  • Small and lightweight  
  • Strong, sturdy – not fragile
  • Those with low return rates
Product Bans and Restrictions

Before you get started, check country regulations on products. Every country has items they ban or restrict. You can quickly check this out with this free tool provided by UPS.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you sell spices and you’d like to sell products in the United Kingdom. After checking the list, you find that turmeric and chili powder are prohibited. At that point you can decide if you want to sell other spices in the UK, or if you’d rather not sell any at all.

International Shipping Carrier Options

You can send international shipments from the US to other countries through UPS, DHL, FedEx or Global Post.

These carriers offer shipment tracking and coverage of up to $100 through included shipping insurance.

Consider offering two types of international shipping options to your customers – least expensive and fastest. This way you will capture opportunities for all potential buyers, including those who are willing to pay more to get items quicker.

Customs Documents Made Easy

International shipments require additional paperwork.

One document is the customs form. ShipStation automatically creates a customs declaration section within the order details for orders that import with an international address. This is where the information printed on the customs forms will come from.

ShipStation also electronically signs and submits customs forms when possible. You can learn more about customs and international shipping, here.


Typically, any applicable taxes and duties are billed to the recipient of an international shipment. Once customs officials determine the taxes and duties due, the recipient will be contacted to pay any charges so that the shipment can continue to move toward its destination.

For UPS, FedEx, and DHL Express, you may request that the seller be contacted for taxes and duties, instead of the recipient. This is helpful if you prefer to absorb these costs so that the recipient isn’t faced with additional charges.

Additional Forms

Some shipping carriers require additional form for international shipments. FedEx, for example, requires a Commercial Invoice. These are populated automatically in ShipStation, and you can even print them in batches.

New Marketing Messages

If your website’s home page includes a banner offering “Free shipping for orders over $25,” make sure once you start selling products internationally that you change the wording to “Free shipping for US orders over $25.” This prevents confusion, and also alerts website visitors to the fact that you sell products internationally.

Automated messages and Shipping FAQs should be updated not only with international shipping cost information, but with shipping speed details. International shipping takes much longer than domestic shipping, so set customer expectations accordingly.

Next Steps

Join an international marketplace today, and move quickly to set up international shipping. Your bottom line will thank you!

For even more information on dominating the global market check out ShipStation’s International Selling Guide.

ShipStation is the leading web-based shipping solution that helps e-commerce retailers import, organize, process, package, and ship their orders quickly and easily from any web browser. Check it out via a free trial.

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