As our world has become more and more connected expanding online businesses to new territories and getting sales from all over the planet has become easier and easier. However, increased regulations and consumer expectations have made efficient cross-border shipping progressively complex and fraught with risk – if it’s done wrong.
Because of this some businesses don’t even try cross-border expansion and lose out on significant growth opportunities. Others will work very hard on reducing their international courier package rates but overlook other crucial aspects of sending products internationally and invariably add costs to other business functions, such as customer service or operations.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Cross-border shipping can be very simple if the right planning and preparation are completed, and the right tools are used.
Below is a checklist of some of the important points all B2C e-commerce businesses should cover when thinking about their international shipping strategy and partners.
Data – some love it, and some hate it! However you feel about data it’s an essential piece of the cross-border shipping process. Get it right and everything should go very smoothly. Get it wrong and it can create a wealth of problems and cost a fortune.
A good place to start is your product descriptions. It would be easy to copy that lovely, fancy marketing text you have on your website – it reads well and makes the product sound fantastic, so why not save time and just use that, right? Unfortunately, no. While beautifully written marketing descriptions are essential for selling online, for customs data it’s best to keep it direct and to the point. If you’re sending a red cotton t-shirt, then describe it as that in the customs data. Removing any creative language or subtleties reduces the chances of products getting stuck in customs.
HS codes are becoming increasingly crucial, with more and more authorities around the world beginning to make this an essential requirement to clear customs. More packages are being returned to senders from customs if there is no HS code sent in the package customs data. A big challenge that e-commerce businesses face is sourcing the correct codes as there are well over one million. Those that ship with ibundle can use the intelligent HS code lookup tool to quickly obtain the correct codes, saving time while reducing the risk of clearance issues.
Fast and expensive? Slow and cheap? You could be mistaken in thinking this is a binary choice. With different providers come different services with varying transit times. It doesn’t have to be black or white if you have the right courier mix.
You know your customers better than anyone else, so their expectations should be at the very core of your thinking. For every industry insight report or consumer market research document that says you must offer “next day” or “two days” delivery, there’s another stating consumers what free shipping. It’s simply not possible to offer free next-day international shipping in most cases and remain competitively priced online unless there is a lack of competition for the product you’re selling and a significant margin being made on the sale.
More and more consumers now demand tracking, often regularly checking their phone or emails for updates. Most understand the importance of this yet still many businesses send international orders using an untracked service because of the perceived savings. Sure, untracked options will most often be cheaper than a tracked service but there’s a kicker – they’ll often lead to higher overall costs in other areas with the need to manage an increased number of customer inquiries.
It’s also fair to say that for small, light, and low-value products untracked mail services may be the right option. However, if a business is sending small, light, and low-value products it’s still essential to weigh up the small increase in shipping cost against the savings tracking will provide to customer service labour expenditure. In lots of cases, businesses find they save money in the long run by upgrading to a tracked delivery service.
No courier is perfect. Every single one has lost and damaged parcels. Unfortunately, these things do and will continue to happen, and if something does go wrong, getting a swift resolution is necessary. Most couriers offer some form of compensation for most of their shipping products, but how easy is it to make the claim? Cynics may say some couriers make it very difficult to disincentivise claims – if it costs you $50 in labour costs to process a claim for $40, what’s the point?
Of course, couriers need to be diligent when handling claim requests so there’s a careful balance they need to make between diligence and customer experience. When deciding which shipping solution(s) to use it’s important to clarify if the courier(s) have a claims process, how it works, how much you can claim, and whether it is this based on the retail or wholesale value of the contents and their average resolution time.
Cross-border consumer returns can be a complex and challenging issue for e-commerce businesses to manage. They can also be expensive, and it's essential to consider the costs associated with returns when developing your cross-border strategy. For some e-commerce businesses this is a blocker to international expansion and not having a solution will limit their growth potential, especially in the fashion sector.
The good news is that there are solutions to this challenge, and they can be implemented with relative ease:
Offer local return options: To simplify the returns process for customers, consider offering local return options in each country where your business operates. Having an in-country returns solution reduces the overall cost. Returns can be shipped to a local warehouse and then either re-shipped from there to new customers or sent back in bulk to your origin warehouse, reducing the overall shipping costs. Refunds can be issued, if applicable, when the returns arrive at the in-country warehouse to reduce the resolution time and increase customer advocacy.
Provide clear communication: Clear communication is key to ensuring a smooth returns process. Be sure to communicate with customers about the status of their returns and provide them with tracking information and estimated delivery times.
Develop a system for managing returns: It's important to have a system in place for managing cross-border consumer returns. This includes tracking returns, processing refunds, and managing inventory.
Some would say the price is the most important of all subjects mentioned. It’s indeed a critical piece of the puzzle but frankly, it’s irrelevant if the points above have not been thoroughly thought through and actions are taken.
The point being this shouldn’t be your starting point. The time to work on price is when you’ve completed all other parts of the checklist and are confident that other than price, you have everything agreed upon and set. Without doing so, it’s very likely costs will be created elsewhere – lost packages, issue resolution, delays et cetera. These costs can often be greater than savings on the shipping so without thorough consideration you could end up spending more and hurting your margins.
International shipping can seem complicated and costly, but with good preparation and implementation of effective processes, it’s straightforward. It’s crucial to work with the right partners to minimise the workload through automation and streamline the customer experience – and this is where ibundle’s cross-border and returns shipping solutions can help as the solutions have been developed with all elements of this checklist in mind.