Online marketplaces like Etsy has made it easy to offer your creations to people all over the world. Selling internationally is exiting. But before you’ve started to count all this future orders consider some inevitable obstacles you may encounter. So what do you need to know before you send out your first item to the unfamiliar country overseas?
KNOW YOUR MARKET
It can be overwhelming to know everything about every country out there and you don’t have to. Identify the main markets for your products and do a research on them. Take a look at your own sales stats and determine which international markets are already buying your creations? For example the largest percentage of my dolls are being sent out to U.S. and it’s my target market. Australia shares the second place with Western Europe and Canada. So I have four markets to focus on.
Ok, you already know to whom you are selling, now what? Do a research about every marketplace on these topics:
• Purchasing trends
Paypal has an amazing tool with lots of valuable data on selling internationally that could help you understand local traditions and trends about your market. Analyse this information and you’ll have a powerful weapon against your competition. Show that you treasure your customers by knowing what special occasions their celebrating or what customs they have. We live in the colourful world, always have in mind there can be some cultural differences and respect that.
• Laws, duties and taxes
This aspect sometimes become repellent factor of selling internationally and it requires your thorough attention. Make sure you understand what you can and can not send abroad. The prohibited items vary by country and you can easily find these lists in Google. Usually it’s obvious items such as weapons or toxic liquids, but some countries may surprise you by arresting your package containing perfumes, plants, lottery tickets etc. So better be safe and double-check!
Normally buyer pays all the additional fees like taxes and customs clearance fees. But some of them may not know these taxes exist at all, to avoid unpleasant misunderstandings it’s your job to warn them. You don’t have to do that on every order you get, just put this info in your policies section. Personally I mention this info in thank-you letter again just on high value purchases.
All parcels must clear customs which regulate items entering the country. To make this process faster and easier you must attach customs form to the outside of your package. It helps to understand the contents, value, and purpose of your shipment. Again this process vary by the country, for instance if you’re living in Europe and sending your item to the other european country, customs form is not necessary. You can get additional info regarding this question in your local post office.
• Shipping times
This one is the main concern your customer have after purchasing. Make sure you’re open about it and clearly state out the terms. In my case the main market for my dolls is literally in the other end of the world. Sometimes long shipping term (2-4 weeks by registered air mail) cause some problems if buyer wants the doll for some special occasion next week. For such cases I have an express shipping option via DHL with shipping time just 2-3 business days. Of course it’s pricier, but usually it’s not a problem for those who are in the hurry. Research all the possibilities on how to reach your customer faster or cheaper and let them choose between the options!
The faraway routes your shipment will be traveling could be a big challenge for the goods inside. I learned it the hard way when one of my first dolls reached Australia broken. Learn from my mistake and secure your items inside and outside the box. I strongly suggest to use the inner and outer containers for your shipments. I like to pack my dolls into nicely decorated, representative inner box and sturdy, robust box or cardboard sheets for outer packaging. Fill the containers with cushioning material and make sure the items don’t touch with each other and don’t fly around inside the box. I like to use plastic wrap on the inner box as well to avoid unexpected moisture or humidity. Remember, after you give in your package to the post office no one will care about it, workers throw them around and stack other heavy boxes on top. Can your fragile item survive that?
OFFER THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
Great customer service is tremendously important. When you’ll face a mistake at your end, the manner of how you communicate can save you from a poor rating. We’re all humans and even perfect humans make mistakes, ha ha. The best customer service is a combination of offering a five-star product, packaging it exquisitely, shipping on time and expressing appreciation to your customer. If there is a problem or some questions, it should be addressed quickly and thoroughly. Take time to personalise every order you make, it can be something small like handwritten message or little gift for your regular client. People buy from small businesses not just for the items, but for experience too. Deliver the best experience you can!
Learning new things and exploring new markets is essential for your business to grow. Have in mind that your job doesn’t end when you receive your money, it ends only when the customers receive your creations, beautifully and safely packed and are happy with them. Make your customers feel that they just purchased one of a kind experience from one of a kind artist!
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