Whether you’re selling erasers or auto parts, we can probably guess some of your biggest business concerns: finding and attracting new customers.
The good news is that a world of potential customers is out there, just waiting to buy what you’re selling. All you have to do is think globally.
If you have any doubts that selling internationally is a real opportunity for your business, just look at the numbers: according to Statista, cross-border ecommerce could exceed $2.2 trillion by 2026.1 And with broadened Internet availability, buyers in developing — and even established — markets will have better access to businesses that sell products online all over the world. Businesses just like yours.
Before you open your doors to the world and sell products abroad, you should put a strategy in place. We’ve outlined five critical areas of planning, so you’ll be well-prepared to help give your customer base a major boost as you get started with international selling.
Like any new venture, selling internationally requires you to do your homework. Your first step is to learn who your international customers are, what they buy, and how they shop.
Gather market intelligence
Start by looking at your own data to see from which countries people are already buying your products. Try expanding your reach into these markets, even if only to test selling specific products.
Research demand for your product and local buying trends
To help inform your target markets, analyze the top countries that have strong demand for your product and niche specialty. Is there demand or a gap in the market? Are there specific holidays during which your product might be popular?
While you’re at it, try to learn as much as you can about what sells in the markets you’re looking to expand into, as well as consumers’ spending patterns and from which countries they typically buy. This way, you’ll have a better chance of narrowing down your target markets to those that are truly the right fit.
Next, start thinking about how you’ll get paid. And as you research payment providers, consider how your buyers prefer to pay and a payment provider’s reputation.
Research local buyers’ preferred payment methods
It’s critical to know your potential customers’ preferred payment methods in the markets you’re looking to expand into. Keep in mind that they will likely vary significantly depending on the country.
It probably won’t surprise you that most people prefer paying in their local currency. Some payment providers will let you list products in several different currencies. If you can’t offer payment in local currency, make sure to give a currency conversion so customers can see what they’re paying.
Choose a payment provider with a reputation for security
Look for a payment provider with a strong global reputation. You’ll also want to target one that offers services to help you proactively prevent fraud. In turn, this can protect both your customers and your business as well as help ensure you'll remain compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which sets rules for preventing, detecting, and reacting to security incidents. Need tips on choosing the right payment processor? Check out our helpful guide.
Selling internationally brings a whole new set of rules. Once you’ve decided where you’ll sell, take the time to investigate specific rules and regulations for that country. A few key areas to consider:
Take note that accepting payments internationally can come with different fees depending on location, currency, payment type, and more. Read this for more information about international taxes and fees.
Duties and taxes
Find out if duties and taxes will affect the prices of items you plan to sell in target markets. Make sure you understand the rules that apply to your products so you can let your customers know about any expenses they’re expected to pay from the outset.
All your international shipments will have to make their way through customs, the agency that regulates shipments entering a country or region. Each package will need a customs form on the outside; some shipping services even help take care of this — do some research to see if yours does.
These agreements are good news for international sellers because they help reduce or eliminate tariffs on some products. The US has agreements with 20 countries, and while taking advantage of these agreements might mean more recordkeeping work for you, the savings may be worth the extra effort.
The best practices you already apply to shipping are even more important when selling internationally. Check out this article for more helpful information on shipping best practices.
Set clear delivery expectations
International shipping can take longer and cost more for customers, so it’s vital to keep them in the loop. Give accurate delivery estimates based on country and list shipping costs in an easy-to-find place.
Establish a return policy
When putting your policy together, consider:
When you sell products online, you have several options for entering the international market, including:
Start small on an existing online marketplace
Established sites like eBay, Etsy, and Alibaba can often give you better reach for a lower cost. They allow you to test demand for your products before committing a large sum to redevelop your site.
Also, consider other online marketplaces that may be popular in your target market, such as Amazon, Shopee, AliExpress, Rakuten, Mercado Libre, and Walmart.
Optimize your current website
A slightly more advanced option is to optimize your current website for international buyers. You can start by simply highlighting your ability to accept international orders with information on countries served and the shipping costs.
Once you have more experience, you can explore listing your products in local currencies for those with a non-US IP address, and maybe eventually install a multi-language toggle for your website.
Create a custom website for certain markets
The most advanced option is to build a website designed to appeal to specific overseas customers. This can include investing in a local domain name. The products and strategies that work in the US may not necessarily work in other countries, so a targeted website gives you full flexibility to test the best presentation of your items. It’s also a chance to optimize for the most popular search engine in the country in which you’re selling. (Remember: It may not be Google.)
If you take this route, just remember to test the experience, so you make sure that elements like text translation, currency conversion, and calculation of delivery costs work correctly.
Like traveling, selling products abroad is an adventure we highly recommend. It has the potential to expose your business to new countries, cultures, and most importantly, customers. To learn more on how to sell products internationally, watch the video below.
Learn more about how you can easily accept payments from around the world with PayPal.
In partnership with three expert business owners, the PayPal Bootcamp includes practical checklists and a short video loaded with tips to help take your business to the next level.