When we began writing about e-commerce more than 10 years ago, the thought of shipping orders to international customers was enough to make a successful eBay seller cringe. Heck, we were nervous just writing about eBay sellers fulfilling international orders. Everything felt so overwhelming. The forms, insurance, delivery confirmation and customs were just a few of the potential headaches.
Our first thought was to advise people to focus on Poughkeepsie and forget Paris. Only the most experienced sellers we met were venturing outside U.S. borders. But it soon became apparent that those sellers considered international shipping little more than domestic shipping with some extra paperwork involved. All of the horrible things imaginable for people sending their goods overseas were possible, but most of them never actually happened, according to these experienced sellers. Their view was: Tread carefully, pay attention to the details and know your stuff, and you could quickly see your potential customer-base expand by the billions.
That was then, this is now
Fast forward to 2009 and the prospect of international shipping is even less intimidating.
"Shipping internationally via the U.S. Postal Service is not something to fear," says Andy Mowery, of the successful eBay enterprise Debnroo and co-founder of Debnroo.com.
All the supporting postage service companies have stepped in to help make the process easier and less painful
Mowery was an early adopter who told us years ago that his determination to reach international markets placed him in the enviable position of beginning to serve this enormous market, while his competitors allowed their intimidation to keep them locked into a much smaller target audience.
"As long as you don't use USPS First Class Mail, everything can be tracked—and in some countries, right to the buyer's door!" he notes.
Not only have all the major carriers gained years of experience helping small businesspeople complete international shipping, but all the supporting postage service companies have stepped in to help make the process easier and less painful. For example, Endicia, the Internet-based postage giant, now offers support for choosing the correct customs forms, pre-fills the information for those forms and prints them in one integrated label along with your postage, according to company spokeswoman Ashley Mowery.
"The USPS delivers your shipment to over 200 countries, and Endicia makes it easy," says Mowery—who, by the way, is no relation to Andy of Debnroo. "Endicia prints complete labels for Express Mail and Express Mail International services, so you don't have to fill out any forms by hand. All you need to do is declare the contents."
For Express Mail, you can even print the integrated forms in a convenient, single-copy 4-by 6-inch format. For Express Mail International, the correct number of copies will be printed on 8-1/2-by-11-inch sheets to attach to your package. Endicia's International labels also feature an integrated customs declaration, so you don't have to complete that one extra form if you choose not to. This feature is available with all Endicia shipping plans.
The International Mail Advisor, also available with all Endicia shipping plans, will show you the cost of shipping your package, the weight and size restrictions that apply, and the delivery standards for the mail class you choose for shipping your orders to their destinations. The International Mail Advisor also has the latest information on restrictions, prohibitions and delivery areas for the countries you are shipping to. Plus, with postage paid through Endicia and your customs forms complete, USPS will actually pick up your international orders at your doorstep.
Today, completing and shipping your orders amounts to nothing more than a few mouse clicks and keyboard strokes
Andy Mowery has been an Endicia customer of long standing, and he uses the software to automatically complete his customs forms, while USPS picks up his international orders.
"There's no need to assume that processing an international order takes one second longer than a domestic USPS shipment," he notes. "The whole thing can be automated and the package picked up at your door, and it's traceable."
What a difference just a few years have made! While Andy Mowery once seemed a pioneer in international e-commerce, today, completing and shipping your orders amounts to nothing more than a few mouse clicks and keyboard strokes.
Ironically, his business model has changed and his international customer-base currently fluctuates between 5 percent and 15 percent of the orders he ships from his warehouse. Because Mowery now depends more heavily on his network of carefully chosen drop-shippers, he can't always accept international sales, as some of his partners still refuse to ship internationally. He is working on a pricing plan that would allow him to move those goods to his own warehouse, where he could then complete orders.
"We definitely turn people away daily from outside the U.S., who want these products," he laments.
While Poughkeepsie is still lovely, maybe we should all be considering Paris after all.