Did you know that, of an estimated 1.01 billion people across the globe who spent as much as $1 trillion in online sales alone this past year, U.S. buyers made up only 15 percent of those sales?
That's such a small slice of the pie in the grand scheme of things, leaving out a whopping 85 percent of potentially missed sales.
In fact, international buyers prefer to buy products straight from the manufacturer or from U.S. sellers because the local retailers either charge too much or don't carry what they want, says Eric Nash, director of online marketing at Stamps.com.
Nash joined Jason Smith and Bryan Goodman of Thrifting with the Boys in a recent eBay-hosted webinar to encourage sellers to expand their sales to the global marketplace.
"You'd be amazed at what things look ordinary to us that you can sell overseas," Goodman says.
For example, Goodman recently sold a pair of socks to someone in Sweden, who paid a "fortune" for shipping, he says. He also recently sold a Yashica 50mm lens to Russia and "Get Smart" greeting cards to Australia. His counterpart, Smith, had recent success selling denim overalls to Canada, and Corona Soft Side Coolers to Brazil, Denmark and Sweden.
If you're hesitant about selling to foreign buyers, Nash suggests you start with buyers in English-speaking countries first
If you're hesitant about selling to foreign buyers, Nash suggests you start with buyers in English-speaking countries first. Australia, Canada and the U.K. all use credit cards or PayPal, and have good Internet coverage and postal infrastructure, too.
"Along with the U.S., these countries represent 44 percent of the entire international e-commerce market," he says.
While UPS and FedEx deliver straight to the buyers' homes, the U.S. Postal Service tends to be a more affordable option, Nash says. USPS ships to the host country, and after it clears customs, the local postal agency handles the second leg of the journey.
Goodman likes to use flat-rate Priority Mail envelopes for most of his international sales, though First-Class International shipping is also a good option for low-weight, low-value sales. USPS has even been increasing its tracking services on these First-Class shipments, which once used to be a deterrent for some sellers who wanted confirmation of delivery.
"The USPS is really dedicated to improving scanning," Nash says. "They've invested a lot of money and this is only going to get better from here."
As for eBay's Global Shipping Program, it could be a good way for sellers to test the waters with international shipping, but some buyers might be turned off by the landing costs that show up on their eBay bill.
"Landing costs are basically the international shipping costs, customs and import fees, plus a brokerage fee that eBay charges to handle this process for you," Nash says.
Normally, some of these costs are charged to the buyer after the item has reached customs, but not every country will require them. But GSP charges these fees at checkout, and some buyers simply don't like it.
The local post office will tell you to fill out form 2976 or 2976-A… But if you buy your postage online, the two-to-four-page form is usually automatically filled out for you
There are four different fees a buyer might be charged when importing a purchase: customs fees, duties, tariffs and taxes.
Countries charge customs fees to manage the flow of goods in and out of the country, Nash says. Duties and tariffs are like a tax placed on specific products.
"They're built to protect local industries and businesses," he says.
Then there are taxes, which are not charged by every country but a local government — such as a province or state — might charge these extra fees.
When you're shipping something overseas, a customs form usually has to be attached to the package.
"It gives them the ability to know if they need to add a tax or duty, and also make sure it's not a restricted product," Nash says.
If you buy your postage at the local post office, they will tell you to fill out form 2976 or 2976-A, depending on its weight, value and destination. But if you buy your postage online, the two-to-four-page form is usually automatically chosen and filled out for you.
Just check to make sure the following sections are complete before you ship: seller's address, buyer's address, general description of contents, weight, value, signature and date. Also, Goodman suggests writing the destination address on the box and placing a packing slip inside with the order.
"It gives you a little extra insurance that, in case of separation, you still might get it delivered," he says.
If we open our virtual shops to overseas buyers, then we can play a competitive game for all those international sales
Roadblocks to successful delivery
Shipping to overseas destinations can take as much as one to three weeks to complete, but there are a few countries that sellers sometimes have trouble with.
Shipments to Russia can have long delays while stuck in customs, Nash says. Brazil, Italy and Mexico are reportedly locations where shipments might never make it to the buyer.
The problems are minimal, and Brazil and Russia have increased their tracking services, Goodman says. But if it happens, explain to your buyer that customs is probably holding up the delivery, and recommend they check with their local postal service.
And make yourself aware of each country's import restrictions before you list. Some prohibited items seem to make no sense to U.S. sellers, but the law is the law, and you can face legal problems for not obeying them.
For example, Canada prohibits pens valued over $5, China prohibits used clothing, Germany prohibits playing cards, Ireland prohibits straw hats and Mexico prohibits jewelry imports.
It might start out as a guessing game as to what will sell well overseas, but the opportunities for global sales are worth it. Terapeak subscribers can use the sales analysis service to quicken the learning process.
Nash notes that sales growth is expected to grow faster outside the U.S. in the coming years. In 2014 alone, China expects online sales growth of 51 percent, while the U.S. only foresees 12 percent growth.
But that number doesn't have to be correct. If we open our virtual shops to overseas buyers, then we can play a competitive game for all those international sales.