Has there ever been a time in recent memory when just earning your next dollar seemed so at risk? Not in our lifetime. If you had parents or grandparents who lived through the Great Depression, they could tell you about times that were much worse. Deb's father, who was on Wall Street the day it crashed in 1929, carried a "depression mentality" with him the rest of his life and was always careful not to overspend.
During times like these wouldn't it be great to expand your customer base? You may already know this statistic, but we didn't—and we found it astounding and motivating: If you're not already selling internationally, you're missing an opportunity to reach 95 percent of the world's consumers, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
But, alas, most business decisions are not that simple to make and there are some legitimate concerns sellers have about exporting. We'll explore those here in a moment.
How to get started
Let's first make sure we're all on the same page about what we mean by exporting. You don't need to start selling to every country that's a member of the United Nations to begin exporting. Most U.S. exporters sell to consumers in fewer than four other countries, with many sticking to our close neighbor Canada.
If you're willing to move products internationally, you'll find you have a tremendous ally in the United States government. One Web site, export.gov, is a central clearinghouse of information from across several government agencies. It's there for one purpose: to help you plan and execute an international sales effort.
What we like best about this site are the videos. Reading information off the Web is fine, but it's tiring. And it's best to absorb information through more than one sense anyway. So having helpful videos here is great news.
Eventually, you may also want to invest in a dynamite primer available through the U.S. Government Bookstore, "A Basic Guide to Exporting," published by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
You can also speak with a trade specialist if you have any questions about how to get started by calling 800-USA-TRADE. Speaking of the government, the Small Business Administration has an Office of International Trade that offers free online courses, including Global Enterprise: A Primer on Exporting.
Hey, eBay sellers: We hear you
eBay's Global Trade page provides rules for prohibited and restricted items, plus best practices for selling internationally
If you're an eBay seller, though, you may have your reasons for hesitating to sell internationally. eBay consultant Debbie Levitt says those concerns stem from:
- Lower DSRs from international buyers, and
- Higher rates of fraud. It's easier for someone way over there to claim he or she didn't get something—and who can possibly trace all that (if the seller doesn't use a truly trackable shipping method, with signature required)?
Lower DSRs and fraud are legitimate concerns. We addressed these in a previous article, (However, as part of eBay’s recently announced changes, beginning late September it will no longer count international transactions when calculating DSRs for eBay.com sellers. Some sellers felt that international customers, unhappy with shipping times, were pulling down shipping DSRs).
Meanwhile, eBay sellers will find the company has anticipated and accounted for many of the practical issues sellers have with selling internationally. Its Global Trade page includes hyperlinks to tools for international sellers. For example, through this part of eBay, sellers can find rules for prohibited and restricted items, plus best practices for selling internationally.
Head over to the International Trading Discussion Board for some reactions to these best practices, as well as answers to other questions you're likely to have as an eBay seller.
eBay's International Shipping area includes a shipping calculator, time zone chart, currency conversion calculator, as well as all the information you need about customs forms. If you create an international shipping label with PayPal, you get a bonus: The required Customs form will be prefilled with your customer's shipping details. PayPal also has a guide to shipping internationally right on the site.
Sellers need to assess a lot of issues when they consider exporting, including demand, pricing and dealing with other languages
As far as listing goes, eBay has anticipated your concerns there, too. Thanks to the Global Buying Hub, you don't need to create separate listings to reach far-flung eBay customers. Instead you can create a listing there once and just specify where you're willing to ship. Seller qualifications to list there are modest (e.g., a feedback score of at least 10, and the requirement that you have a PayPal account).
But again business decisions are rarely that easy to make. As Levitt rightly points out, other issues, such as the prices your products command, also affect whether it makes sense for you to export the products you sell.
"I have a Spanish client selling laptops and accessories in Spain. For Europe, his prices are awesome. Here? We get the same models cheaper," she says. "So while he may have a potentially large North American audience, who wants these items, he's unlikely to sell them because he's not competitive."
Levitt says sellers need to assess a lot of issues when they consider exporting; that it's "not just about DSRs—it's about demand, pricing, dealing with other languages, etc."
The important thing now is to be in the game, and assessing these things.