Going Global on eBay

By Frank Fortunato | Posted December 14, 2005

Many eBayers resist selling internationally because of fear of the unknown. Confusion and bother along with customs forms, currency conversions, shipping rates, dealing with the rules and regulations of foreign destinations and buyers out of U.S. jurisdiction, are among the reasons. But in today's increasingly competitive eBay selling world, ignoring international markets means leaving money — sometimes a lot of money — on the table.

eBay stats back this up:

*49 percent of all registered eBay users live outside the U.S.

*Foreign buyers pay an average of 6.3 percent more for the same product; (more yet, eBay claims, if the transaction is completed through PayPal.)

*Currency fluctuations create selling opportunities overseas. Just as foreign tourists flock to the U.S. when the dollar is "weak," so too do overseas buyers purchase dollar-based goods.

*Some American products enjoy a far greater demand overseas than they do in the U.S.

For these and other reasons, the extra effort required to market eBay sales can make sense for many eBay sellers.

Paperwork
Most overseas shipments require US customs forms. Though recently expanded in size, the standard green tab customs form, (PS Form 2976, available online beginning in December,) is not as difficult as it may appear at first sight. The left, green-tab side of the form affixes to the package. Here you must enter a description and value for the goods you are sending. The main choices are "Gift" and "Other." Some buyers, in order to avoid import tariffs, will ask the seller to check the "Gift" box or lower the actual value of the item to avoid tariffs, but the form must be signed — and any deceit can come back to bite you.

Description on the form is straightforward. If you are sending "two books" overseas that is all you need to enter in the description box. Again, altering the description of shipped goods to avoid tariffs or seizure — especially in the case of restricted goods — is, if anything, more likely to lead to trouble if the parcel is opened for inspection. The best policy is to be aware of what cannot be shipped to any specific destination, and do not ship it.

That right side of the green-tab form remains with the post office and requires writing in the sender and recipients name and address and signing and dating at the bottom. It only takes a few minutes to fill out the customs form.

Know What's Legal
Most common goods can be sent overseas, though some destinations ban specific items. In Italy and the Middle East, for instance, there are Treasure Trove and Cultural Heritage laws that prohibit the selling of looted artifacts. Further, eBay prohibits the listing of certain commodities such as alcohol and wildlife products, and many foreign destinations prohibit or control transit related products, as well as catalog sales items among others. eBay, among its Help options, offers a "Is My Item Allowed?" page, listing "prohibited," "questionable" and "potentially infringing items."

Shipping Rates
As long as you're not mailing anvils or dump trucks, the USPS is usually the cheapest way to ship overseas. For instance, small items weighing four pounds or less that can be safely stuffed into the eight- by 11-inch Global Priority airmail envelope can be sent to most countries in Europe and around the world for $9.50 with a simple green-tab customs form. A smaller size is available for $5.50; both generally arrive at their destination within a week. Larger items must go parcel post either air or surface — the "slow boat to China" expedient that takes anywhere from two to six weeks to reach its destination, but is considerably cheaper than air parcel post. Parcel post shipments require different forms, and are subject to other rules and regulations. It's advisable to check the USPS Web site for rates and rules to foreign countries. eBay also offers a shipping rate calculating page on the site.

Foreign Payments
Overseas checks can be tricky. If a foreign check is not drawn in U.S. dollars on a U.S. bank (checkable through the routing number), nearly all banks will charge a hefty conversion fee of $20 to $30 or more. Many veteran international eBay buyers us Bidpay or Western Union checks drawn in dollars on U.S. banks that do not incur conversion charges and that arrive in a timely manner, or they just send U.S. cash. Others increasingly rely on PayPal.

To PayPal or Not to PayPal?
If you are among the shrinking number of antediluvians who do not accept PayPal payments but you do expect to sell primarily overseas, PayPal can be a necessity. eBay claims that international transactions average 16.3 percent more if paid for via PayPal. This makes sense since third-party payment service checks cost money and running to a bank to get U.S. cash involves cost and time. A domestic eBay seller will lose a few sales if they do not offer PayPal; international sellers will lose considerably more. But there is a serious downside.

With some exceptions for UK and Canadian buyers, international buyers only have to say they did not receive an item for PayPal to issue a charge back to the seller's account. For this reason delivery tracking or registering the parcel — where available — is a wise course of action for high-ticket, cross-border sales.

The FedEx Trap
Courier services such as FedEx are faster than the USPS, but dangerous. While this seller had a problem-free $3,000 transaction using the buyer's (a well-known, reputable autograph dealer,) Fed Ex account, the rule of thumb is to never use a buyer's Fed Ex account. Why? The chances are strong that the FedEx account is fraudulent. Even if it is not fraudulent, the FedEx account holder can refuse to pay one specific charge leaving the seller holding the bag. The small print on the FedEx bill states that you cannot collect from them.

Bidpay
Many cross-border eBay sellers consider Bidpay and Western Union checks far safer and superior to PayPal for international sales. Payment in U.S. dollars drawn on a U.S. bank arrives via check usually within a week of being ordered by the buyer. But even with Bidpay or Western Union checks, there are scams. Scammers occasionally send fraudulent Bidpay e-mails demanding proof of shipment before the money is sent — and, of course, the money never arrives. The moral is simple and intuitive: never ship before payment arrives.

Listing: "Ship To US Only?"
If a an overseas eBayer likes what you're offering they will bid, often without checking whether you are willing to ship overseas. Careful and polite overseas buyers will e-mail sellers asking if they will accept international bids before bidding, but many never bother e-mailing. To gain leverage against those buyers who do not e-mail regarding payment terms before bidding, many eBay sellers list "Ship to U.S. only " under their terms. This allows the seller to cancel bids and sales from foreign buyers who will not honor the seller's payment and or shipping terms without fear of receiving a negative feedback. While this may scare off a few potential bidders, the vast majority of cross-border buyers will both bid and honor the seller's terms.

If you list with "Ship to US only," don't be too hasty in canceling bids from overseas buyers who do not e-mail for permission to bid. In this seller's experience, an e-mail stating your terms for accepting the bid nearly always results in the buyer responding and complying with your terms. In today's eBay, that buyer's bid may make the difference between a sell-through and a failed sale.

The default setting is "Ship to US only" for most listings. But for those who sell primarily cross border, it pays to welcome all comers by checking "worldwide" in the 'Ship-to locations' box in the listing, then spelling out specific payment terms and shipping options twice: once in the item description and in the general terms location in the listing.

What Sells Cross-Border?
It's important know how to ship overseas, but it will do you no good if you offer the wrong stuff to international buyers. Cross-border buyers have been known to pay $40 for a can of Folger's coffee, and $77 for a $3.99 five pack of Oreo cookies on eBay. But the "monkey-see, monkey do" principle has probably relegated the $77 cookie pack a wistful memory to the original seller, as more sellers jump on the bandwagon of selling hot items. According to DataWarehouse, these are the top ten U.S. export categories:

Auto Parts and Accessories
Watches
Laptops/Notebooks
Guitars
Women's Clothing
Golf Related
Digital Cameras
Men's Clothing
Women's Accessories, Handbags
Records

The popularity of these categories remains surprisingly consistent from country to country — with variations for goods perhaps not so readily available in a particular place, less costly on eBay or catering to local tastes. For instance, "dolls" make the top ten lists in Germany and Australia, while MP3 players top the list in the United Kingdom.

However, as most eBay sellers will testify, buying trends, tastes and needs change on the site, and the only way to keep current (save for extensive experience) is to do real-time research on eBay. An excellent source of general information is eBay's International Sellers Forum. There, members exchange information on the latest scams and their locales, as well as trends, and give cues on shipping and various other aspects of cross-border selling.

For those marketing specific items, it always pays to dive right into the trenches and do current and completed sales searches on eBay before marketing the item.

If a seller is marketing a product that they expect will have a special appeal in a particular country he or she might want to consider listing on a foreign eBay site, such as eBay Germany, France or the UK. Many of these sites have experienced explosive growth and it can make good sense to sell directly into an eager new market.

It's also wise to translate into the language used in the country. There are number of translation tools available online. eBay recommends Altavista's Babel Fish. This tool allows the translation of text blocks and entire Web pages by language.

eBay also provides currency conversion from dollars to the currency of the market in which the ad appears in cross-border sales.

Another tip: be sure to launch your ad so that it closes at a decent time in the cross-border location. Do not count on Hans in Stuttgart or Nigel in London to have sniping software or rise at 4 a.m. to bid on your sale.

Accurate, detailed description is important in any eBay listing — particularly so when selling to the other side of the world. It's bad enough to receive a return for a poorly described item from Peoria, Illinois, worse yet from Pretoria, South Africa. It is best to err on the side of over describing so that the buyer knows exactly what to expect. The same care applies to packing: pack so that the item can survive the drop out of a third floor window (which may happen) rather than risk its destruction in a very long transit. Again, when selling overseas, double list your payment and shipping terms — both in the listing and in the item's description.

In general, and especially regarding international sales, it's wise to check each bidder's feedback record before accepting a bid. Those with little or no feedback or recent problems should at the least be e-mailed to confirm they will comply with your terms, or, if their feedback record is hideous, simply cancel their bid and don't look back.

In this seller's experience, international buyers are more reliable than U.S. eBayers. Far fewer cross-border buyers renege or have to be chased to collect payments compared to their stateside counterparts. Just as it takes the seller extra effort to market overseas, so too does it take cross border buyers extra effort to buy, for this reason international buyers mean business.

With growth rates far exceeding the North American sites, eBay is trending towards international buyers and site sales. By exercising a bit of effort and care, the trend can be your friend.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

Comment and Contribute


     

    Get free tips, news and advice on how to make technology work harder for your business.

    Submit
    Learn more
     
    You have successfuly registered to
    Enterprise Apps Daily Newsletter
    Thanks for your registration, follow us on our social networks to keep up-to-date