How to Sell Overseas: 5 Tips for Small Business

By Dan Leberman

Editor’s note: Since 2001, PayPal has been a leading player in worldwide online payments. Its customers can currently send and receive funds in 26 currencies. We asked Dan Leberman, PayPal North America’s vice president, small and medium business, for his advice to small business owners interested in expanding into global markets.

Have you considered making international sales a part of your small business growth strategy? If not, why not? According to a Neilson study commissioned by PayPal (.PDF), cross-border trade is growing exponentially.

Across the U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, China, and Australia, international ecommerce is predicted to triple by 2018, reaching $307 billion. The number of international shoppers will grow to 130 million, with 72 million of them using mobile devices to make cross-border purchases. Buying foreign goods online today is so easy that you no longer need to wait to take a vacation to purchase international items.  

Small business owners who want to participate in this massive global market can do several things now to start growing their sales across borders.

Tools and technology that seamlessly and securely enable cross-border ecommerce have helped thousands of businesses— from Buenos Aires to Brisbane—successfully adapt to selling internationally. Drawing from those successes, here are five tips to consider if you want to go global.

Global ecommerce tips for small business

World Domination: 5 Tips for Selling Overseas

1. Get Personal with Shoppers

The Internet has no boundaries, and it’s not complicated to reach international shoppers. Make your website more appealing to these buyers by highlighting your ability to accept international orders, and make sure that your website has a multi-language toggle. Also, remember that pictures speak volumes without requiring language translation; use beautiful images to your advantage. Finally, list your items in local currency and offer clear information on shipping, costs, and countries served.

2. Understand and Adapt to Local Market Preferences

There are many ways to attract international buyers. While local search tools and direct mail are possible marketing options, but your success will be limited if you don’t speak to unique needs of consumers in that market. Start by learning about the culture, business practices, common marketplaces, and other consumer preferences of each country by using PayPal’s free small business tool, PassPort (shameless plug).

Bear in mind that language can be a barrier for international customer service. Many customers ordering from your site will understand English, but you should know which markets will likely require an in-language customer service experience.

3. Provide an Easy-to-Use and Secure Method for Online Payments

“Fear of identity theft and fraud” is the number one concern cited by seven out of 10 shoppers as the main reason for not making a cross-border purchase, while nine out of 10 want “buyer protection” for overseas purchases (refer to the PayPal study referenced above).

Offer your customers a checkout option from a trusted, secure and recognized payment processor, and also offer a digital wallet that doesn’t require consumers to share their sensitive financial information with you directly. By doing so, businesses of all sizes can increase consumer trust, reduce cart abandonment and drive sales. Obviously, PayPal is one option, but there are other online payment solutions.

4. Say Yes to Free Shipping

Shipping costs are one of the most important drivers of a consumer’s decision to complete an international purchase. According to internal PayPal research, more than half of those who have shopped internationally in the past 12 months report that delivery costs prevent them from making purchases from another country. Similarly, just less than half of all online shoppers say that free shipping would make them “more likely to buy” from another country, and the other half of those polled say that free return shipping or postage for returns is a “must have.” 

Evaluate a few different global shipping service options, including larger shipping companies that offer all-in-one solutions. These solutions may include handling, customs and excise documentation, and shipping calculators. Resources like DHL International Shipping, FedEx International Shipping, and UPS International Shipping can ensure that your products safely reach your shoppers.

If you sell on eBay, its Global Shipping Platform offers a true plug-and-play solution that will help you fulfill your overseas orders with minimal effort. Finally, make sure that your return and return-shipping policies are clear for international transactions.

5. Research Local Finance Regulations

Different countries’ government policies will vary on the taxes, duties, customs regulations, and rules you must follow in order to sell in their markets. You must also price products to reflect local market averages, inflation rates, expectations, and currency conversions.

Resources like the U.S. Department of Commerce can help you understand the breadth of requirements you must meet, but there are a few specific areas worthy of a deeper familiarity. For example, you can get information on key customs forms at Visit the World Customs Organization for more information about customs regulations around the world.

Selling internationally is possible for any small business, at any scale, and there are many resources out there to help get you started. Keep these tips and resources in your back pocket, and you’ll be successfully selling internationally in no time.

Dan Leberman, vice president and general manager of PayPal North America, online small and medium business unit, has unique insight into the everyday challenges and successes of PayPal’s many small business partners. He enjoys advising business owners on technology to help them get started or to achieve their next business goals.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the Forums. Join the discussion today!
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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