E-commerce: Is your business ready to go global?

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If you’re in e-commerce, going global is just a decision to make. Do you want customers from all over the globe? Of course you do. So how do you make it happen?

The simplest way is to configure your site to accept orders to all destinations and let DHL figure out the details. Longer term, you’ll need to work out a robust global strategy.

Let’s start by looking at a few key questions:

1. What are your priorities?

What is driving your business’s desire to go global? Is it to increase your reputation, or deliver a reduction in cost that’s leading your venture? Whatever the reason, knowing the answer will help guide decision-making for your organisation, and all the associated businesses and staff that are connected with it.

2. How fast will your customers need your products?

Your choice will have an effect on both overall cost and speed of delivery. Your options will include truck, rail, ocean and air, as well as multi-modal combinations of several transport choices. Obviously, much depends on what you’re making, and on where your market is located. Will the customer you’re selling to always be there when you deliver? If not, you’ll need a partner who can offer on-demand delivery, so they can specify a time that suits them.

3. The question of customs

Customs regulations vary from country to country. For instance, Algeria bans the import of more than 400 medicines, Nigeria says no to plastic flowers, and Argentina won’t allow maps in GPS systems. Business association websites are great resources for helping you to understand customs compliance, but it’s up to you to find out what might be banned in your target destination.

You may decide to hire a broker to act as your agent during the shipping process, to help you prepare documents and clear merchandise for customs. DHL Express does this every day for its customers, by acting as a broker and keeping customs paperwork relevant and accurate before handing shipment information over to the appropriate customs authority. With DHL Express expert export and clearance personnel on your side, trade agreements, file shipment declarations and tariff classifications, as well as calculate duty and tax are dealt with prior to your goods moving across borders.

DHL Express can also assist with contingency planning by offering direct support and guidance. Should a financial or natural disaster affect your ability to deliver goods to customers overseas, for example, you must have a recovery plan in place – just talk to your local representative for advice.

4. Correct labeling keeps things moving

Always be as precise as possible when filling out any paperwork. Take these specific description examples and let them serve as a framework. For example: ‘wood screw samples’, ‘part for printing press’, ‘men’s T-shirt (gift)’, or ‘business letter’. If your paperwork is insufficiently detailed, this can cause delays, which will add to consumer dissatisfaction. For a full description of how to get your labeling right, take a look at our guide to sending a package internationally.

5. Be aware of special requirements

Some considerations include:

  • Pack to protect your product against physical damage
  • Using strong containers
  • Helping the buyer to identify your shipment
  • Avoiding over packing and keeping weight distribution even
  • Using pallets and outer containers as buffers if needed
  • Avoiding product and brand names on outside of boxes, which could invite theft

Laws are subject to significant change across borders. For instance, in the US the Foreign Regulations and Standards impose certain restrictions on animal products, textiles and electronics. Visit Export.gov for more information on US and foreign standards, as well as specific requirements and regulations. For imports into the EU, take a look at the European Commission website. Isolate each market and study how business is done in each place, and familiarise yourself with the logistical side of international trade – such as shipping rules and currency. Export.gov has helpful market research and ‘Doing Business In…’ guides to get you started.

6. Make the most of open borders

Free trade agreements (FTAs) have helped fuel business growth by ending protectionism and helping companies trade with ever-larger audiences. This has caused improved living standards and allowed families to gain access to more affordable imported goods and services. Ultimately, by removing barriers to trade, even the smallest companies can compete and thrive on a global scale. This is particularly applicable to US businesses who, through FTAs, can gain access to the potential 95% of consumers who live beyond their borders.

The US currently has FTAs in place with 20 countries, meaning international trade has become a critical component of the economy alongside the flow of domestic goods. According to the US Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration, trade accounts for 30% of the US economy, with exports of goods and services reaching US$1.89 trn in 2017.

Despite roughly 300,000 US companies exporting their goods and services overseas, according to the International Trade Administration, that is a mere 1% of the potential 30 million. While 98% of those companies currently trading are small and medium-sized enterprises, a significant mental and logistical barrier to more joining the international trade market is the complex customs process, involving various procedures and ample paperwork. Fortunately, various customs modernization efforts promise improvements to their overall efficiency, such as the implementation of single windows and increased rollout of automation technologies worldwide.

Another unfolding story affecting the world of global trade is Brexit. Whether the UK leaves the European Union (and what happens to the regulatory framework if it does) will have a huge bearing on any business looking to trade into or out of these highly developed areas. Although there are hurdles to overcome, most regions are working to provide further opportunities for businesses to engage in international trade, making it ever-easier for small and medium-sized businesses to go global.

This article was first published in DHL’s Discover platform.