Successful business owners are always looking for new ways to expand sales, and those running web stores are no exception.
Most would like to make overseas sales, but this can seem like a scary prospect. With the Internet being a global medium, any web store potentially has access to a worldwide market. This potential represents an opportunity, so here we'll look at some of the challenges presented by international sales, including the areas of tax, shipping and fraud.So here are ten tips for selling overseas.
Firstly, and surprising as it is to some of us who live here, the UK still has an excellent reputation around the world. So if we've got it we should flaunt it – make it clear to buyers that you're based hereSell.
The second inbuilt advantage is speaking English. It is the first language of many countries, not least the US. Therefore, you can make a lot of progress without translating your web site, although the best long term results would obviously require translation into major languages.
While there is opportunity, it’s important not to assume that just because you have succeeded in the UK you will succeed elsewhere. Every market is different and has its special quirks. You may fail abroad for a combination of reasons varying from better, more entrenched or deeper pocketed competitors to a different culture, statutory environment, or maybe stage of market development. And any of these can apply, even when you are selling what is fundamentally the same type of product to the same kind of customerSell.
However, the web provides the ability to insert a toe in the water for international sales, and come up with an initial assessment of how competitive you are. Organising a small scale trial makes a lot of sense and can be done at hugely lower cost and lower risk than would have been required prior to the advent of the web.
The Internet was designed as a global communications medium, and its impact in the area of international trade is growing all the time. The good news is that much of the expertise that you use to get UK visitors to check out your site can be re-used for the international market. In particular, skills in search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can also be applied to attract visitors from abroad. Yet all of this can be organised from the comfort of your own office. It really is different from the past, and overseas marketing has become an order of magnitude easier.
If your customer is a non-UK business in the EU and is registered for VAT in their own country, they are allowed to quote their VAT registration number to you in order to be exempted from tax. If you can't accommodate this, those customers are likely to look elsewhere. New regulations on how this works came in 1 January 2010, so it’s worth confirming the details with HMRC www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/managing/international/overseas-traders.htm. It's not the same when handling US buyers. US states might want to charge tax on sales into their area, but it's their responsibility to levy this tax. You don't have to charge this "use tax" which is between the buyer and the state where they live. As a UK business you can sell into the US tax free – but you should make your customers aware that they could be charged tax on the goods when they are imported.
If you're eating out in France and you pay by card then the restaurant will be paid in euros. Your card company will automatically translate the amount into pounds and that is what will appear on your statement, with the original currency and amount noted alongside. Buying across the net is exactly the same - there's no need for a multi-currency system in your web store. However, one handy tool is a conversion facility that can provide an indicative amount in the potential buyer's local currency. An alternative is to run a full multi-currency store, or even have separate sites for each country and currency. You don’t need to support every obscure currency, sites in US dollars and euros will cover a big part of the market. Taking this approach does however expose you to currency risk, although it will be best if you are really serious about your overseas business.
Possibly the biggest problem to consider when selling abroad is fraud. Orders from abroad are more likely to be from scamsters simply because it's easier for them to get away with it. Generally the police are not interested in small scale fraud, and even less so when the crime is committed outside their jurisdiction. In addition, many of the fraud prevention systems such as address checking don’t work with most overseas cards. There are several ways that fraudsters work. If the person was using stolen credit card details, the amount is likely to be charged back to you once the true owner becomes aware of the charge. Even someone who genuinely ordered and received the goods can dispute payment. There’s a whole section on fraud elsewhere. Depending on your products, it is just possible that fraud will be such a problem with overseas orders that you can’t accept them.
Shipping abroad is nowadays pretty straight forward. Many E-Commerce merchants do it, and without any problems. You can make it easier by using a recognised international carrier such as UPS, Fedex or DHL, who can advise you of any issues. Completing a customs declaration is a must, but as long as what you are sending is legal in the country that you're selling it to, this should not pose a problem!
Most of the retail world leaves customs or import duties to the purchaser. They are responsible for any of these charges, so you can ignore them. However, you must say explicitly in your terms and conditions that any charges are down to the buyer. However, you must have the correct customs declaration on your goods but your shipper should be able to help. If your sales grow you will learn more about this whole area and be in a better position to advise your buyer. There are different procedures for trade sales, so you would need to investigate these if you are operating in this field.
Although the emphasis up until now has been on how relatively easy it is to sell overseas, there are differences, and once you begin to see some success, focusing on these differences will grow sales further. The next few tips cover the main points.
There are many search engines specific to countries, as a visit to www.searchenginecolossus.com will show. So it is important for international brands to achieve visibility in local market search engines. Local search engines with significant market share include Baidu in China, Voila in France and Yandex in Russia and Miva in the US. These are worth investigating.
Local time differences will impact any strategy around time of day for search engine marketing, the same for emails and access to telephone lines. On this point, it is possible to provide a local number that comes through to the UK, but it must be manned for their timezone!