International shipping is a fact of life in ecommerce. Store owners have access to a market that is more or less the size of planet Earth.
Which begs the question: How can you get products from Point A, which could be just about anywhere, to Point B, which could also be just about anywhere?
This is extra important for dropshippers. After all, the whole beauty of dropshipping is that you can sell products from suppliers all over the world.
That solves one challenge – getting products – but introduces plenty of others.
This post introduces seven tips to help ecommerce store owners, and especially dropshippers, navigate the maze that is international shipping. We’ll cover
- How to find reliable suppliers
- How to create customized shipping zones
- How to sync your marketing strategies with shipping realities
- How to present shipping information on your website
If you make it to the end of this post, you’ll have a handful of international shipping tricks to implement in your store.
Shipping is all about speed, so let’s hurry up and get to it.
1. Use Shipping Filters for Your Target Markets
If you use a dropshipping or product sourcing app, then you should be able to use filters to find the best suppliers for your target markets.
Inside Oberlo, for example, the “Selling to” dropdown lets you filter for suppliers that ship to specific countries. So if you want to ship items to the US, you can use the auto-complete text field to lay a filter on your product options.
You can also filter based on shipping methods. We always recommend using ePacket delivery on products being sourced from China. So if you want to see whether ePacket is available for your target countries, incorporate that as part of your search filter.
2. Work With the Best Suppliers
There are a few ways to gauge the reliability of potential suppliers. Our favorite method is to order products for yourself. Put yourself in your shoppers’ shoes, and see what international shipping looks like from their perspective. This will give you a chance to scope out the packaging, see how long delivery takes, and maybe even contact the supplier with a question.
Consider Free on Board (FOB) shipping if you think you can find more cost-efficient delivery services from your supplier to your warehouse.
3. Explore More Markets
The US, UK, Australia, and Canada are powerhouse markets for Oberlo users.
But there are plenty more markets to target – especially if you have a good understanding of how international shipping works.
For example, Malaysia and the Philippines both account for more dropshipping sales than their populations would suggest. There could be lots of reasons for that. Both countries have large English-speaking populations and high Facebook penetration, so they speak ecommerce’s biggest language and are tech savvy.
What’s more, both countries are a stone’s throw from China, at least compared to some of the other big markets. This reduces barriers to international shipping on lots of dropshipping merchandise.
Other sneaky-good markets for dropshippers can be found in Scandinavia and Western Europe. In addition to disposable income, these market have rock-solid options for international shipping. Here, for instance, we can see that ePacket delivery is available in places like Sweden and the Netherlands, and it costs the same price and takes the same amount of time as an ePacket delivery to the US.
4. Be Methodical With Your Shipping Zones
Your ecommerce software should let you create customized shipping zones. These can be a huge energy-saver for merchants trying to optimize international shipping.
Here’s how it looks inside Shopify, where you’ll find shipping zones inside of your shop’s “Settings” page.
One approach that we recommend is setting up a free shipping zone comprised of countries that you can ship to cheaply. For example, we just looked at shipping to the US, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The price, $1.50, was the same for each country. So instead of going through the hassle of setting up different zones for each continent, you can simply create one zone with free shipping. This zone can cover all of your key international shipping markets.
We’re in Germany, so the “Domestic” zone will be Germany by default. And until we customize our international shipping options, everything else falls into the “Rest of the World” bucket.
Let’s suppose we’re working with suppliers that have good international shipping options for Europe, Australia, Canada, and the US. Maybe it costs $1.50 per purchase to ship to each country. Instead of charging that $1.50 at checkout, which might hurt conversion, you can simply charge an extra $1.50 for the product, and then offer free shipping to cover those costs.
So what we’ll do is add those four countries, along with all of Europe – there is a “Europe” checkbox, so you can add them all in one click – and then set the price to free.
Of course there are still lots of countries out there. And you might not want to bother with them, even if international shipping is available. They might be expensive, there might be language barriers, there might be import taxes – there are all sorts of reasons.
Any countries that fall into this “I don’t want to ship there” bucket will be listed as “Rest of world.” A good international shipping hack is to simply delete the countries in this group, thereby making it impossible for people there to place orders.
5. Match Your Facebook Targeting to Your Shipping Priorities
Once you know which markets you want to target and have your international shipping groups sorted out, make sure that your advertising efforts are consistent with where you want to ship.
In our previous example, we only had international shipping options available for the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe. Therefore, that’s exactly where we should focus our advertising efforts:
We don’t want to throw money away advertising in countries where our products are literally unavailable.
This geographical restriction will also apply to any “lookalike audiences” that we use.
6. Ship Products to Yourself First
Shipping products to yourself and then personally sending them on to your your customers – basically “intercepting” the package – is a great way to offset some of the challenges that come with international shipping.
We’ve heard from a handful of ecommerce businesses, including those utilizing the dropshipping method, that use this strategy, and it comes with a few key benefits.
First off, it gives you a chance to repackage the product before it gets to your customer. If you find suppliers with nice packaging, then this isn’t a big deal. But sometimes dropshipping suppliers send items in packaging that is, well, less than inspiring. If you send it to yourself first, you can spruce it up, slap your own label or stamp on it, and then ship it to your customer.
This approach also gives you a chance to do a quick quality check on the products before they go to your customer, enabling you to ensure the sustained quality of your suppliers – both the products themselves and the timeliness of the shipments.
Now, there are drawbacks to this approach. For example, if someone from Malaysia orders a product that is being sourced from China, and you live in the US, shipping it to the US and then to Malaysia doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But if you’re in the US and targeting American customers, then this strategy gives you a chance to cultivate a brand. Even if you’re just slapping a sticker on the package, you’re increasing the odds that people will remember your brand and come back for more.
7. Provide Transparent Shipping Details at Your Store
And finally: Make sure your customers are informed.
Detailed information is a must when it comes to international shipping. Most ecommerce stores, especially dropshipping stores, have the built-in challenge of having longer delivery times than, say, Amazon.
This is unavoidable. What is avoidable, though, is uncertainty for your customers.
It’s vital to display information about all things shipping. Which countries you ship to, how long it will take, if customers will be able to track their orders, and so on.
This will save you time in two ways – you don’t have to answer these questions over and over, plus you won’t have to handle refund requests from people who don’t understand where their package is.
Here are a few examples of how Shopify-powered stores handle shipping information.
Conclusions on International Shipping
It might seem like a hassle to study suppliers’ warehouse locations or research shipping options in places like Malaysia.
But it’s important to remember that these are luxury problems. You can sell products from hundreds of different suppliers! You can ship stuff to Malaysia!
Sure, international shipping can be tricky. There is lots to remember.
But this extra work is the direct results of extra opportunity. Every challenge you overcome makes your potential customer base that much bigger.