Use Technology to help when Selling Abroad

As with most things in retail, and business in general, getting the technology part right will help you manage your cross border journey much more easily.  With international being only a part of your business, albeit a potentially significant part, it makes sense to make it fit as seamlessly as possible into your existing day to day practices.  The right technologies can help you achieve this.

Further these tools and technologies will be pivotal in helping you to achieve a good level of optimization without having to invest massively early in your expansion process.

There’s a number of tools to take into account and many of these you are likely already using, to name a few:

  • eCommerce Platform – the software that hosts your own webstore
  • Listing Tools – if you manage multiple sales channels you may already be using one
  • Shipping Tools – to manage your labeling etc…
  • Marketing Tools

In order to make your and your team’s life easier each of these tools that you use everyday should be able to also work well with international buyers.

Since the explosion of international retailing started a few years ago there are now several specialist third party technology and service providers who focus on  various aspects of cross border. We cover a few of the types of platforms and technologies that can support your cross border journey below.

CBT Localization Providers

Here we intend to let you know the sorts of solutions available. There will be some types that I miss and others which will likely come into existence soon, it’s really an innovative time in international retail right now!

International Shipping Platforms and Providers

Overall, shipping companies and carriers have a vested interest in shipping items internationally.  Cross border tends to be more profitable for them than their crowded domestic markets.  Traditional shipping companies can be noncompetitive when it comes to cross border.

In this environment, many shipping consolidators and technology providers have entered the market to upset the status quo and provide better value to retailers and consumers. This in turn has encouraged some traditional carriers to buy, merge with or compete with the new, internet-based platforms or risk losing out to them.

Cross Border Shipping Platforms usually take the shape of a label printing platform that allows a retailer to manage their shipping. Sometimes they are integrated into your standard listing tools such as your ecommerce platform or Marketplace, often they are stand alone.  

Label printing is nothing new, but those companies now focused on cross-border can often drive down the price you would otherwise pay. Cross Border Trade (CBT) shipping is ripe with innovation given the costs associated with sending parcels overseas, often via multiple carriers.  These start ups look to optimize the parcel journey with the cheapest, and hopefully also higher quality, carriers for specific package journeys. This enables them to provide you a better price while keeping some margin for themselves.

There are three main things to watch out for if using these providers:

  • Customer Service: in order to remain profitable and provide you with the right price can mean companies cut elsewhere.  Customer Service (CS) if not completely automated requires people, which can be a large overhead. Given budget constraints CS can lose out.
  • Tracking.  These companies will also often be middle-men with multiple carriers to coordinate for one parcel journey. If your buyer asks where their parcel it can be complicated to find out. It’s not impossible but it can be difficult and requires coordinated technology across several carriers. 
  • Shipping Prices: Although the main purpose of these companies is to drive down cost it won’t always be the case. Ensure you monitor the shipping prices being charged to your customers, good and bad, so that you’re well equipped to decide if this is the right supplier for you or not.

Another type of international shipper now available and growing in popularity is the shipping forwarder.  We discussed these in more detail in our free eBook so earlier in the Shipping Section  so won’t go through them again here.

Returns Handling

Returns is often one of the first things I get asked about when talking to sellers about growing their international sales.  The concern of having to add returns handling into product price is a real one and can make some retailer’s products less competitive internationally. Truth is though, if an item was available in a local market at much the same price they will likely also have faster shipping times, possibly a local store, and other advantages of being a domestic supplier.  Price isn’t always the deciding factor in a buyers decision.

All that said, it make a lot of sense to keep prices under control and competitive. Returns can get expensive and complicated. This makes it an interesting area for innovation and a lot of companies are helping to solve this problem. They tend to be in one of three categories:

  • Warehousing: providing a local warehouse for buyers to return to.  This enables you to consolidate returns before shipping them back locally in bulk. It also means you can provide quicker refunds as you know where your returned product is quickly.
  • Returns Labels:  shipping providers can often send returns labels when sending parcels. This can also be included in your up front shipping cost.
  • In country buy back: Some categories also see local companies buying their returns for resale.

It is best to review what is available in your category and region as they can be quite specific, there is likely a good solution for you out there.

Read more about handling returns in this earlier post on CBTPulse.

Payment Tool Providers

There are three main, potential issues regarding payments when it comes to selling internationally. Allowing the buyer to pay in their local currency, using a payment facility the buyers have access to and charges your bank will take when converting back into your domestic currency

This has been an active area of investment by startups and existing players for the past 15 years or more. As such, there’s a lot of tools on the market that can help you.  They usually provide some sort of solution to each of these problems but their strengths tend to lie in only one of them. Sometimes you will find players who work with each other to offer an improved service to retailers.

eCommerce Platform Apps

Depending on which ecommerce platform you’re running your site (Shopify, WooCommerce, Big Commerce etc.) there are various apps that you can install and utilize for international retail. You can usually find an app that provides translation or currency conversion for example. These are not perfect but they can offer a usable solution to get you started.

Language and Communication Tools

Retailers new to cross border often get concerned around is communicating with customers who do not speak their language.  While this is a valid worry you will find you’re able to make the most of a standard translation tools to communicate with your buyers.  There are Customer Service tools available for international communication that can offer a more user-friendly experience.

Full Localization Providers

Full transparency: I work for the marketplace localization platform Webinterpret and have connections to full marketing localization platform Glopal.

There are solutions on the market that can help you fully localize the cross border experience your buyers have. Some are highly automated, such as Webinterpret and Glopal, others require heavy integration and can be expensive.

All of these companies have strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to review what’s on offer. Some will localize your ecommerce site only, others will localize mostly your checkout and shipping experience, a few will offer much of the customer and retailer journey.

In general it is best to look around at what is already available to help you. There is always a tool or several you can use to jump start localization especially for most markets where you won’t get a return if you invest heavily.

About Mark Ellis

Mark is the VP for Growth and Partnerships at Webinterpret, a leading Cross Border Technology company. Before that Mark was leading the operations for eBay's European cross border program. He has over 20 years of eCommerce industry experience, guiding and delivering strategic change in retailers, working with companies such as Dyson, Regatta, Boots and Arcadia Group, leading multi-million dollar programs for industry giants like Dunnhumby and working with small businesses delivering innovative retail solutions.

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