International Parts Ecommerce – What You Need To Get Started
Most US parts and accessories companies don’t focus on international sales, but as the economy slows, we suspect that will change. Selling parts and accessories outside the US can be a good source of incremental revenue, and all it takes to get started is a little homework.
In this article we’ll layout what retailers need to know to get started with international online sales.
First, What Markets Can You Sell In?
If you’re a US company offering products to US consumers, there are a few markets that are pretty easy to sell into (in order from largest to smallest):
- Mexico – Mexico has lots of US-spec vehicles in operation, only they skew a bit older than US vehicles in operation.
- Canada – Canadian consumers buy many of the same products US consumers do, and the market is substantial (about the size of California).
- Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador – With apologies for grouping these four uniquely different nations together, there are many US spec vehicles in operation in these countries, only they do skew older (much like Mexico).
- UAE – The 7 emirates of the United Arab Emirates collectively have a surprising number of US spec vehicles, and many consumers in the UAE are enthusiasts eager to spend on high-quality accessories.
Outside of this group, any nation can be a market for your company’s products. And if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you probably have some ideas about where you could offer parts.
Second, What Resources Do You Need To Get Started?
The three most important aspects of international ecommerce are:
- Payment Acceptance – You need payment processors that have a presence outside the USA.
- Shipping Providers – You need to know what shipping provider(s) can service the markets you’re selling into.
- Clear Policies – Shipping, return, and warranty policies need to make international customers feel comfortable about buying from you, while also protecting your company from loss.
In terms of payment processing, PayPal is available in most countries. Odds are good your website already accepts payments from PayPal. However, WorldPay is also a popular option.
For shipping, the US Post Office has global coverage, with good pricing and relatively good package tracking capability. They’re also good at handling customs issues. However, if your company is hesitant to ship internationally, consider working with companies that specialize in international delivery for ecommerce such as:
Each of these companies has a partner program for US retailers that makes quoting shipping easy.
Of course, if you figure out how to ship products internationally in-house, you’ll earn more profit. The US Post Office has free resources for international retailers – check out their page about international shipping for business for more info.
International buyers are concerned about all of the same things that US buyers are concerned about:
- What if you send me the wrong part?
- What if the part is defective?
- What if I don’t like the part?
- What if the part is damaged during shipping?
- What if the part fails and is covered by warranty – who do I ask for support?
- etc. and so on…
If your company’s policy pages already address the common questions that consumers have, odds are good your policy pages only need small tweaks to be useful to international buyers. Otherwise, it’s time to update some policies!
Also, once your policy pages contain all the relevant info that international buyers will want to know, it’s a good idea to have the page translated. While international buyers usually have good quality automated translation tools at their disposal (and often have English language skills), it’s best to have a clear translation of the policy pages in the buyer’s native language so there are no misunderstandings.
Finally, when it comes to policies regarding returns and refunds, be sure to protect your company by requiring settled funds before shipping. This prevents most forms of international ecommerce fraud.
Third, Here’s Your International Ecommerce Checklist
Because we like our content to be actionable, here’s a specific list of items you need to sell internationally.
1. Does Your Ecommerce Platform Support International Orders?
At a minimum, your website needs to be able to quote shipping costs, accept payment, and allow international buyers to enter country-specific address and phone number. Ideally, it would also serve up translated content from a language-specific URL, eg https://www.yourdomain.com/es/spanish-language-content or https://www.yourdomain.com/de/german-language-content , etc.
Also, it’s a good idea to test your checkout process with some international addresses and phone numbers to make sure things work the way they’re supposed to. Often times ecommerce platform settings need to be configured for non-US orders.
2. Can You Collect International Payments? When Do They Settle?
PayPal and WorldPay offer excellent international payment acceptance, but they have specific rules regarding payment settlement that you must review. It’s generally considered a best practice to wait for settled funds before shipping product internationally because it’s often impossible to recover or re-route once it’s left the US.
3. What’s Your Preferred Shipping Company, And Can Your Site Quote A Shipping Rate?
If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all shipping provider, the US Post Office is the winner. They have service to the world, they have good tracking systems, and they are priced right. FedEx is faster, but usually costs more (and can sometimes charge surprise fees, which can be infuriating). UPS is an option for international orders, as is DHL.
And then there are the international shipping companies we mentioned earlier that have retail partner programs that provide exact quotes.
In terms of quoting shipping costs, you can either try to be exact (which is ideal) or you can estimate and quote a little higher to cover costs. Many companies have a flat rate for international orders that are based on the worst-case scenario shipping cost, and that approach can be fine for many items.
Finally, just like domestic shipping, you want to do what you can to keep shipping costs down. We talk more about shipping cost reduction in this blog post on SporkMarketing.com.
4. Can You Work Through A Regional Distributor?
International distribution isn’t just for big brands – many companies use Amazon.com as an international distributor rather than selling directly to different countries. The main advantage of this approach is operational efficiency, but there are also advantages in not having to learn local laws, worrying about currency fluctuation every time an order is placed, and dealing with regional shipping issues that are often carrier-specific.
Listing products on Amazon Mexico or Amazon Canada is about as easy as listing them on Amazon USA, with the added benefit of expanding your international sales.
5. Don’t Forget About APO/FPO/DPO Shipping
Many members of the military stationed overseas are eager to buy parts for their vehicles. The US Post Office has great support for military shipping, but you want to make sure you understand the cost differences before shipping to an international military base.
If your ecommerce platform accepts international orders and you have a method for collecting international payments, and your policies are acceptable to international consumers, odds are good you’ll sell at least some parts internationally.
And if you want to grow international sales, all the same tools are available for your international customers as your US customers. You can use Google Ads to drive sales, send emails, write content in a different language, etc.
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