Because shipping is a special concern when you're moving goods thousands of miles across national borders, be very clear about shipping policies and expectations. In your listings, tell buyers the number of days or weeks your experience has told you it will take for a package to arrive in a given country. Tell them you'll pack it extra-securely to withstand the rigors of a long journey. One of the best things you can do for your potential buyers is to include an international shipping calculator in your listings. Find out more about shipping calculators at eBay's Shipping Center. If you want to know more about international shipping rates, see http://ircalc.usps.gov.
There are a variety of shipment options for international transactions, including the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and other third-party carriers. Many international shippers find that USPS flat-rate Global Priority mail is well-suited for their purposes. "The Postal Service has been extremely reliable for us," says Fischer. He always purchases the optional delivery confirmation service with his Global Priority shipments. "If you do delivery confirmation on every package, somewhere along the line somebody has to sign," he says. "We can track it right through." Another tip: Fischer splits high-value shipments into several packages, each valued at no more than $100, to take advantage of the $100 in insurance included with each Global Priority shipment.
Experienced eBay sellers rely on eBay's Shipping Center to learn about international shipping, calculate costs and generate the documents needed to ship packages. "If the buyer pays through PayPal, I can print the shipping label, with customs forms, on my printer instead of waiting in line at the post office or UPS," says Jack Waddick, an eBay Education Specialist in Arlington Heights, Illinois. "Then they will even come and pick up the packages for you, which is a pretty good deal."
eBay enthusiast Marsha Pater, 49, and her husband, Bill, 58, sell $10,000 worth of industrial tools worldwide each month through auction-style listings and their eBay Store, Pater Industrial Tool Supply (eBay User ID: fisbill) in Plainfield, Illinois. Because of the weight of the tools, Pater can't use Global Priority, so she has to go to the post office to manually fill out documents for purchase deliveries. She gives customers the option of insuring their packages but otherwise uses the standard service.
Tracing missing international shipments can be cumbersome because USPS won't begin tracing a shipment until 30 days after it was shipped, Pater says. However, it's more of a theoretical issue than a day-to-day problem. "I have been doing business on eBay since 1998, and only twice have I had to run a trace," she says.
Vancouver, British Columbia, seller Francis Ochoco, 28, relies on Canada Post's international air parcel service to deliver his shipments. He charges a flat rate for shipments to locations outside North America and says the key to successful international shipping practices is to keep it clear, simple and inexpensive for buyers.
"Unfortunately, the cheapest [Canada Post] option available doesn't provide a tracking number," explains Ochoco. "That's the main challenge." If a customer reports that a package never arrived, Ochoco, whose company, Iselle Enterprises (eBay User ID: urbanhuman), sells clothing through eBay, has no option other than refunding the customer's money. However, Ochoco, who was named Canada's eBay Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005, says it has only happened a couple of times since he began selling on eBay in 2004.
PayPal is the backbone of international payments on eBay, just as it is with domestic transactions. The ease, speed and automatic currency conversion that PayPal offers seem made to order for international sellers. But the most important feature of PayPal is that customers want to use it, says Fischer. "We tell people we prefer PayPal because people like it," he says. "If it's going to cost [us] a little more money, that's not a problem." Windsor has its own merchant account, but international buyers prefer PayPal because their debit and credit cards don't always work properly with the company's merchant account system, he says.
PayPal ensures straightforward accounting, adds Fischer, who acts as CFO for his company. "And there's constant cash flow from PayPal," he says. "We have money coming in 24/7, and it doesn't take more than 24 to 36 hours to reach our account. With our bank, it [can take] four days."
While PayPal automatically converts 15 different currencies into U.S. dollars, the company is adding new countries and currencies to its capabilities. You can learn all about accepting payments internationally by going to www.paypal.com and clicking on "PayPal Worldwide."
Your customers, by the way, will automatically see the prices for your products in both U.S. dollars and the default currency for their country site. So if you indicate you will ship to the United Kingdom, the UK buyer will see prices in dollars and pounds sterling.
World-Class Customer Service
Clear and copious communication is the foundation of excellent customer service when selling internationally. Fischer says he encourages customers to call Windsor's toll-free number with any questions or concerns; he then contacts them via e-mail or phone to try to remedy whatever situations arise.
Fischer also takes a tolerant view of any failings on his customers' part. "We have people who place a $20,000 winning bid on a listing and then never pay the bill," he says. "But we forgive all nonpaying bidders. We're all human beings. Somebody could [be in the] hospital; somebody could have lost their job."
Ochoco agrees: "My policy is, the customer's always right. If you have that policy, you're going to make more money because you'll have repeat customers."
Ochoco does virtually all his customer communication by e-mail. He responds to customer e-mails within 24 hours and initiates communication whenever anything occurs that customers should know about. "When I ship items, I send them a shipment notification," he says. "Basically, I keep them up-to-date in regard to everything I'm doing on the transaction."
And it may come as a surprise, but language problems rarely crop up in international customer service. Ochoco keeps messages to customers brief and simple and says they return the favor. "Everything's been smooth when [I'm] communicating by e-mail," he says.Fischer reports that he also rarely encounters language issues, even with his telephone-based style of customer service: "We sell to people in Malaysia, Japan, everywhere, and we've never had a problem with [communicating in] English."