Beyond Borders

International Products That Sell

Some of the best products for international selling are products available only in North America, Ochoco says. "Or, if [certain] types of clothes are available [outside North America], they are a lot more expensive," he adds. Many successful international sellers are connected with expatriate Americans who can't find products in their new homes that they loved while living in the States, says Rovinelli.

To check what's happening in specific markets, start at the home page of eBay.com. Click on one of the country links at the bottom of the page, and then click on the "Advanced Search" link at the top of the page that comes up. From there, you can do a Completed Listings search on any item. You can also use other eBay tools such as the "What's Hot" report to see which products and categories are doing well. "Your User ID can be used on all eBay sites," Rovinelli says. "A seller could go to the UK [site] and do some Completed Listings searches or browse the site to see what's selling at what cost."

As a general rule, products with a high value-to-weight ratio are best suited for international selling. You can find specific sources for products by checking an online database of suppliers such as Worldwide Brands. Robin Cowie, president of the Maitland, Florida, service provider, says eBay sellers can access a database of tens of thousands of suppliers for a one-time payment of $299. According to Cowie, more than 100,000 sellers currently use the database.

Worldwide Brands researches the suppliers to ensure they are reputable firms, Cowie says. The website provides the suppliers' e-mail addresses, phone numbers, order requirements and other details such as minimum orders. Says Cowie, "[These suppliers] are normally online-savvy, so they have all kinds of ways to work with e-commerce stores."

Ochoco uses supplier services to research sources for his products. He usually sources his designer clothing from North American and Asian suppliers who buy and resell cancelled orders from the off-price market. "You have to [find] where the products are cheaper," he says.

Fischer has taken it a step further, traveling to Hong Kong to talk directly with mainland Chinese jewelry-makers using Hong Kong intermediaries. He has even purchased a Chinese pearl farm to bring costs down as much as possible. Arranging the contacts was straightforward, Fischer reports, and less than two weeks after visiting Hong Kong, they'd already manufactured 3,000 pieces of jewelry. "I can pick up the phone any day of the week and talk to our people in Hong Kong, and it's just a regular conversation," he says. "They are managing every piece of the operation."

Pater regularly finds new international sources of supply from customers and others attracted by her eBay presence. "It helps me pick up new product lines," she says. "Just this week I had a company from Singapore contact me because they saw that I sell internationally. I can now buy product from them and sell it."

Global Future
eBay is steadily becoming more international, as evidenced by the growing number of country sites and expanding PayPal currency conversion. Similar trends are happening elsewhere. Worldwide Brands is adding new services covering liquidation merchandise and importing in considerable detail. And eBay sellers are steadily waking up to the fact that selling to the global market is a way to distinguish themselves from their less adventurous competitors, as well as a way to open up a vast new market of buyers.

Fischer, who sold jewelry through cruise ship auctions before starting his business on eBay, says the decision to sell internationally from the start was critical to Windsor's success. "[With our] first [eBay] auction, we did about $78,000," he says. "That took us by surprise." The cruise ships were charging him a commission of 60 percent of each auction's sales, several times eBay's take. Though Windsor had generated $5 million in retail jewelry sales aboard the cruise ships, Fischer left the sea and never looked back, even when a cruise line recently contacted him requesting another oceanic auction.

Of course, the cruise line wanted to know why Fischer turned down the job. "They laughed when we said 'eBay,'" he says. "But [in 2007], we'll do $4.5 million on eBay. [Next] year, we'll do $7 million. We've got a worldwide audience, constant cash flow, and we don't have to get on a ship and travel around the world to do it."

Get Globally Savvy
eBay offers a variety of online tools that tell you everything you need to know to create an excellent international listing. "The day we opened our eBay Store, the rep called and said, 'You did everything perfectly--how did you do it?'" recalls eBay seller Paul Fischer (eBay User ID: windsorauctions-usa). "I said, 'We just read your online help.'"

Start by going online to read eBay's international selling toolkit, which takes you through the four steps to becoming a global eBay seller. It covers preparation, listing, payments, shipping and more from an international seller's perspective. This global trading hub also offers information on sourcing globally, identifying most-watched items and hot categories by country, and more. To take advantage of this valuable resource, visit www.ebay.com and click on the "Sell Globally" link at the bottom left of the page.

Other helpful resources from eBay:

  • The International Trading Answer Center lets you tap the expertise of eBay members selling worldwide--or if you're an expert, you can provide answers to others' questions. Go to http://pages.ebay.com/community/answercenter and click on "International Trading."
  • The International Trading Chat Board gives you the chance to network with eBay members involved in selling internationally. Go to http://pages.ebay.com/community/chat and click on "eBay International Board" under "General Chat Rooms."
  • The International Trading Discussion Board hooks you up with eBay members and staff to kick around ideas and issues related to worldwide commerce on eBay. Go to http://pages.ebay.com/community/boards and click on "International Trading" under "Community Help Boards."
  • eBay's International Shipping Center offers a wealth of tools and resources to help you with shipping, including the international shipping calculator, which will let you and your customers easily figure out shipping costs. See http://pages.ebay.com/services/buyandsell/shippinginternational.html.

Speak Easy
Conventional phone calls can be an expensive way to communicate with international customers. Skype gives you an easy way to talk to anyone, anywhere for free. Skype, an eBay company, requires you to download and install a small program on your computer. Then you can include a Skype button on your listings. Buyers click the "Chat or Call" button to contact you instantly.

"Skype is really unique," says Casey Rovinelli, eBay senior manager of international marketing. "Especially outside the U.S., it has incredible penetration rates. And now there's something called TranSkype, which can automatically translate your instant message conversation in real time. The cost of communicating around the world is so much cheaper now because of products like Skype." Learn more at http://pages.ebay.com/skype.

Do's and Don'ts of International Selling
What to do:

  • Check "Will ship worldwide" when creating a listing.
  • Write clear item descriptions.
  • Study feedback to see if an international customer is one you really want.
  • Accept PayPal.
  • Make shipping policies and options cost-effective and simple.
  • Request delivery confirmation of shipments if possible.
  • Communicate with buyers frequently and clearly.

What Not to Do:

  • Jump into selling internationally without selling domestically first.
  • Use colloquial sayings or sarcasm in listings or communications.
  • Neglect time zones--your morning may be a customer's midnight.
  • Offer internationally prohibited items (for details, see ww.ups.com/ga/CountryRegs?loc=en_US).
  • Add taxes or shipping to item values on customs forms--customers will have to pay extra if you do this.
  • Misidentify items as gifts on customs forms to save on duties.
  • Give up. "Be persistent," says eBay seller Francis Ochoco (eBay User ID: urbanhuman). "That's the key to being successful."
Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and isauthor of Not Just a Living.
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