When BackWoods Grocery Inc. opened its Internet storefront for business in July 1999, its order form clearly stated that it didn't accept international orders. But that warning didn't stop an English-speaking customer in Switzerland from placing an order for $71 in merchandise, eight percent higher than the company's average sale.
The online outdoor specialty retailer and distributor, which sells more than 400 kinds of food and cookware for outdoor enthusiasts, was quickly thrust into the world of international e-commerce. "We panicked at first, but then we realized it was hard to turn it down," says Lisa Beckham, 31, president of the Atlanta company which she founded with her husband, Paul Beckham, 31, and brother, Curtis Bishop, 26.
The trio originally thought the process of shipping products overseas-especially food products-would be too complicated because of tariffs, duties, customs and other issues. The order from Switzerland was about to change their minds.
Like Beckham, many U.S. entrepreneurs find themselves unprepared to do global e-commerce-even though they know people worldwide can access their Web sites. But because foreign customers offer new opportunities for continued growth, it pays to develop some kind of plan for dealing with-and even reaching out to-foreign customers.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.