How to Start Selling to Customers Internationally

One of the biggest benefits of running an ecommerce business is that your store is open to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Even while you sleep, you can make a sale to someone across the country.

This being said, as a small business owner selling online, you may feel as though you are limited in at least one way: selling internationally. The rules, regulations, and costs of shipping your products across borders may feel like too much of a burden to newcomers.

The truth is, although selling to international customers isn’t exactly the same as selling to someone nearby, it’s not complicated. Plus, by expanding your ecommerce reach to global proportions, you can make sales around-the-clock to people all over the world.

There are several paths you can take to start selling to customers internationally. Here’s how to get started selling overseas.

Add Integrations to Your Existing Online Store

To sell internationally while avoiding the heavy lifting of dealing with logistics, you can contract a third-party to handle the details of selling overseas.

Most ecommerce platforms will offer a plugin, integration, or other upgrade to your store that allows you to sell internationally just as you do domestically. With Volusion, you can add International Checkout to your page and let them take responsibility for fulfilling international orders. They’ll handle payment processing, fraud liability, shipping and handling, duties compliance, and more.

This method is perhaps the easiest, though it may result in a smaller cut of overall profits as well as a lower conversion rate, as you won’t alter your marketing or operations to appeal to customers in new markets. Instead, if an international customer visits your site and understands your language—someone from Canada, the U.K., or an English-speaker from another country, for example—and they want to buy from you, they can with relative ease.

Sell Your Products on an International Marketplace

Another notable benefit of ecommerce is that you can open up an outpost of your business much more easily than you can in the “real world.” If you have a robust online store, you can still sell your wares on another platform, especially if that platform is more internationally focused.

With that in mind, you can look into selling on websites such as Ebay, Alibaba, and Rakuten. Each of these sites will have different target markets (for example, Rakuten is a Japanese site, whereas Alibaba is Chinese) or will be more receptive to B2B rather than B2C selling. So as not to waste your time, you should do a bit of market research to understand whether a product like yours will gain traction on these platforms and in these markets.

Additionally, Fulfilment by Amazon is another example of using a third-party site to ship internationally. You can adjust your Export settings in FBA, or work with another company to handle FBA international logistics such as

Build out Your International Presence

A more proactive approach to selling internationally is to make a concerted effort to market and sell to international customers. There are a few steps to doing this:

Conduct international market research

If you have particular nations or regions in mind as your preferred new market, you can purchase generalized or custom-made market research reports that cover interest in your products in that area.

You can also perform your own market research using Google Trends. You can use Trends to search keyword interest over time in specific countries. If you see that people in Brazil or Europe have recently begun searching for your product (or if there has been a long-standing interest in that product), you know you stand a better chance of selling your wares there than you would otherwise.

Of course, your own sales might help you drive this decision—say, if you notice people from another country or region have begun buying from you of late. But combining your anecdotal evidence with larger trends will help you feel more secure in taking further steps.

Create localized versions of your site

If you find that there is interest from a specific country, it’s time to start appealing to customers from that country.

You can do this in a few ways. One is to create versions of your site that you will drive international visitors to rather than bringing them to your U.S.-based site. These sites should allow customers to pay in local currency and/or with preferred payment methods for that country. If customers here primarily speak a language other than English, you’ll want to consider translating your product copy, or hiring someone to write fluent versions of your site copy in that language.

You’ll also want to consider marketing and advertising to visitors in their language, and on platforms that are most relevant to them such as local search engines and review platforms. Again, hiring a writer who can create engaging copy in your market’s native language will give you an advantage and help you compete with local options. Using geo-targeted ads through Google and Facebook will ensure that you don’t end up competing against yourself with your localized ads as well.

Prepare local customer support

Customer service is of the utmost importance for ecommerce sellers, who often don’t get a second chance at a first impression with new customers. This goes double for international customers, who may abandon your site for good if they can’t get clear information from you in a timely manner.

With this in mind, you might consider investing in chatbots that can either resolve customer issues entirely on their own or at least give them peace of mind until you are able to address them yourself. You might also want to hire a third-party customer service team that, although not as knowledgeable about your product, can converse confidently with local customers.

What to Keep in Mind as You Sell

Regardless of whether you let integrations and third-parties handle most of the work, or if you look to make your own way, there are some points you should keep in mind so you understand whether these efforts are worth your time and money.

Processing international payments

Not all payments are processed the same way, at the same cost to you. Your payment gateway or merchant service provider may charge you an additional fee if the card used to pay for your product is an international card, and/or if currency conversion is required. These are called cross-border fees. Your provider will likely be able to offer your customers local payment options; if not, look into solutions that can help you handle the odd local payment, such as Digital River.

Don’t forget these fees or the cost of digital solutions when calculating the overall cost of doing business with foreign customers.

Understand taxes and duties

If you are managing your international expansion on your own, you’ll need to get a handle on the costs of shipping internationally, including taxes and duties.

For example, the U.S. has free trade agreements with 20 countries, including Canada, Australia, Chile, Korea, and Morocco. Selling in these countries will be cheaper since the agreement eliminates government tariffs, quotas, and other barriers. If you want to sell in a country that isn’t covered by a free trade agreement, you or your customer may have to pay extra for them to receive your product. You’ll want to make sure that these costs aren’t prohibitive before you move forward.

Be upfront about shipping and returns

If you sell internationally, your shipping times will be longer, and your return process will also be more costly (to either you or your customer). Especially with localized versions of your site, you should be transparent about how long and/or how expensive shipping and possible returns will be. Otherwise, you’ll have dissatisfied customers who won’t become loyal shoppers.

Discuss your plan with your financial advisor

You should run questions of taxation, budgeting, and number-crunching by your accountant or another financial advisor before you start selling internationally. If you foresee legal complications (due to regulations, local commercial agreements, corporate records, and other questions), a legal advisor with a background in international commerce is also a good addition to your roster.

The Bottom Line

Maybe you just want to dip your toes in new ecommerce waters by making it easier for those outside the U.S. to visit your online store. Or maybe you want to embark on a robust overseas expansion effort. Either way, the tools and tactics of international trade are at your fingertips. Most ecommerce sites can help you sell to outside newcomers; meanwhile, enough information and resources exist online for you to start making inroads yourself.

Stay informed of your legal and financial responsibilities along the way (with some outside help if necessary), and you’ll be in good shape to sell internationally, whether to a specific new market or to anyone around the globe.