Selling across borders means you can reach new customers in bigger and faster-growing markets. Yet businesses can become intimidated by the operational complexities of selling internationally, especially when it comes to delivery and returns.
Selling internationally through e-commerce is a big opportunity, with online sales reportedly up 23.8% year on year in April. But how can e-commerce brands avoid the pitfalls of cross-border delivery and returns without sacrificing the customer experience?
There are many elements to creating a seamless delivery and returns experience, including delivery options, length of delivery time, and tracking. There’s no "one-size-fits-all" approach to all of these, especially when each market has its unique cultural preferences, and there are local differences in carriers and delivery infrastructure.
A well-executed delivery and returns experience can drive growth and retain customers. A recent survey from IMRG found that 60% of consumers will buy again from a retailer if they were satisfied with the delivery, and 78% consider the quality of a returns service when choosing where to shop.
One of the trickiest barriers to achieving this is complying with customs documentation, and paying the right import or export duties. Get this wrong, and it could mean that your customer's parcel is held at Customs, or the customer is hit with an unexpected cost to get the package released, all of which can make the delivery experience far from satisfactory.
Calculating costs for different countries might seem like a big headache, as well as making sure that any expenses are covered in checkout. Technology offers a solution, allowing the option of including various costs in the total price, or breaking them out separately. It can also give the customer the choice of paying now or when the parcel arrives. For customers, transparency is important when it comes to duties and taxes, so it's important to let them know upfront of any additional costs. You need to ensure that your website displays the full information on international shipping across all countries you sell to, how long it’s likely to take, and whether orders can be tracked.
When it comes to returns, duties and taxes can be even more of a headache. As duties are paid when the product goes to the customer, they shouldn't need to be paid on the way back. However, it's important to have the right documentation on hand to prove that payment has been made, or retailers can risk charges or fines. To ensure this is taken care of, technology is available to generate the necessary Customs relief documentation and the right kind of returns label. This guarantees a seamless returns experience for the customer, and gives the retailer reassurance that it’s compliant.
Delivery providers and services vary from country to country, which can make it hard to create a consistent delivery experience. It's important to understand how each carrier works in each country, and the services they provide. This allows you to pick the best and most cost-effective service from country to country. Forty-five percent of customers will abandon a purchase if there’s a lack of convenient delivery options, so offering the choice of a time, day, or click-and-collect location with different price points affects the customer purchase. It's therefore vital that your carrier mix for each country is optimized for service reliability, cost-effectiveness, and breadth of options for the customer.
Delays are sometimes unavoidable, but you can avoid keeping customers in the dark. That's why parcel tracking and good customer service is important, especially when selling internationally and sending times are longer. Ensuring customers are able to find out the status of their packages so they can track their journey improves the experience and makes them more likely to buy again.
Returns are important for international customers, as buying online from a different country can already feel like a risk. Having a robust and simple returns process is essential. However, the challenges that returns pose when selling domestically are magnified when working across borders. Consumer behaviors and expectations vary from one country to the next. In Germany, returns are quite normal, affecting 70% of fashion purchases. Drop-off locations are the most popular choice in France, and the Spanish and Chinese are the most likely to abandon a purchase if the returns policy doesn't meet the expectation. Make sure you understand each country you’re selling to, and whether it has the kind of returns policy customers expect.
How can you offer a positive experience when selling across borders without crippling your operation? One carrier can’t provide everything you need. Some are limited by the countries they deliver to, and some may be more costly in certain countries than others. For this reason, working with multiple carriers is essential for running a cross-border operation. However, this strategy comes with its own challenges, including the juggling of different contracts and the need to compare the costs and services of all carriers to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Working with multiple carriers also means having various I.T. integrations specific to each carrier, which can lead to hidden costs and complexities.
The key to achieving this without experiencing operational headaches is to work with a multi-carrier global partner. It can give you access to all carriers and competitive rates without your having to manage the various relationships and contracts. Through one technology integration, you can offer multiple delivery and returns options, transparency, compliance with duties and taxes, track-and-trace capability, and a customer-service team to deal with inquiries.
Giving customers a seamless delivery and returns experience is vital for running a successful cross-border e-commerce business. Once you have the right mix of technology and expertise, you can crack the cross-border challenge with a global full-loop service that’s simple and easy, even across borders.
Bobbie Ttooulis is executive director of Global Freight Solutions.
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