I’ve been thinking a lot lately about overseas selling, and perhaps importing items for domestic resale. I began to research the concept by interviewing a half-dozen acquaintances who have or are still buying and selling across international borders. Next, I read “Import 101” by Paul Lidberg. My first impression was that import/export is not for the faint of heart, and perhaps I’d better stick to domestic selling. Although some of my friends are quite adept and successful at import/export, all had “horror stories” about problem buyers, payments not received or shipments confiscated by customs for some paperwork deficiency.
Making international sales can be accomplished quite easily selling through eBay, Amazon and other marketplaces. Making sales, however, is not the same thing as getting them delivered and paid for. Once a sale is made, someone has to fill out the customs forms. Packages could be checked at each border, at the whim of the local customs agents. Shipping to foreign countries may involve several different postal systems, all with differing size, weight and labelling requirements. Some countries don’t offer package tracking, and buyers sometimes claim that they never received their packages. Without tracking proof, who can argue with them? Some eBay sellers have regularly lost money and suffered bad feedback regarding “missing packages.” One of my eBay-seller friends swears that he was providing golf shirts for free to foreign customs agents and their families.
Still, the temptation to sell overseas stayed with me, and I continued to look for a way to make it work without a lot of headaches. So, I read “Global Selling with Amazon,” thinking that perhaps selling through them would lessen the bureaucratic headaches. Instead, my brain seized up about halfway through the book. I don’t do well dealing with bureaucracy, and customs regulations suck the soul out of me. It seemed as if I was to be constrained to domestic selling for the rest of my life.
Then this week (June 29) I got a message in my eBay box titled “Now the whole world can buy from you.” The mail introduced me to eBay’s Global Shipping Program, and I was hooked from the very first sentence. eBay’s Global Shipping Program seems to be just what I have been looking for: A global selling solution that doesn’t add many complications to my existing business. Instead of a shopping list of customs headaches, the program offers new markets and new customers. Who can argue with that?
Of course, the Global Shipping Program isn’t new; it’s been around for a couple of years. But, it’s been a tough sell. eBay sellers who have had bad experiences selling overseas have not been easy to convince. Sellers have remained skeptical about missing shipments and bad feedback. The Global Selling Program attempts to deal with these issues head-on.
Over the years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with eBay. I ceased selling there several years ago but have remained a regular buyer. Reading the details of the Global Selling Program, I regained some of my enthusiasm for selling on eBay. I listed about a dozen items auction-style, and all quickly sold. I guess it’s time for me to kiss and make up with eBay (not that they missed me).
For those unfamiliar with the Global Shipping Program, it’s pretty straightforward. You change your selling preferences to include international shipping, and qualifying items are automatically listed in 54 countries. If there is a particular country that you don’t want to ship to, set your preferences to block the country.
List your items in the normal fashion, but be very clear in your descriptions and about your customer service policies. As eBay points out on its Global Shipping page, a little extra care in listing and shipping your product helps assure a problem-free delivery. When an item sells, you ship it to eBay’s global shipping center in Kentucky. Then you’re done. The global shipping center is operated by Pitney-Bowes, who opens, re-packs and re-ships your package using third-party customs brokers and shippers. Pitney-Bowes is responsible for the customs forms plus shipping and tracking. They also collect and remit the import duties and international shipping charges, which have been pre-paid by your buyer.
Sellers are still responsible for making sure that what is shipped meets the description in the listing and eBay’s requirements for package size, value and contents. Post-sale customer service is the responsibility of the seller, but if a shipment is lost or damaged, then all the seller has to do is refund the buyer’s payment. If a buyer leaves bad feedback regarding the shipping experience, eBay promises to delete it. Sellers only have to insure their package as far as Kentucky; Pitney-Bowes handles it from there. eBay’s final value fees to sellers don’t include the extra charges tacked on by Pitney-Bowes.
Is the Global Shipping Program an ideal solution for international selling? No, it’s not. Overseas buyers complain about paying the international shipping and customs fees (which is strange, because they would have to pay them anyway). Sellers aren’t told what the additional fees to the buyer are, and they are concerned that they may not keep a customer long-term because of the extra fees. Buyers are told before they complete their purchase what the additional charges are, and they are given the option to cancel their purchase at that time. In some cases, the international shipping and customs charges exceed an item’s purchase price.
Despite the concerns about the program, eBay claims that Global Shipping participants can increase their sales up to 15 percent. Some sellers claim increases of 20 percent or more. I suspect that some categories will benefit more than others; American movies, music and cultural icons are in demand in most of the world.
As for me, I’m glad to have a larger market to sell to. Selling internationally doesn’t cost me an extra dime or require any more time than I usually spend taking photographs and writing descriptions. The Global Shipping Program seems to me to be win/win, and who can argue with that?
Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine