For most online retailers preparations for the big holiday shopping season are now under way.
Whether you are already selling internationally or plan to start, now is the time to give some serious thought to trading across borders. The huge scale of holiday shopping presents a major challenge on its own. Add in the complexity of exporting and you have a recipe for disaster – if you are not prepared!
Earlier this year, I put together Ten top tips on internationalising your e-commerce operations. They’re still valid for cross-border trade this Christmas, but there’s some more to be said that’s unique to the holiday season. (Bear in mind that Christmas itself is not the only gift-giving event at this time of year, particularly when you are thinking globally).
So here are five more top tips for international selling, just for the holiday shopping season. I hope they help you get ready.
1. Forecast Your Sales
Which direction do you expect your international sales to go at Christmas? This question isn’t as straightforward as it may first appear, because it’s really dependant on what you sell and where to.
If you sell niche products with broad global appeal, you can expect your international sales to go through the roof. That’s due in part to higher volumes overall, but also the fact that people will put in a little extra effort, and look further afield, to find unusual gifts.
Then again, if your products are widely available and unlikely to be gifts you will probably get some uplift in domestic sales – consumption is higher across the board at this time of year. But there may be little change in international sales as buyers will be happier purchasing products that are easily available closer to home.
There are as many different scenarios as there are product types, so do your own research. Use your own data from last year, or try a tool like Terapeak which provides access to historical eBay sales data.
2. Consider Extending Your Reach
If your products are already selling well internationally, consider if there are additional markets you’d like to take advantage of this holiday season.
Christmas comes but once a year – a long time in the world of ecommerce. So most sellers won’t get another opportunity to try out internationally selling on this scale until next year. Keeping up with orders will be a challenge anyway, so it might be worth biting the bullet and offering your products to more countries this time around instead of next.
Just be sure think about it now, not in the middle of the busy season!
3. Get Help Just for Christmas
Getting help with customer service or order fulfillment is something that can be just for Christmas. Forecasting ahead will give you an idea of your order volume, so compare that to your current capacity and decide whether you are going to need help.
If you do see the need, you have two main options. One is to look locally for temporary workers. Family and friends may fit the bill, but I recommend you pay a proper hourly rate rather than asking for favours – you run a business and someone who needs the money is less likely to let you down at a crucial moment.
The other option is to consider a fulfillment house. These companies take the whole shipping process out of your hands, and can often handle customer support and returns too. Rates can be complex so use a spreadsheet to calculate the true cost alongside your sales forecasts.
If you do decide to get help, don’t leave it until your order volume is through the roof. Whichever option you go with, there will be teething problems. So ask a temporary worker to do a couple of hours a week at first, or send a small fraction of orders through an outsourcer before scaling up with them. When the busy season comes you’ll be well prepared and will just need to ramp up.
4. Think Like an International Gift Buyer
You’ve probably heard the advice to “think like a customer”. It’s good advice for any business, and hopefully you already do it. If you are selling internationally, it follows that you need to think like an international customer, and start making changes that will help them in particular.
If that wasn’t enough mental gymnastics, at this time of year you need to start thinking like an international gift-buying customer!
These customers are a little different again from domestic customers. Not only are they buying at a greater distance and may speak a different language, they are also buying for somebody else, and may have little product knowledge. So they’re more likely to order wrongly, and get upset at the delay and cost of international returns.
But the international gift-buyer also presents an opportunity. You can do more than your competitors to help them choose the right product, and bundle it with accessories that go together well. They’ll only get one chance to buy the perfect gift, and may well prefer to buy with all the trimmings than risk forgetting something important.
5. Don’t Make Big Operational Changes Now
There’s a lot you can look into to help with international selling – translation, channel management software, outsourcing, alternative marketplaces – and more.
But it’s not just getting help with orders that you shouldn’t leave until the last minute. Any changes, however well-intentioned, can also cause problems. At best, a change can take a few weeks to bed-in. At worst, it can be a wrong turn and cause havoc. The larger the change is, the more that can wrong.
In short, there’s a lot to gain by making improvements for Christmas, but don’t change anything critical during the holiday shopping season, however tempting it may be. For most sellers that means putting big changes on hold from October, at the latest.
Changes to marketing, such as special promotions, may be a great thing to do in the busy period, but don’t tinker with something that will interfere with day-to-day operations if it goes wrong.
The holiday shopping season is a great opportunity for international selling. Decide on your strategy now, make plans, and prepare yourself for high sales and hard work! You’ll learn a lot in a short time, and get plenty of ideas for expanding your cross-border trade next year.