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Ten Tips for Cross-Border Trade

There's more to international selling than posting new listings


Ten Tips for Cross-Border Trade

International selling may be able to help grow your business, but only with care and attention.

Photo: imabase / Fotolia.com
International markets represent a potential buying public for many eBay sellers, especially with international listings having surpassed United States listings in volume, but there’s more to selling internationally than simply posting a listing and hoping that all goes well. Here are a number of tips to help you to measure your international selling aspirations and to turn them into success.

  1. Remember the miles and borders involved. A few types of items are best sold domestically, even if you plan to start selling some goods internationally. Heavy goods (certainly anything requiring freight shipment), extremely fragile goods, and goods that are extremely valuable or that may encounter border-crossing or customs problems are not good candidates for international sales.

  2. Give international-friendly specifications. Wherever you happen to be based, remember that different ares of the world use different common measurements. While inches, pounds, and quarts might be necessary measurements to include for United States sales, for example, European bidders are more likely to buy if they can see specifications in centimeters, kilograms, and liters. Be particularly careful about critical specifications that may prevent goods from being viable across borders—DVD region encoding, for example, or the fact that many United States mobile phones won't work in other markets due to frequency differences, and vice-versa.

  3. Remember spelling and language family differences. Even English words can vary from place to place, meaning that you might miss buyers if you include only the phrases “colorful jewelry” or “aluminum caliper,” forgetting their counterparts “colourful jewellery” and “aluminium calliper.”

  4. Use lots of images. Because of deeper language barriers that can be involved in international selling, verbose descriptions of item conditions or features might not be understandable to all of your potential buyers, which can lead to all kinds of problems once the deal has been closed. Instead, go heavy on the photos. Get a close-up of every blemish and every feature that you would otherwise describe in text, since it’s much more difficult to misunderstand a photo.

  5. Consider posting on international, native-language eBay sites. Rather than just opening your auctions to international buyers, you might consider going a (big) step farther and listing on international eBay sites. Remember, though, that in order to generate sales this way you’ll need to be prepared to actually post listings in a language other that your own, since shoppers on those sites expect to shop (and search) in their native tongues.

  6. Account for currency conversion and other costs. Most international trading involves currency conversions that someone is going to pay for. As a seller, most of the time you’ll probably be paying PayPal cross-border transaction fees for automatic conversions. You’ll also need to account for increased shipping and packaging costs. Know what these adjustments amount to and account for them in your planning, lest you be (unhappily) surprised at the outcome of your international selling activity on your balance sheet.

  7. Do your homework about nations and markets. Know what nations you plan to trade with and what goods will sell there. If you can locate an untapped source of demand by selling wanted goods that are otherwise unavailable to a country, you’ll thrive. At the same time, many sellers avoid doing business with particular nations, because of fraud-related issues or customs or transport difficulties. Before deciding to plan on a large trading volume in a particular nation, ask sellers in eBay Groups and other community areas about their experiences with the country in question, or with the types of goods you plan to sell.

  8. Include strong disclaimers. Whether you’re selling on an English-based site or selling on an international site in another language, be sure to include a strong set of disclaimers for any cross-border trade warning of significantly increased shipping costs and times, potential customs troubles, the increased difficulty of returns and exchanges, and so on. Clearly indicate who will be responsible for picking up the slack should a disagreement arise—is the listing AS-IS and strictly buyer beware? If so, be explicit. If not, be equally explicit and be prepared to back it up.

  9. Monitor and protect your detailed seller ratings. Also critical these days is the effect all of this will have on your detailed seller ratings, which can affect the fees you pay as an eBay seller and your placement in search results. Track the data in your dashboard, and remember that buyers have the chance to rate you on metrics like communication, shipping cost, and shipping time—all of which can be negatively impacted by international trade. Despite the advantages of eBay, you may find as some sellers have that other avenues like Amazon.com are a better bet for your type of international selling.

  10. Consider using an auction manager. If all of this sounds like a tall order, be comforted by the fact that several major auction managers offer international selling features or packages that can help you to list on multiple eBay sites in multiple languages and that provide lots of data tracking and monitoring for you. If you’re seriously considering doing a medium to large volume in international sales on eBay, having an assistant may be the least fraught road to success.

Though the challenges of international selling can be great, so can the rewards—for every story of difficulty there’s a matching success tale, often with international flair and a colorful backstory.

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