1) What is international shipping, and what are the benefits of using it?
The process of moving goods from one country to another by the ocean, air, road or multimodal means is called international shipping.
The growth in the domain of eCommerce businesses represents a rapidly expanding global market. This boom has made international shipping a mandatory logistics operation regardless of whether you are importing or exporting a whole container of socks or a single work of art.
International shipping comes with an array of benefits. It is a splendid approach to place a spotlight on your brand worldwide and a surefire way to drive brand awareness. Many brands that use native ingredients or indigenous techniques find a more significant demand overseas where their products are not commonly found.
While subscription-based businesses or rental companies do well locally, brands involved in the industries of apparel, cosmetics, fragrance or accessories, to name a few, would do well to exploit a borderless market with the power of international shipping.
Returns are less likely with international customers who need to wait a little longer than most to receive their goods. This extended timeline means that international customers delve into thoughtful and well-considered purchases rather than impulse shopping. Another reason they do this is to ensure that the cost of international shipping, which could be more expensive than the product itself, is worth it.
While international shipping brings a bag of pros to your business, this is something that you should not enter lightly. A well-considered, well-advised, well-strategized and honest approach is required to hold the reins of this massive beast.
2) How does international shipping work, and what steps are involved in the process?
International shipping follows similar steps to shipping domestically, with a few added checkpoints that could appear as hurdles for the uninitiated. However, have no fear. The processes of international shipping may seem extensive, but the operations are simple enough if you follow the rules to a tee. While every shipper has their own standard set of procedures, the flow of the operations remains the same.
2.1) Order Placement
The first step on the voyage of international shipping begins when the customer places an order through an email, on your store or website.
2.2) Order Fulfillment
The next step is when their order is packed and complete with an international shipping label.
2.3) Order Shipping
The package is collected or delivered to your logistics provider or the post office.
2.4) Order Export
This phase is when orders are segregated by destination and mode - land, air or sea. The packages are further separated by shipping methods, depending on the time-sensitivity of the goods and how much you or your customer are willing to pay for the shipping speed.
2.5) Order Import
The packages arrive at customs at the country of destination. This stage in international shipping is where the goods are scanned and inspected by officials in the customs department. Calculations based on content and value of packages are made to determine the duties or taxes that you or your customer will owe for them to release the package.
2.6) Order Notification
Your customer will be notified when the package is ready to be delivered or required to be picked up once pending payments are cleared. Most logistics companies will pre-pay the duties or taxes on your behalf to speed up the customs process, but hold the packages until they are reimbursed.
2.7) Order Delivery or Return
The package will be delivered to the customer in the country of destination once the fees have been paid. If the logistics provider has not been reimbursed, the parcel will be held in their warehouse for a stipulated waiting period for payment. Failure to pay will result in the shipment being sent back to you.
3) How much does international shipping cost?
Moving goods from one country to another comes at a price, one that is decided by your target market and merchandise. In most cases, customers have a max amount they are willing to part with for shipping costs. In the beginning, your shipping cost could be higher than what customers are willing to pay. So you may have to dig into your pocket and pay up for part of it. However, with experience, you might find a suitable shipping mode and cost to appease your customers and save your money.
But shipping costs fluctuate all the time. The factors involved in international shipping are catalysts influencing the mercurial nature of shipping costs. From the economy of countries, and fuel costs, to wars, several affairs and events affect the shipping costs involved in the delivery of your package.
3.1) Customs duties and taxes
The minute you swipe right on international shipping, the world of trade tariffs and taxes becomes the heart of your operations. When a customer orders your goods from across the seas, additional taxes amp up the shipping costs.
Customs duties are tariffs or taxes charged on goods that travel across international borders. The objective of customs duty is to safeguard the home country’s economy and its citizens, jobs, and environment by extension. And by using customs duty to regulate the movement of goods, especially those of prohibited or restrictive nature, countries can raise their revenues.
Many countries apply high trade tariffs on goods from other countries to encourage domestic manufacturing. Instead of tucking tail, the affronted country is likely to enforce equally harsh trade tariffs right back at them.
As a result of international trade relations, some trade tariffs are permanent while others could be temporary until the countries involved agree. Some countries even apply high trade tariffs to punish other countries, for example, those ranking high in abuses of human rights and trafficking, or those focused on developing weapons of war.
3.2) Security Measures
Strict security measures at ports could slow down logistics operations in some countries. Common in ports under dictatorship or state of emergency, goods are subjected to multiple screening processes born of scepticism and mistrust. These trials and tribulations may delay your shipment and impact shipping costs.
Another security concern could include shipments containing hazardous materials or in case of security issues at port. If the port of destination’s standards of labelling or documentation are not met, your goods might be delayed at port or routed for return,
3.3) Traffic at Port
In airports and seaports alike, port congestion is used for events when the carriers arrive at port but are unable to unload or load due to fully occupied terminals. The carriers will form a queue and wait for their turn in these events.
Some of the busiest ports in the world, most of those in Asia, suffer awful traffic congestion. An obvious outcome in countries with high domestic production and exports, their high performances could directly impact your international shipping costs thanks to delayed package deliveries.
Port congestion can also be caused by labour disputes or industrial action. While others occur simply because of an overrun of empty containers taking up the space in port, such as in Manila. The resulting global supply chain blockages impact your international shipping costs.
3.4) Fuel Costs
This factor affecting international shipping costs forms the world’s easiest theorem. Fuel costs are constantly fluctuating. All modes of international transportation rely on fuel. Therefore, all international shipping costs will continuously fluctuate. Hence proved.
If the oil supply is in surplus, fuel prices will drop leading to lower shipping costs. Warfare and disputes cutting off the fuel supply to a country drive up the price of fuel abominably.
Due to the effervescent nature of fuel prices, most international shipping companies constantly adjust the cost of shipping to accommodate fuel costs.
3.5) Transportation Mode
With the option of ocean and air freight, ocean freight takes longer but costs less, while air freight costs more and reaches faster. The dimensions of your shipping containers will directly impact your international shipping cost.
Many manufacturing companies opt for ship by sea mode when they draw up the prices for their overseas customers. Unfortunately, unforeseen events can affect manufacturing lead time. Adverse weather conditions, political upheaval, or epidemics, could lead to the merchants opting for air freight just so the goods reach the customer on time. Then again, sending your shipment by the ocean is no great promise. Sailing on the open seas, ships can encounter all sorts of weather delays.
Ultimately, although air freight reaches in a matter of hours and appears to be safer, they come with limitations in terms of size and weight of cargo.
4) How to prepare your package for shipping internationally
The increased handling of goods while shipping internationally can lead to damage to goods in transit. In order to ensure your goods reach the customer safely, follow these tips to prepare your shipment.
4.1) Pressure Ready
Ensure your goods are protected from all manner of handling throughout the journey. The first step is to make sure your goods are stackable. In case, your goods will be shipped with other goods, make sure they can be placed alongside, above or below other goods without getting damaged.
Important pressure points to keep in mind are the tilting of airfreight, forklift handling, the motion of the ocean, and the vibrations of road freight.
4.2) Right Packaging
Always opt for corrugated cardboard boxes that are reinforced or double-walled. They may be pricey, but the level of protection they provide makes them worth the investment. Go for the ones that offer the right size and weight capacity to safely cradle your goods. And make sure to label boxes packed with fragile goods appropriately.
Pack your larger goods in pallets or crates with edge protectors in order to improve the structural support of your packages. Shrinkwrapping and strapping goods together will enhance the sturdiness of packaging and protect them from environmental damage.
4.3) Internal Packaging
Packing peanuts and air cushions are necessary for filling empty spaces in boxes to make sure your goods don’t get jostled on their journey. Larger and heavier goods can be supported with more substantial packing using styrofoam or cardboard to minimise empty space.
If you decide to depend heavily on your reinforced boxes and skip this step, your customer will definitely receive some portion of damaged goods. Especially considering the long journey and extensive handling that your package will be subjected to in international shipping.
4.4) Weight Check
Check the weight of your goods and make sure you choose the appropriate kind of packaging box or crate for it. Cutting costs in this department won’t do you any good.
Large parcels, in particular, will need crates or boxes that are built specifically to handle heavyweight. Choosing wisely will negate any accidents en route and limit damages to the packages.
4.5) Brawn over Beauty
Do not get seduced by pretty packaging. Although baskets and jute bags are increasing in popularity across various industries, they do next to nothing, on the negative side of nothing, to protect the goods within.
You could also consider packing the goods in sturdy boxes for most of the journey. Once closer to the destination, the goods could be repacked in the softer packing of your customer’s choice.
4.6) Feedback Time
Dial into the feedback and review section of your site or email. If many customers complain about damaged or missing goods, take a hard look at your packaging and figure out what you are missing.
Many customers, however, might not complain if their items have remained intact while the packaging has borne the havoc of transit. In any case, following up with customers to collect feedback on how their parcels arrived will definitely help you plan your packaging better.
5) How to choose the right international shipping company to suit your needs
Importing and exporting goods necessitate logistics firms' involvement to move the shipment by meeting the regulations and rules of various countries.
Requiring know-how of the policies and paperwork involved in international shipping is a must for businesses so their goods can clear customs without breaking into a sweat.
While domestic shipments involve the laws and regulations of a single country, international shipping is made complex as the documentation needs to meet the varied and unique statutes and stipulations of multiple countries and territories.
Whether or not businesses have a firm grasp of international shipping regulations, this complex logistics process definitely benefits from strategically partnering with a professional freight forwarder.
Here are a few tips to choose the appropriate shipping company for your business.
5.1) Special Considerations
First off, if your products require specialized packaging and shipping solutions, look for a shipping company that is an expert at handling your category of goods. Specializations could include temperature-controlled carriers and warehouses, protective packaging for materials and other technology necessary to maintain the integrity of your goods.
5.2) Customer Service
Check the reliability and reachability of the logistics provider before you sign any agreements. Remember the long road ahead and pick a partner you can rely on for this journey. International shipping operations stop for no man. As a process that continues 24/7, ensure that your logistics provider can offer you a dedicated accounts manager if your numbers are high enough.
Make sure the shipping company you choose has a state-of-art tracking technology to meet the needs of your international shipping process. Although air freight is quick and logins are brief, ocean freight’s logs are extensive as the journey entails several days on open water. And over the course of those days, I assure you, you will appreciate having the right information to answer your customer’s queries.
Consider how you can build shipping costs into your product costs to offer free shipping to your customers. Opt for a shipping company without compromising on quality while meeting your affordability. Remember, when you cut costs in your business, you try to do away with some processes. And when a logistics provider offers you dirt-cheap prices that don’t fit industry standards, you can be sure that he has cut costs with his overheads, team and labour.
Choose your shipping provider based on range covered and optimum speed possible. For example, if you have higher delivery numbers across Asia, you would want a shipping company with an extensive network conducive to seamless connections in this zone. More customers are paying more to receive their items faster, so opting for slower shipping might lose you customers.
6) Top tips for optimising your shipping experience
6.1) Safe and timely shipping
Timing twinned with international shipping costs is important to you and your customer. Mistimed imports or exports will directly impact a customer’s experience with cancelled or delayed orders. Time can equally affect your business’s supply chain management and your customer’s purchase satisfaction.
To avoid this scenario, plan ahead, request for quotes with at least 30 days to go before the date of shipment, account for unexpected delays and have plan B to plan Z in place. Do not over-promise to your customers and underestimate international shipping time.
6.2) Save money?
While you can be on the lookout for an affordable company, make sure it doesn’t take over the list of priorities when you get into international shipping. While a smaller shipping company may have better rates, their service might not be great. Always look for recommendations and comb through reviews just as you would when choosing a restaurant for a date.
And if it comes to it, if your shipping numbers are reasonable, you can always chalk up a deal with your logistics provider. Thanks to the cutthroat world of international shipping, shipping companies, even the top ones, are happy to offer discounts or special prices to their regular customers.
6.3) Avoid common mistakes
Make sure you focus on your packaging. And when i say packaging, i mean the box that you choose to send your goods in as well as the labelling on the box. While improper labelling can lead to additional surcharges charged to you by your shipping provider, customers hate shipping delays due to wrong or incomplete addresses.
Fed up with repeated calls and attempts to deliver, a customer may cancel their order and ask for a refund. Furthermore, messing up on something as simple, while important, as labelling could tarnish your business’s reputation in your customer's eyes.
Of course, accurate labelling means nothing if your package lands up at the destination tattered, shattered and broken. International shipping involves heavy handling and frequently moving cargo which means that your items will fall and collide with other goods. Choose shock absorbent packaging and affix fragile stickers for cartons containing breakable goods.
6.4) Lost or damaged packages
The further a package travels from you, the more events and delays it will likely experience. International shipping is filled with uncertainty. Despite the shipping provider’s best intentions, ships can get wrecked, items can get stolen, and goods may be destroyed. This is why having cargo insurance is essential.
Mandatory for most of international shipping, cargo insurance will be voided if your goods have errors in packaging or labelling. Every insurance comes with a different set of rules and guidelines. Make sure you read the fine print carefully and sign up for sufficient cover. In case of lost packages, this will enable you to refund the customer after you claim your dues from insurance.
6.5) Read up
Do not rely on your shipping provider to educate you on the norms of international shipping. While you may not become a logistics expert, try to hold your own in discussions about international shipping by reading up and understanding the processes.
Shipping charges, freight rates, supply chain management and customs regulations make the topic of international shipping a vortex of information and research. Your shipping provider can handle most of the complicated processes and update you on changes in import or export regulations and requirements. But reading up on as much of it as you can will aid you in decision-making processes, scanning your insurance policies, and cutting down on international shipping costs.
An exciting adventure awaits those who venture into the tumultuous waters of international shipping. With the whole market as your bazaar, you can control merchandise supply and availability for various regions depending on previous customer responses. However, you will need to keep a few things in mind for this journey. Choose the right shipping provider for your business, do not even think of skimping on packaging, make sure you sign up for insurance, and pay heed to customer feedback and response. Bon voyage and Godspeed!
8) FAQ's on International Shipping
8.1) What is the meaning of international shipping?
International shipping is the term used for the process of importing or exporting goods between two countries via road, air or sea.
8.2) What are the main steps of shipping internationally?
The main steps involved in international shipping are Order Placement, Order Fulfillment, Order Shipping, Order Export, Order Import, Or Notification, Order Delivery or Return.
8.3) Why do international packages take so long?
While shipping by ocean does take quite a few days, and air freight movement is completed in a matter of hours, international shipping takes longer because of the number of screening and handling processes involved in the movement of goods.
8.4) How long do international packages take to clear customs?
International packages take anything between a matter of minutes to several weeks to clear customs. Everything depends on the accuracy of documents, the type of goods you are shipping, and the shipping provider’s cooperation with the customs department on your behalf.