When is the right time to start selling abroad?

Rebecca Menezes | Sep 10, 2020

For many online sellers the purpose of selling online was to expand their businesses and sell pan India. This is a great idea given that the number of online consumers is growing rapidly. However, not all consumers look for the same products online. Online shopping patterns vary based on the category you sell under. So, those selling in the top categories like fashion and electronics may receive more orders than others in niche categories.

That’s not all, the increasing competition also reduces the volume of orders for you on online marketplaces. There are a top few marketplaces you can trust for fair business and assured payments. At the same time, there are many which will give you a hard time and deny you your own money. This limits the capacity to expand business through ecommerce.

To prevent these growth restrictions from getting in your way, you can take your business abroad. This does not mean you need to travel to other countries or set up outlets in foreign terrain. You can carry out ecommerce abroad the same way you do in India.

How to start selling abroad?

Selling abroad is easy says saree seller, Santosh who has been selling abroad for 2 years now. He owns the brand sudarshansilk and sells abroad though Amazon.com and Amazon.uk. He even sells on eBay.com and through his own portal sudarshansilk.com to international consumers.

Rafi, a leather accessory seller from Lucknow, sells under the brand Meem. He feels the process of selling broad is easy too. He says all you need to do is list your products on the desired portals and begin selling.

There are different options to choose from. You could set up your own store like Rafi and allow consumers from across borders to buy from you. Or, you can sell abroad through online marketplaces like –

  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Alibaba
  • Craftsvilla
  • Etsy

Craftsvilla lets you sell abroad through its marketplace. For this you need to be a seller on their website and registered under VillaPay.

Amazon allows you to sell to numerous countries like the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Spain via its Global Seller Program. You can simply list on the version of the online marketplace (e.g. amazon.uk, amazon.com, etc) in the above countries based on your choice. eBay, Alibaba and Etsy work in a similar fashion. Check out this article for more information on the same.

But, simple setting up on a foreign marketplace is not the end of things. We at Indian Online Seller wanted to know more. We questioned a number of online sellers about selling abroad and most of them told us they wanted to sell abroad but either didn’t know when to start, how to start or if it was a viable option for them. So, we caught up with a few like Santosh and Rafi who did sell abroad through online retail and we collected the following insights about shipping products internationally.

When should you start shipping your products abroad?

The best time to sell internationally is when you have an item that will sell in the foreign market and when you’ve reached the right amount of domestic sales.

According to category manager, Gaurav Gupta from the multi-channel order and inventory management firm, Browntape, the kind of products that sell abroad are those that are unique to the market.

He says, “One of our clients who sells through amazon.com sells ethnic wear for men. In the US, this item is not easily available. This makes his product perfect for the market in America. If you consider selling something simple like plain T-shirts in America, there are chances that you will have intense competition from existing sellers in the US. And, since you are in a different country you may take longer to provide the product or charge more than that country’s sellers. As a result you will end up losing sales.”

Online seller Santosh informs us that he began selling abroad because he started receiving requests to sell abroad. Foreign consumers would ask him to sell abroad via emails and Facebook. So he decided to give it a shot.

Pushpender K is an online jewellery seller who started selling abroad because of his stamp collecting hobby. He began selling in the UK in 2009, which was when he saw the prices of selling stamps on eBay.uk. This got him interested in selling through online retail abroad.

He claims, “Indian jewellery has got demand abroad from non-resident Indians.” That is why he picked this category.

Spectrahut established its online marketplace back in December 2013. Their main goal was to bring the world a little closer to Indian art, craft and heritage. Spectrahut.com is a marketplace that sells Indian handicrafts and homemade products internationally.

“We primarily sell on our own website spectrahut.com to cater to the international market but for India we are present on almost every marketplace,” they inform us.

Spectrahut started selling abroad from February 2014. The main reason they went international was to meet the demand for Indian handmade products and handicrafts in the US, UK and Australia. They believe there is a big market abroad for their commodities and a marketplace works for them.

Browntape’s Gaurav mentions, “We got our client selling internationally when their sales in India were around 10-15 lakhs per month.”

What do you require to sell abroad through online marketplaces?

Category manager, Gaurav informed us that an online seller is mainly required to submit the following essentials to become an online seller on international marketplaces –

  • Business name as you would like it to be displayed on Amazon
  • Physical address of your business
  • Business credit card name, number and expiration date
  • Address where you receive your credit card statement
  • Bank account information for your business bank account in the US, UK, etc (to pay your sales proceeds directly into your bank account)
  • Company/business registration certificate copy
  • Passport copy
  • Any utility (Phone/Internet/Electricity) bill at the company’s registered address (not older than 90 days)
  • Any utility (Phone/Internet/Electricity) bill at the business owner / representative’s registered address, not older than 90 days (Address should be different from the business registered address)

What is it like selling internationally on your own?

Spectrahut sells through their very own marketplace mainly to sell internationally. But, they say it was not very easy to start selling out of the country on their own.

Based on their experience they say, “Technically you are an exporter doing retail shipments. We started taking orders by email and phone and later integrated international shipping and payment options on our website to make things smooth. Before all that you must get:

  • An IEC code
  • A licence to import / export goods
  • VAT/CST number
  • PAN card”

Challenges of cross-border/ international selling through online retail

Online retail may allow you to sell internationally however this comes with its own set of obstacles. Selling abroad is no cake walk. There are difficulties involved and you need to expect them when selling to foreign countries through online retail.

1.Monthly charges by marketplaces

Unlike your average online marketplaces in India that let you register for free for a lifetime, the foreign versions require you to pay monthly charges in addition to commissions. For Amazon UK, the fee is £25 and for Amazon US, it is $39. This fee must be paid every month irrespective if sales are made or not. This can be burdensome if your sales volumes are low.

“Tried some Dropshipping in Amazon.com but didn’t work out since I didn’t get orders but had to pay Amazon.com registration fee,” an anonymous online seller says.

Browntape’s Gaurav Gupta tells us in case of Amazon, you may be allowed to make an account which does not entail the monthly fee. However, there is a catch to this. In this case, you must list your products one at a time. This is a cumbersome activity that most sellers prefer avoiding.

2.Returns and logistic charges

Mitesh Jagawat, owner of Crosscreek an apparel brand, says, “The main challenge is logistic charges and returns.”

And he’s not the only one.

Asad Virani of eShop 24×7 Inc. says he’s been considering selling abroad but is not too sure of the legalities it involves and fears issues with logistics.

“Ebay had an offer wherein they had tied up with a courier company to send shipments from India to USA. But, the catch was that if the buyer doesn’t like the item and wants to send it back then he has the right to choose any courier at any cost and that has to be paid by us,” he mentions.

This is usually a problem most sellers selling abroad face. The cost of logistics is high in the first place due to the distance and if a product is returned, sellers need to shoulder a huge expense.

Under Amazon, you can request for ATS support. But beware, this service is only provided to top sellers that meet Amazon’s criteria. It can reduce your load of finding a reliable logistics partner, but you still need to pay for returns.

3.Custom clearance

Spectrahut.com feels that courier and custom clearance is their biggest obstacle in online retail abroad.

They say, “There is no proper guideline or a rule book that one could follow to get custom clearance to ship orders abroad. Not a single courier company in India knows how to properly get custom clearance done and ship abroad smoothly. It took us 6 months to study how to make international shipment related documents and invoices that are required by customs to clear a shipment.”

4.Damages during transit

“Another big challenge is damages. You have to invest double in your packing while you are sending any item out of India. Courier companies and cargo are really very rough in handling items even if you put a handle with care label, it won’t help. You have to make sure your packing survives any situation in transit,” Spectrahut.com advises.

5.Understanding the customer

Boopathi, a T-shirt seller says, “I listed my products (40 SKUs) on Amazon EU, Amazon Japan, Amazon USA & eBay in the last one year. But I didn’t get any orders. Apart from these, I have my own ecommerce website with PayPal payment gateway. I don’t know how I can get buyers from abroad to my website.”

Customers abroad may be very different from the ones in India. Some trial and error is essential to understand what it is the consumer wants. You will need to follow market trends in that country and its consumer shopping patterns.

Advice to sellers interested in selling abroad

There will always be obstacles in your online retail path. It is up to you to keep trying for solutions. These sellers and online seller assistors have gone through the bad days and still look forward to international selling. They have found some ways to ease their problems but it was only after trying. Here’s what advice they had to give you.

A. Spectrahut.com says,

  • For anyone trying to sell out of India,
  • First thing to get is IEC licence (Import/export certificate). This will help them get the custom clearance done easily.
  • Secondly, make sure you use a reputed courier company to handle your shipments.
  • Thirdly, and most importantly, make sure you have the buyer’s phone number on the shipping label, without that you will never be able to send anything out of India.”

B. Mitesh Jagawat who sells on Amazon, Ebay and Lazada in UK, US, Singapore and Malaysia advices sellers to add logistics costs to the price of the products to avoid losses.

C. Online seller Rafi from Asipiya enterprises says sometimes generating genuine leads may be difficult. Therefore, it is essential for sellers to take necessary precaution.

D. Santosh mentions that he receives around 30 orders a day through his listings abroad. He feels he needs to improve more and is concentrating on SEO to ensure higher sales.

E. Browntape mentions that for successful online retail abroad, sellers must:

  • Maintain competitive prices, at the same time, they must consider the different expenses they are occurring to ship their products abroad.
  • Use expedite shipping when necessary, but remember it comes at a much higher cost.
  • Get product insurance when shipping is required. Product insurance is not necessary, but it can help recover damages. On the other hand, consider the value of the product before picking an insurance scheme.
  • Upload tracking details promptly if you are self-shipping a product abroad.
  • Avoid wrong shipments at all cost because it will lead to unnecessary expenses and a bad international image.

These are just a few guidelines to help you understand how international selling works through online retail. If you’ve noticed most of the sellers who spoke to us sell unique items abroad. And, they are confident about the demand for their products in the international market. If your products resemble these, you can test out the waters of international online retail.

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Rebecca Menezes

Rebecca Menezes

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