Wednesday, April 13, 2011

International Sales -- Yes or No?

Shortly after opening my Etsy shop, I did major research before opting to include international buyers. It seemed complicated, & I wondered if it was worth the hassle. For example, I learned that "jewelry" on a Customs form might cause problems, as many destination countries exclude fine jewelry, gemstones, etc. Though all these issues seemed overwhelming, the allure of opening my market to the rest of the world won me over in the end.
My "Plan for International Sales":
  • Shipping -- U.S. Postal Service's "First Class International- Small Package"- the lowest cost method for my small, light-weight items.
  • Insurance -- - 800-955-4623- 3rd party insurer, reasonably priced, excellent customer service. NOTE: They won't insure certain destination countries.
  • Customs Form -- Depends on how shipped, item's size, & value. For me, Customs Form 2976 was right. Here's a chart outlining which form to use & another helpful "how-to" website.
  • Product Category for Customs form -- This is a tricky business if you make quality jewelry. I chose the "Fashion Accessory" category to label my jewelry, a tip from a USPS postal worker. BUT I had my fingers crossed for its success.
  • Beware of "Gift" category -- It's tempting to help out the buyer by tagging your product as a "Gift" on the Customs form, BUT this is illegal and you likely will get caught & fined. Certainly not worth it!
  • Transit time -- Depends on the destination, but generally from 1 wk to 1 month.
  • Tracking -- Another tricky business. It's really all about insurability, right? If the item is lost, with or without tracking, will you lose your item & your money reimbursing the buyer? I only considered low-price shipping==> USPS. (Who would pay $35 for expensive, tracked shipping on a $35-$90 item?) Besides, when using USPS in any form, the package is released to the local mail service of the destination country, so what good is USPS tracking at that point? will insure un-tracked USPS shipping.
  • If Lost or Damaged - I'd ask the buyer to wait 3-4 weeks for it, then credit my buyer myself, while I filed my claim with to reimburse me. If damaged, I'd get pictures from the buyer, reimburse her myself, & file a claim. I've been lucky so far.
  • Disclaimer About Customs Fees- I posted a note in my Policies page that Customs & other taxes are the buyer's responsibility.
  • Sales Receipt- Pack it with the item to confirm for Customs what buyer paid.
Unfortunately online sales remain insignificant, compared to loyal local fans of my work. BUT I never anticipated one possibility ==> That one international buyer would think my Shipping Fee included her Customs fee. (She didn't read my Policy statement?) If she accepted the delivery, the base Customs fee in the U.K. for this item would be about 50% of her purchase outrageous tax! I felt terrible. She felt terrible.

I made TWO important decisions: I offered to reimburse her total purchase price if she chose to refuse the item, which her postal service would return-to-sender free (by international agreement)... eventurally, OR I'd split her Customs fee with her. She opted to pay the fee & keep her earrings.

My 2nd decision was to quit selling internationally. If I worked even harder to have an online presence, I might walk the risky international path with my jewelry, but so far, international business for me has not been worth the trouble. I'm certain that many other kinds of products aren't slapped with such penalty fees abroad, but sellers of quality jewelry will face hassles, & buyers in many countries will likely pay dearly. Luckily most buyers abroad are well aware of their country's fees before they buy from us.

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