The World Is Not Flat!

Here’s an item I felt I had to write that’s a little out of my ordinary money making and blogging tips … but it sure does have a lot to do with making money online.  I was inspired to write this (just in time for the big Holiday Rush, by the way) from a recant discussion on ProBlogger that centered on a certain Internet advertiser who penalizes publishers and clients who happen to love outside the US.  In the many comments regarding this article is a common thread, mainly from US folks pointing up the alleged "hassle" of  international shipping.

Thousands and thousands of US business folk, both large and small throw away billions of dollars in profit per year because they seem to think that the US is the only country in the world … that the Earth is flat and roughly in the shape of the USA.  (by the way, I am a natural-born US citizen, so don’t throw any brickbats at me … I’ve lived outside the US for years and have seen this ostrich attitude for myself for years).

In today’s’ online world, selling a physical product is easy, and selling it internationally is not really that much more difficult.  If you are selling forearms, human remains or certain illegal drugs, just click on to Barry Bonds, but if you are selling most kinds of merchandise you are out and out crazy to ignore the world market.

I’ll Lose Money Because Some Foreigner Will Crook Me:

Well this is normally not necessarily so.  Of course you need to read your merchant agreement with your credit card providers, but the beauty of credit cards is that, if you comply with their rules, the risk is essentially on them … not you.  It’s also quite easy to accept PayPal, international money orders or the old standby, Western Union.  You get cash dollars in your hand and it’s pretty hard to get cheated when you do.

The Paperwork Is Too Complex:

It just ain’t necessarily so.  In today’s world you can use services like UPS, FedEx, and DHL (there are others too, these are just the "big three".  They get packages anywhere in the world, on time and certainly in the case of UPS (my personal favorite) you can do everything from your computer in minutes … including printing labels, getting boxes and labels sent to you and having a friendly messenger pick up the packages.  Yes there may be an extra form or two, but that can be handled on-line and it consists of nothing more than filling out some addressee and contents data … which you will already have in your My UPS account, for example.  You’s pas sup a "juicy" order because of one or two more clicks on a website?

It Costs Too Much:

Well costs can vary a lot, depending on destination and mode of shipment, but guess what?  You don’t care … it’s all free to you!  Unless you want to run some special promotion or build business in a certain area, the customer pays the freight … and it’s extremely easy to find out what "the freight bill" will be … so how long can it take and how much "hassle" can it really be?  Again, the customer pays the freight!

I believe this continual harping on so-called "hassle" is a code word for "I’m too set in my ways to learn how to expand my business".  In about .001% of the businesses that ship physical product there may be a "show stopper" regarding international shipping … for virtual, electronic products there essentially are no borders … so for those of you who refuse to explore international sales, don’t tell me you can’t make money online if your real problem is you can’t submit a form from a website … there’s a whole world out there who can buy your product … stop ignoring them!

Comments

  1. Hi, interesting points. Seems that online retailers still need to get to grips with this new global reality. I am guessing that many of them, especially US, have NO interest in selling abroad currently.

    Apart from the fact that the US tends to have a very parochial, insular attitude (“we ARE the world”..!), there are probably other issues involved. Returns are probably a real hassle, coupled with the general insecurity of having to deal with customers who are outside the jurisdiction of your country’s legal system. Probably the proportion of risk and hassle is still too great for many companies to risk leaving their comfort zones. Perhaps they even have some data – wonder what percentage of Amazon.com’s profit, for example, comes from the US..?

    Personally, the business model of my company absolutely relies on tapping lucrative foreign markets, though I am selling (translation) services there are still all the attendant risks of not getting paid etc. But I think it is worth the risk…

  2. I’m not sure if folks who buy stuff in eBay knows that most of those little things they bid on comes from one warehouse in Hong Kong. I can’t remember the name but anybody interested in selling stuff at eBay can look it up in some forum. :)

  3. It’s not only one one warehouse, it’s a lot of warehouses ;-) and they aren’t all in Hong Kong, either. There are a lot of ways to set up businesses selling small, easy to ship items … often ones that were once available in the US and were dropped by big US companies … I know of more than one operations like this, with what sounds like mundane items making money shipping to buyers in the US for a nice profit … and the beauty is, the customers are happy to be able to get the items too, so it can be a real win-win. Making profit is good .. making a profit while pleasing people is even better.

    real-world example. My wife bought me a lovely electric razor some years back. It needs new blades every year or so. They used to cost over $30 in discount stores … ouch .. and then the stores stopped stocking them … even more ouch. A fellow in Wisconsin bought a ton of the blades for scrap prices, 9after all since stores wouldn’t stock them, they were worhless) sells them all over the world at $12 or $15 via eBay … he’s happy and I’m happy and wifely one is happy … hard to beat deals like that.

  4. @==> Markowe: thanks for your observations. Indeed they are best summed up by the “comfort zone” idea. Retirns of physical goods indeed could be an issue … but can be solved the same way they are handled within the US … obviously selling refrigerators of bags of fertilizer doesn’t lend itself to online sales in any country ;-)
    With respect to the jurisdiction issue, this would also depend a lot on the value of what’s being sold. In most cases, if you are using Visa or MasterCard, no one is outside their jurisdiction … but yes, charge backs and other hassles will plague any business … and you’re right, and I don’t know if we have the hard data. Amazon, for example, obviously finds it profitable to ship books and alot of other merchandise worls-wide, but they also will not ship electronics and certain other products.
    So I’m not trying to say that the road to riches is automatic with international sales, but trying to open people’s minds to taking a rational look.

    Your translation services sound interesting … indeed there’s another potential business that seniors could explore on equal terms with any age competitors. Have you been in that field a long time?

  5. Hmmm, shipping bags of fertilizer abroad, there’s an idea…! Though with the whole anti-terrorism thing, that might be viewed with suspicion in some quarters.

    I had a look around on the net, and couldn’t find any specific data at first glance, but there was this article which mentioned that a “small fraction” of Amazon sales are abroad. Still, it hasn’t stopped them. I suppose if you want to find that extra advantage over your competitors in this day and age when market shares are pretty much set in stone, then supplying foreign markets would be one way.
    Yes, translation is a real leveller – the business is totally international. For written translation there is really no limit to your geographical location, as long as you have internet access. And indeed can be done by any age group, though age is an advantage – translation requires a lot of general and specific knowledge from many fields and that is something you gather with time. But customer and client can be a world apart – I have translated documents from Serbian into English for a company in Japan, and needless to say we never met!
    I have been in the field all my life in a way, having grown up bilingual with Serbian, but in the last year or two I have been growing it into a proper business. And I certainly will be investigating foreign markets! Indeed, in my case they pay MORE the markets in my immediate region (the Balkans).

  6. Hi!

    It doesn’t really matter where an item originated, as long as it meets our needs at the right price.

    Here’s an eBay guide/review…

    http://reviews.ebay.com/Ship-from-USA-scams_W0QQugidZ10000000004076471

    There are also blogs on eBay warning of supposed scams (because the seller is in the US and UK and the items came from Hong Kong) but we don’t consider buying a perfectly usable item at bargain price being scammed.

    Besides, online stores/warehouses where people sign-up as a reseller and sell stuff on eBay, they get their items from Hong Kong too. :D

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