9 ways to say "ja" to overseas buyers

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stampsWith eBay adding 180 million potential new buyers to the site, there’s really never been a better time to think about selling outside your home market. But if you’re not already selling abroad, the thought of foreign buyers might seem daunting: non-English speakers paying in the wrong currency, and what about your shipping time DSR?

Aside from those 180m new potential new buyers, eBay have made it easier to trade overseas recently. TRS status is dependent on domestic DSRs only, so there’s less danger of slower international deliveries bringing your average down. There’s now the potential to control which countries you ship to more closely than ever before, so if there’s a particular European country you don’t want to ship to, you don’t have to cut off the rest of Europe in order to avoid them.

Apart from eBay, the very weakness of the pound makes British shopping incredibly attractive on the continent: when £1 is more or less €1, it’s often cheaper to buy from the UK and have it shipped over, than it is to buy in domestic markets. If you’re restricting your sales to the cash-strapped British, you might be doing yourself a disfavour.

So here, with my buyer’s hat on, are my top tips for selling to non-UK buyers:

Know what the postal options are, and what they mean

If you’re going to list items as available outside the UK, you need to be able to advise your buyers what shipping is likely to cost. For most sellers, that will mean airmail small packets: Royal Mail rates are here. There are two tariffs, Europe, and the rest of the world (here’s a list of what’s included in Europe). Airmail reaches most countries within 5 days.

Surface mail is cheaper but is much, much slower than airmail, e.g. RM estimate up to six weeks to North America. Unless you really like PayPal chargebacks, this is a false economy.

If you sell anything that could be time-sensitive – e.g. car parts or computer spares – know what an overnight courier would cost, and if you could make that available.

Insure appropriately
If insurance is needed, you can add International Signed For to any Airmail or Surface price for £3.70. Some sellers add this to every £5 t-shirt or 99p CD they sell. This is offputting not only because of the expense, but because it tends to read as “I don’t trust you, I don’t really want non-UK buyers”. If you wouldn’t send it special delivery in the UK, it doesn’t need to go ISF.

Tell us what postal service we’re paying for
If you’re going to charge me £7 to post a t-shirt or £25 to post a pair of shoes (both real examples), let me know what postal service I’m paying for. If you send everything by courier or ISF, I want to know; if I’m paying five times stamp price because you want to “put foreign buyers off”, I want to know about that too.

Communicate about delivery times

Either alter your standard dispatch email to take account of overseas deliveries, or send an extra email to foreign buyers. Under-promise. A buyer who’s been told delivery could take 1-2 weeks will be delighted if their parcel arrives in 4-5 days. A buyer who’s just had your standard domestic dispatch email telling them the parcel will probably arrive tomorrow is going to be disappointed.

They’re all about duty (and customs)
If you’re shipping within the EU, you won’t normally need customs documentation.

Outside the EU, you’ll need a CN22 form for goods up to £270 in value, and the more complex CN23 for more valuable parcels. These can be picked up from post offices, or downloaded from RM. The following EU destinations *do* need a CN22/CN23: Channel Islands, Andorra, Canary Islands, Gibraltar, San Marino, Vatican City State.

Royal Mail has more advice about customs documention.

If you ship by courier, they will advise you exactly what paperwork they need from you (there’s normally a lot more than if you just ship by post!).

Buyers outside the EU whose countries have low import thresholds will often ask you to falsify customs paperwork to help them avoid import duties. Don’t. If you’re caught, it’s you that’s made the false declaration, so it’s you that takes the rap. Remember to include a note that buyers may be charged import duties on your listings in line with eBay’s policy; that way if you receive non-positive feedback over customs issues, it can be removed. If you do this, it’s also worth saying even more prominently that EU buyers won’t be charged customs.

PayPal n’est pas mon ami
Though eBay likes to think that PayPal is the one size that fits all, different countries have their own preferences for payment, based on the quirks of their banking systems. The French like cheques. German, Belgian and Dutch buyers like bank transfers. You might think you can’t help, but check with your bank whether you can accept these payments, and what it would cost you.

If your bank won’t cash non-sterling cheques, then Auctionchex will.

If you shout loud enough…
Be prepared for some ASQs in other languages; Google Translate will help you turn them into English. If your listing is in English, it’s okay to reply in English too. It’s always easier to translate *into* your native tongue, so let your buyers do that rather than sending them Babelfish-mangled communications in their own language. Learn “sorry I don’t speak…” in a few languages, and send the translate link with your message. Keep responses to short, simple sentences and your potential buyer should be able to translate them easily enough.

Be clear
If you’re excluding countries from shipping, say so. On eBay (or your website), block purchases from countries you don’t ship to. Don’t let people buy and then refund them with insulting messages about their postal services (yes, it happens). And finally…

No one thinks of themselves as foreign

Don’t refer to “overseas” buyers on your listings. I learned this one the hard way:

US buyer: … and I’ll be sending you a personal check.
Me: Ah, no, my listing says overseas buyers have to pay with PayPal.
Her: But I’m not overseas!

Spell it out: US/Canadian buyers, European buyers, and so on. The more clearly you can communicate, the more you make it look as though you’re used to dealing with buyers from all over the world, the more attractive your listings will be to those buyers.

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