Reaching new consumer markets and expanding shipments beyond our domestic borders is no longer the purview of firms with sophisticated international shipping expertise. With the advent of the global economy, a new trend is developing in the international shipping industry among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The factors driving this trend are still taking root, and with wider access to the support mechanisms that may be required to overcome the initial hurdles to foreign market entry, opportunities to tap into rising consumer markets worldwide has become a more achievable goal for businesses of all sizes.

As consumers outside the U.S. increase online purchases, their interest in identifying quality products has grown too. Since products offered by U.S. businesses are generally perceived as high-quality, the implications for SMEs in the U.S. are compelling. 

It’s easy to forget 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside our borders. Currently, only one percent of U.S. businesses ship internationally, and of those only 58 percent ship to more than one country. Ignoring consumers outside our domestic shores simply because establishing an international shipping process is perceived as “too complicated” is no longer a legitimate reason for ignoring the global marketplace. 

The B2C segment continues to outpace growth in the B2B segment. For the international shipping industry, this means higher volumes of smaller, lighter-weight shipments delivered directly to consumers in foreign markets. When making decisions on which carrier to use for shipping lighter-weight B2C packages, you’ll want to have a clear understanding of the various add-on fees, surcharges and net minimums that may be added to the base pricing. Many of these charges are added towards the back end of a transaction, and are not discounted. 

Net minimums are the minimum prices that a carrier will accept for an item. These costs can significantly reduce discounts because they supersede any quoted discount offered by the carrier. Be sure to check billing statements and contracts for these charges and shop around for the best overall value. Rate shopping software can maximize your shipping dollar by showing you the lowest price for each shipment, including any add-on fees.

International shipping really isn’t that complicated. Carriers have solutions designed to make the process quick and easy. Many use brokers to simplify the customs process and offer service to numerous foreign destinations. The U.S. Postal Service provides similar service offerings to more than 190 countries worldwide and tends to be less expensive, especially in the lighter weights. Unlike most carriers, the Postal Service does not use brokers to get packages through customs. It relies instead on partnerships with foreign posts to handle customs clearance and delivery. This often speeds up the process and eliminates the need for a broker.

Another way to save when shipping internationally is by identifying the duty and fee regulations by country. This can guide you towards the most appropriate markets with lower overall shipping costs for your particular product or product line.

Most nations have a minimum value threshold; or an amount that is allowable before a shipment must be declared and duties and taxes applied. By using minimum value as a guide, you can target specific countries with value amounts that exceed the value for any specific product.

Understanding restrictions is also an important factor. By identifying the restrictions and prohibitions for any particular country, you’ll be able to maximize your customer’s shipping dollar, and perhaps entice them to purchase more goods.

One popular option is using a Postal Qualified Wholesaler or consolidator. PQWs and consolidators combine package volumes from their customers, and these larger volumes may qualify for entry point discounts, with some of the resulting cost savings passed on to customers. 

Another great way to save is by using flat rate shipping options. The Postal Service offers several flat rate international shipping service options with its Priority Mail International® service. 

Regardless of the international shipper you choose, shop around, and base your decisions on the best overall value in terms of the particular products and foreign markets you’ve identified. For a growing number of small and medium-sized enterprises leaning towards growth rates exceeding their domestic market projections, failure to launch into the global business environment is no longer an option.