Related to:
April 25 2007 08:53 AM

Technology has put the world at our doorsteps. Are you opening that door and stepping through? According to the Small Business Administration, companies engaged in international trade are 20% more productive, have 20% greater job growth than non-exporters and are nine percent more likely to stay financially solvent.


With these incentives, why arent more companies venturing abroad? According to Forrester Research, 85% of small- and medium-size companies with an online presence cant fulfill orders internationally, citing shipping as the number one hurdle.


Theres just no way around it: shipping everything from small packages to bulk freight across borders requires detailed documentation for customs and regulatory agencies. Even the most basic shipments require commercial invoices detailing origin, destination and value of goods. For many others, shippers export declarations, certificates of origin, export licenses and insurance certificates may be required.


The reality is that many companies just dont have the time, expertise or manpower to prepare documentation. They certainly dont have the expertise to plow through tens of thousands of tariff codes for dozens of different countries. Even worse, constantly changing regulations and tariffs are moving targets. So whats a business to do?


Automate and Integrate

Theres your answer. Many small-package and freight carriers offer automated technology solutions that take shippers, step by step, through the process of complying with documentation requirements. Better yet, if you can integrate these solutions with your accounting and fulfillment systems, you can process orders much more quickly. Shipping labels, waybills and completed customs documents can be printing out at the same time orders are being packed and placed on the loading dock.


Keeping it simple should be the business owners mantra when setting up international shipping functions and order fulfillment procedures. Zero in on any cumbersome part of the order process, and turn to an IT provider and shipping partner to make it more efficient. Technologies are constantly improving, and something that wasnt available six months ago may be available today and be the right solution.


For example, currency conversions when shipping across borders have historically proved challenging for businesses. Now, however, technology is leveling the playing field as currency converters are often imbedded in shipping solutions that are optimized for global trade.


With a world of products and services from which to choose, the buyer whether a consumer or a business is becoming more demanding and more expectant of a personalized experience. This continuing move toward the more personalized experience is an important trend that cannot be ignored. Businesses of all sizes have to respond, and technology is a great enabler.


Businesses can personalize their customers experiences by empowering customers to check the status of their shipments online. Businesses can easily enable this by sending the receiver a notification that his or her order was shipped along with a link to track the shipment. This offers peace of mind by helping the customer feel more in control and reduces customer calls asking for shipment status.


A Prime Example

For Vancouver-based LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, which sells cosmetics in stores and on the web, this approach was a shot in the arm for customer service and slashed the time its staff spent looking for orders by 90%. The companys fulfillment software automatically emails customers a tracking number so they can locate their orders on LUSHs website, thereby driving paying customers back to the website.


Technology can also enable businesses to answer the questions necessary to secure and maintain satisfied customers across borders. One example is the critical question: How much will duties, fees and taxes cost?


Information-based web services can enable businesses to estimate applicable duties, fees and taxes on cross-border shipments. This information, when combined with shipping costs, enables businesses to put their customers at ease by providing the total transportation cost associated with shipping from one country to another.


When your customers trust you, your brand flourishes. But establishing that trust often hinges upon being able to deliver products to customers on time, without error. To make that happen, businesses must have a shipping partner whose technology will grow along with them and adapt to their changing needs.


When choosing or re-evaluating a shipping provider, businesses should tell the provider what changes are happening or anticipated in their business, and then ask the provider what solutions are available to address those specific needs. If the shipping or logistics provider isnt on the cutting edge of technology, the business wont be either.


Jordan Colletta, Vice President of e-Commerce Marketing, is responsible for the marketing activities of UPSs e-Commerce solutions and Jordan is refining UPSs e-Commerce strategy, as well as delivering new solutions through the development of Internet-based technologies, applications and wireless access. Contact him at 404-828-6000 or