Just starting your eCommerce business? Things to know about shipping to America
It probably will come as no surprise to you to know that the United States is the UK's biggest export destination. Fortunately, whether it's through your own website or via the likes of Amazon and Etsy, tapping into this lucrative market has never been easier. However, as with any overseas market, it's important to get to grips with the rules around tax and customs before you start selling. You don't want to get yourself in any trouble!
Remember; for any new e-seller, reputation is absolutely key. This means it is doubly important to choose the right shipping and packaging options for getting your products delivered on time and in one piece. Once you've nailed the reputation, you'll start to accrue those vital retained customers. So, how do we manage this? Let's take a look at how to make the right shipping and packaging choices to build up your very own 'Special Relationship' with the US.
Choice of shipping method
From the Royal Mail through to alternative couriers (e.g. DHL and Hermes), there's plenty of potential shipping options for sending packages internationally to the US. Bear in mind the following as you weigh up your options:
Pricing. As a starting point, it's useful to calculate your typical or average package weight. All major carriers enable you to price up likely international shipping charges online. When you do this, make sure that you are comparing like for like, especially on guaranteed delivery times.
Reputation. You might be perfectly happy with the courier service you use for your UK customer base. But how does that company measure up when the deliveries are further afield? What about when we're going international? When you do your research (e.g. by checking reviews by other businesses), make sure that there are no major fulfillment complaints specific to US deliveries. That's a big one to look out for. UPS is generally considered the go-to option when shipping out the USA.
Convenience. Tailored specifically to the needs of up and coming online sellers, it's worth looking at intermediary platforms - parcels2go.com is one good example. With these, you can get a range of quotes from lots of different couriers all in one place; you can then book and track your deliveries via the intermediary's website. The best part is that if you are operating through a selling platform (e.g. Amazon or Etsy), you can even sync the service with the selling platform to automatically mark items as dispatched.
US Customs procedure
So long as you are not attempting to dispatch restricted goods or designer replicas, which cause intellectual property issues, you should find that the admin requirements for shipping to the US are pretty simple. Here are those key requirements:
Check the list of restricted and prohibited items. You can find this here. Restricted items may have specific license requirements.
Duties and tariffs. Many new ecommerce stores operate a Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) model. This basically means that the buyer is responsible for payment of duties and taxes , they will pay outstanding charges at their local post office before the goods are handed over. The alternative is the Delivery Duty Paid (DDP) approach, where the seller pays duties in advance, usually at the checkout stage. To help you decide which approach to take, it's worth considering what level of duty is payable on the types of product you are selling. This information is available via the USITC Website.
Clearance process. When your package arrives stateside, it is forwarded to a local Customs and Border Protection international branch office for clearance. If its declared value is less than $800, it will generally be cleared without the need for a formal entry application. That said, ALL packages are potentially liable for random checks. To avoid any customs delays, make sure that all packages are marked with the following information:
- Your name and address (as the seller).
- A full and accurate description of the item. Incorrect and vague descriptions can lead to delays and the wrong duty amounts being charged.
- Purchase price in US dollars.
- Item weight.
- Country of origin. Note that even though you are selling from the UK, the country of origin could be elsewhere (China, for instance).
To be suitable for international shipping, your packaging should ensure that your products reach their intended US recipients in one piece; it should help reduce the chances of any customs delays - and it should help to enhance your ecommerce brand. No one would recommend a delivery company Here are our tips for making sure all of this is covered
Make sure your packaging stays intact. Bruised, battered boxes are more likely to catch the attention of customs officials. And especially if the parcel is torn or perforated, it raises the suspicion that it may have been tampered with. Especially for heavier or delicate items, good quality double-walled corrugated cardboard boxes are usually the safest option.
Size minimisation. Especially where your items are already packed in retail or presentation boxes, Twistwrap packaging can be ideal. This cardboard outer sleeve fits closely around the contours of the retail box, providing valuable buffer protection around the vulnerable corners. As well as ensuring that your parcels arrive in good condition, this type of 'snug fit' packaging also helps to keep parcel size (and shipping costs) to a minimum.
Branding. From peel-and-seal openings to make returns easier, through to custom printing options, if you take a bespoke approach to packaging, it becomes much easier to meet your customers' expectations. All of this can help to enhance the unboxing experience for your customers - and support your brand-building strategy.
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