Is it really that difficult to sell online to the USA?

An icon of the American flag - a metaphor for selling to the USA from the UK

If you manage an online business in the UK, offering delivery to European customers has traditionally been the first way to expand overseas. But with uncertainty around Brexit’s impact on cross-border eCommerce, many businesses are now looking across the pond, not across the channel.

In a recent survey by Tamebay, for example, 70% of UK retailers said that the US was now a priority export destination, compared with 44% who said France.

There’s a perception, though, that there are endless regulations to meet, hoops to jump through and paperwork to fill out when you start selling online in the USA from the UK. But are these barriers really that difficult to overcome?

In this post, we’ve examined some of the most common issues that eCommerce businesses think they’ll encounter, to find out the truth.

1. Finding a customer base

Online retail grew 16% in the US in 2017 – the highest rate since 2011 – with consumers spending $453.46 billion on the web. Furthermore, online shopping is predicted to make up 17% of all US retail spending by 2022. So it’s safe to say that potential customers are definitely out there.

The biggest difficulty for smaller retailers may be overcoming the dominance of Amazon – after all, more Americans now have Prime accounts than voted for Donald Trump.

But it can be done, whether by developing a great product for a specific niche, creating a brilliant customer experience or simply improving your shipping (read on for more on the latter).

2. Catering to local differences

If you’re look to sell online to the USA, ensuring your marketing, website and fulfilment appeal to US shoppers is a must.

Fortunately, all of the best eCommerce platforms now offer localisation options, enabling you to create a US-facing store. This should display prices in dollars and sizes in imperial measurements, and provide details of international delivery costs and times.

It’s also cheap and simple to get traffic to your online store in the US these days – for example, via segmented email marketing or targeted online ads. Remember, also, to create campaigns around US seasons, national holidays and discount days – Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the obvious examples.

3. Navigating customs charges

A picture of James and James's US fulfilment centre in Columbus, Ohio.
Shipping your stock in bulk to a US fulfilment centre means your customers don’t face US customs charges.

Along with the cost of having their order delivered (which we look at next) one of the most cited barriers to US customers buying online from the UK is the fear of customs charges.

Since March 2016, US customers have only had to pay customs charges on orders over $800, so the chances are they won’t affect you or your customers, unless you sell high-value items.

However, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has recently cottoned on to the growth of cross-border eCommerce. It’s now reviewing the “health, safety and economic security risks” that smaller parcels pose, which could mean they spend more time in customs and start facing import duties.

If you don’t want your customers to foot the bill, you can use a third-party logistics provider like us.

We enable you to import your stock in bulk to our US fulfilment centre in Columbus, Ohio. This means you pay the customs when your shipment enters the US, so your customers don’t pay anything on individual orders. For them, it’s just like buying from a US company.

4. Delivering orders quickly and cheaply

The fact remains that while transatlantic delivery times have improved, US buyers can face high delivery charges and long waits for packages, due to customs hold-ups or the slow nature of some international services.

By outsourcing your fulfilment to a US location, you can overcome this. Your orders will be shipped domestically, reducing both the cost to your customers and the time they have to wait for their items to arrive.

For example, if you hold stock in our fulfilment centre in the USA, we’ll pick, pack and dispatch your US orders from there, and send them via the fastest and most affordable US delivery service. 98% of orders are dispatched same-day, meaning your customers pay a few dollars for shipping and only have a day or two to wait.

5. Having a US returns process

Nearly half of the online retailers surveyed by Tamebay said that the logistics of both fulfilment and international returns was the biggest barrier when trading overseas.

From a customer’s point of view, there is little worse than ordering a sought-after product from the UK, waiting who-knows-how-long for it to arrive, being stung by customs charges and only then finding out it isn’t what you wanted after all.

Returning items overseas is often so expensive to customers, that they won’t bother sending it back, leaving them out-of-pocket and unhappy.

So what if they could generate a return slip online, affix it to their package and send it quickly back to a fulfilment centre on US soil, receiving updates as their return is processed? Our returns handling service enables them to do exactly that.

Now we’ve dispelled some of the common myths about selling online to the USA, are your feeling more confident about taking the plunge? If so, contact us today, to discuss how our US order fulfilment services can help you get started.

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