5 Common Cross-Border Shipping Issues For Online Retailers And How To Solve Them

Apr 04, 2019

Ever wanted to bring your business worldwide?

Think about all the exposure, brand building and most importantly, customers you can reach out to if you expanded overseas.

The numbers are in agreement too. Successfully extending your offerings beyond your local markets can double your sales, and even more!

However, bringing your business worldwide has its own challenges.

Lost packages.

Damaged products.

Extensive paperwork at customs checkpoints in unfamiliar territory.

Working with new carriers   

It all seems so daunting, doesn’t it?

What kind of cross-border shipping issues do you need to think about?

  • Selecting the correct carriers that offer a balance between coverage, cost and customer experience

  • Packing their goods for rough handling to prevent damage

  • Navigating customs smoothly

  • Handling customer issues at delivery

  • Finding an alternate mode of delivery or returning the parcel if the customer isn’t at home

Handling these issues seem challenging. But with careful forecasting, planning, and quick responses, you can anticipate these most common cross-border shipping issues.

In this article, we’ll go in-depth into these common cross-border shipping issues for online retailers and what you can do to solve them.

1. How do I choose the right logistics partners for international, cross-border shipping?

If you’re starting your foray into international shipping, selecting a logistics carrier to support your expansion can be intimidating.

Which factors are important? How do you assess those delivery performance variables?

Well, you’ll want to select carriers that offer a decent balance between coverage, cost, security and customer service experience. Consider these variables:

  • Shipping options offered:

     The shipping options you offer can cause your customers to choose your business over your competitors. Ensure a range are covered – from free but standard shipping to premium but faster speeds.

  • Cost:

     Using a postal carrier is often the cheapest way to ship internationally but is also the slowest. Also, consider using regional carriers. They focus their coverage on specific regions and will be quicker than a postal carrier.

  • Tracking quality:

     Does the carrier provide parcel tracking to your customers? Proactive tracking reduces the chances of your shipments getting lost and customer service requests. If not, we provide parcel tracking across 600+ carriers around the world.

  • Surcharges and hidden fees:

     If you offer weekend shipping, check that your carrier doesn’t impose a surcharge.

Also, consider:

  • Your carrier setup:

     Using multiple carriers reduces dependency on a single carrier especially during peak season, but offering more work to a select few may be able to help you negotiate better transportation rates.

    Alternatively, using a 3PL can help you organize everything across the delivery cycle; from warehousing, shipping and handling the last mile experience, freeing up time for you to focus on other aspects of your business.

  • The quality of the carrier’s customer service.

     Exemplary logistics carriers provide shippers with much more than just an excellent freight rate and a carrier to pick up and deliver parcels – they also communicate clearly and stick to agreements. They are also responsive to customer service and attends to your customers promptly and with empathy.

READ MORE: Our key takeaways from eft and UPS’s report on customer experience management for logistics carriers.

How to assess your carrier’s customer service departments.

2. What is the best way to pack my products for international shipping?

If you ship large products and need to use non-standard shipping, you’ll need to use freight shipping to safely ship your products.

In freight shipping, your cargo goes through a lot of rough handling.

Think about how baggage is treated at airports.

Your items should be packed to withstand long journeys and minimize the risk of damage.

As with all common shipping issues, you can prepare and minimize risk by packing your products properly.

Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Pack your goods in strong, lightweight containers, assuming your cargo is going to be handled by mechanical equipment or humans throughout the delivery network.

  2. Use a delivery pallet that can withstand the stress of rough handling

  3. Secure your shipments by stacking your boxes within your pallet and follow all weight restrictions. Keep the top layer of your shipment flat in case other shipments are stacked on top of it

  4. Lastly, ensure you apply for insurance to protect your goods and minimize risks

Take a look at these freight shipping packaging guidelines from some major carriers for more information on how to pack your goods safely.

DHL Packing Guide For Large Cargo

FedEx Packaging Guidelines for Shipping Freight

3. How can I prevent my shipments from getting delayed or held at customs?

Retailers need to be mindful of the various legal and financial regulations of each market they expand to. Shipments may get stuck at customs for explicit reasons (your goods are prohibited) or simpler reasons (your documentation is incorrect).

Whatever the reason, you, of course, want to get your goods moving again. Here are some logistical and legal considerations to bear in mind to avoid issues with customs:

  • Support from your logistics carrier:

     Does your logistics partner work with customs clearing agents for the markets you want to expand to? This will help you navigate the complexities of clearing customs more easily.

  • Have proper documentation:

     Often, shipments are delayed at customs to check if the contents of the package or the value of the goods were declared correctly. Avoid delays by ensuring all your documentation is filled in correctly and supplied to the delivery staff.

    Documentation should contain all information about the order and its value, shipping details from your suppliers and all necessary information from your customers.

  • Stay updated with the latest security regulations for each country you are shipping through

     Familiarize yourself with all policies before shipping your goods. Be aware of any entry requirements specific to the commodity you are shipping into the destination country.

  • Thoroughly examine local government and taxation needs

     Ensure customers are not surprised by additional government taxes when items arrive at their final destination. Otherwise, you risk creating an unhappy customer.

  • Be mindful of each country’s legal limitations of what goods can be sold to whom:
    If your parcel does get stuck in customs or delayed for any other reason (vehicle breakdown, inclement weather, poor traffic) however, follow these steps:

    • Contact your logistics carrier directly to find out if there’s anything you can do to speed up customs processing like paying outstanding taxes or checking the attached documentation.

    • Ensure you have your tracking number on hand as it will help your carrier locate your parcel.

    • Wait it out.

Most importantly, inform your customer immediately that their parcel is experiencing a delay and flag it to your customer service teams for closer monitoring and follow up.

4. My parcel arrived at my customer’s doorstep damaged or is lost in transit. What do I do next?

Now that we’ve covered the basic questions of getting your shipments out of the door, let’s look at shipping issues that may happen during the delivery.

As retailers, we accept some uncertainty when shipping goods to our international customers.

Be it a damaged parcel, delays or lost parcels, issues can happen.

But, if this happens to you, don’t panic. Prepare accordingly with shipping insurance (especially high-value orders) to avoid losing money over lost parcels.

On top of that, you can make a difference with stellar customer service. While no one likes to receive their deliveries in poor condition or have a delivery they were eager to receive go undelivered, a quick, empathetic response can turn things around.

Focus on providing the best possible customer service to soothe sore feelings and make amends either by arranging for replacement or a refund. Genuinely apologize, respond with empathy, explain what caused the issue and reassure them it won’t happen again.

READ MORE: Disney’s H.E.A.R.D method to handle customer complaints.

5. My customer is not at home and the logistics carrier can’t deliver the item.

Sometimes, deliveries fail because your customer isn’t at home to receive the parcel. Depending on the carriers you work with, carriers will usually make several attempts to deliver an item. If they can’t reach your customer at their specified shipping address, the item will either be sent to the nearest post office or collection point for self-collection.

While it’s not your carrier’s responsibility to ensure there’s someone to help collect your customer’s delivery at home, this can be a frustrating experience for both you and your customer. Address this by being proactive with delivery information. Notify your customer on available delivery times at checkout and keep them updated with the latest information on their delivery to avoid miscommunication through email and SMS.

Bonus tip: Does the carrier you’re using charge for a non-delivered package?  Can you update an address after your delivery is already en-route?

Conclusion: Be Prepared For These Common Cross-Border Shipping Issues

You might have a lot of questions as a first-time international shipper. With these solutions and strategies to better prepare for these common shipping issues, you’ll be ready to take your business global.

For more exclusive reports, insights, and interviews on the latest updates in e-commerce and logistics, follow us on LinkedIn or join our community as a member.

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