Find out how to expand your business internationally by selling your products online.

There are many options and it can be hard to make sense of all the information out there. Austrade’s e-commerce specialists have narrowed this down to five key areas to help get you started and make informed decisions.

1. Know your online exporting options

The main ways to get your product online and sell to overseas customers are:

Sell to a distributor who sells online

Working with a distributor who gets your product into online stores is a common way to export online. This is suitable for a wide range of products, including fresh food and wine. The benefit is you don’t need as much in-depth e-commerce knowledge as for other options.

Examples of online sales channels include:

  • supermarkets or other retailers who have an online store instead of, or as well as, offline sales. An example is Lotte Mall in Korea
  • stores or resellers within a large online marketplace such as Woolworths on Tmall in Hong Kong.

Our tips

  • If you have a distributor, talk to them about using online sales channels and how you can best support them.
  • Do some research to check if your products are already available online. You may discover that your distributor already has your product listed online. Check the listing to see if you are comfortable with the way your brand is represented.
  • Include online sales channels in your distributor agreements.

Sell from your own website

This is most suitable when you are already selling online in Australia. You’ll need capacity to supervise the whole online sales cycle with overseas customers. This means you manage the marketing, customer service, shipping and returns or engage service providers to do this.

Sending individual parcels through the post or an international courier is the most common way to ship your product when selling from your own website. This is the easiest method when first starting out. There are also more advanced options.

Our tips

  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider what you’d expect when ordering from an overseas website. Poor experience on your website can reduce sales conversion.
  • Selling from your own website is not suited to every country. Large online marketplaces are very popular in many markets and consumers trust buying from them. You’ll need to research where your potential customers shop online and if selling from your website is competitive.

Using an online marketplace

Online marketplaces are suitable if you have a branded product and some experience in e-commerce. You need to learn how to use marketplaces and manage the day-to-day operations.

Amazon, eBay, Lazada and Tmall Global are all examples of online marketplaces. Each one has different requirements, costs, services and policies for listing your product.

A benefit of listing your product on a marketplace is that many customers overseas are used to buying this way.

Our tips

  • A common mistake is assuming the online marketplace will drive traffic to your listing for you. You’ll still need to attract customers to your listing through marketing.
  • Find out whether the marketplace you use will buy your products or simply list your product on their platform.
  • Understand the marketplace’s policies on returns and customer service - if they are managing these services. This will impact your customer’s experience with your product.

Selling on social media

Selling on social media is a new and growing trend. It’s also known as social commerce.

You can engage with and sell to customers on social channels such as Little Red Book in China and Instagram.

Social commerce brings together marketing and purchasing functions, which can lead to higher sales conversion rates.

You’ll still need to manage logistics, regulatory requirements, and your returns policy. Or you can hire an e-commerce service provider to do this for you.

Our tips

  • Stay across this new way of selling online. It’s likely more of your customers will begin to buy on social media as marketplace functions are increasingly added.
  • If you use an e-commerce service provider to manage your website, speak to them about adding social commerce functionality.

2. Research and select overseas markets

Using data

You need to research your market, product category and competitors. A good place to start is to collect data on online consumer behaviour and the competitive market. You can:

  • use Google Analytics to see who visits your website from which overseas markets
  • use Google Analytics Enhanced Ecommerce Finder to find out where online customers are searching for similar products to yours
  • research online marketplaces to understand your product category and competitors. Look at their pricing and how they present their products.

Doing country specific research

You’ll need to research these areas to identify suitable markets.

Regulations and importing country requirements

Check both Australia’s export regulatory requirements and the importing country requirements before exporting your products.

Items such as food products, skincare and health supplements need to be registered by overseas authorities. This can be a costly and lengthy process in some markets.

Product labelling requirements

It’s likely you’ll need to comply with the importing country’s product certification, labelling and packaging standards. Find out about Export and import requirements in our e-commerce guide.

Trademark registration

The internet makes it easier for overseas contacts to see your brand. This can create issues if you don’t have your trademark registered for your target markets. This might influence which markets you choose to enter.

Read about Getting started with IP on IP Australia’s website.

Taxes and duties

Import duties and sales taxes can apply when selling products online overseas. They can impact the end price of your product and its affordability to the consumer.

You need to:

  • know your target country’s online sales tax-free limit for imported goods
  • find your Harmonised System Code (HS Code) and check preferential tariffs under any free trade agreements on the FTA Portal on the Department of Foreign Affairs website
  • use your product HS code to check duties and taxes on the International Trade Centre (ITC) Market Access Map.

3. Tailor your website for an international customer

Make sure your website speaks to international audience. Overseas customers will often visit a brand’s own website to research a new product, even if they place an order elsewhere.

Our tips

  • Use measurements and sizing relevant to your target markets for example, centimetres versus inches.
  • Consider a local language website for target markets.
  • Direct customers to where they can buy your product.

4. Get your products to customers

You should consider customer expectations, competitor services and available service providers before deciding on a logistics solution. There are three main options.

Individual parcel shipment

Shipping parcels direct to your customer is a good option when the item price is below a country’s tax-free threshold.

You can use Australia Post or international courier service such as Fedex or DHL.

In some countries certain items need an importer, so direct shipping isn’t an option.

Our tips

  • Slow delivery is a top reason for customer complaints. Know the delivery time for each country and make this clear up front in your delivery information.
  • Providing a parcel tracking service for each order helps manage expectations and reduce customer enquiries about shipment status.

Resources

Common providers for small shipments direct to customers include:

Bulk shipments

Bulk shipments are sent to a distributor overseas. They will warehouse your products to on-sell to others.

The distributor will arrange delivery when other businesses or end consumers place orders for your products.

Our tips

  • Not all distributors offer a direct to consumer delivery service, so an additional provider may be required.
  • In some markets, using a distributor is the only option due to product licensing or import requirements.

Third party logistics providers

Using a third-party logistics provider (3PLs) is the most advanced option for exporters. It is most often used in the United States of America and Europe.

You’ll need to find a company to warehouse your stock overseas and deliver individual orders to consumers. This can be known as e-commerce fulfilment, or a pick-and-pack service. You keep ownership of the goods and manage the fulfilment provider.

Our tips

  • Don’t assume all 3PLs will offer a pick and pack service. You’ll need to ask if they do this.
  • It’s important to find the right provider and understand their pricing structure.

5. Understanding the online sales cycle

Successful online exporters understand the online sales cycle and manage the interdependencies between each stage of the cycle.

To build and maintain your brand in the market, you’ll need to understand how each component of the sales cycle influences the others. This is important regardless if you sell from your website, or a marketplace, or use a distributor.

Our tips

Your customer experience and brand loyalty will be determined by how effectively you manage the online sales cycle. For example:

  • selling from a marketplace instead of your own website may influence which logistics solutions you use
  • great promotions on social media may fail to convert sales if you don’t provide shoppers with detailed information and payment in their currency
  • long delivery delays can make it difficult to build an ongoing relationship with customers and repeat purchases.

Read about the Online sales cycle in our Exporting Online guide.