Hot Topics:

7 Ways to Source for the Global Customer

Choose the right products to expand your business worldwide.

With the number of Internet users growing rapidly worldwide, selling to a global customer base should be part of every online merchant’s strategic plan.

In fact, new research from GlobalWebIndex shows that e-commerce is not only big business in developed markets, but it’s also growing quickly in emerging economies that boast strong Internet growth. According to GWI, in January, just more than 59 percent of global Internet users had purchased a product online, and 53 percent had reviewed a product.

Marketplaces like eBay and Amazon already make it possible to connect with an audience of global buyers. However, one of the questions I hear most when working with clients on their global selling strategies is, “What products should I sell globally?” Surprisingly, product sourcing for a global buying audience is easier than you think. Here are seven ways to source for the global customer.

1. Open your existing inventory to a global audience

Often all it takes to capture the attention of new global buyers is simply letting people know that you’re willing to ship worldwide. Because there are still many U.S.-based online merchants who don’t ship around the world, once you make your inventory available to the global marketplace, you’ll be surprised to find that even the most mundane, everyday products are in demand around the world.

2. Do your market research

In December, it may be icy cold in Illinois, but it’s summer in Australia, and people are going online to buy swimsuits

Once you start to see certain products sell well from your existing inventory, it’s time to do your market research and see where you can expand.

If you sell on eBay, using Terapeak’s International Market Research package will give you instant visibility into in-demand products, underserved niches and underrepresented brand names eBay’s international marketplaces.

Terapeak’s International Market Research tool provides visibility into six global marketplaces:

  • Canada (eBay.ca)
  • The U.K. (eBay.co.uk)
  • Australia (eBay.com.au)
  • Italy (eBay.it)
  • Germany (eBay.de)
  • France (eBay.fr)

You’ll also get access to two years of sales trends as well as hot-product reports.

3. Sell for the season

In December, it may be icy cold in Illinois, but it’s summer in Australia, and people are going online to buy swimsuits. Don’t pack away that summer inventory; keep it available for international buyers to purchase during their summer months.

4. Fill in the gaps

There are many products sold in the states that are not readily available in other countries. The best way to see where the opportunities are is to familiarize yourself with the marketplace you want to sell in. For example, when sourcing wholesale products to sell on Amazon’s global marketplaces, spend some time in the new marketplace to see what’s happening in your category.

The easiest place to start is with Amazon U.K., so you don’t have to deal with a language barrier. Once you spend some time on the site and start drilling down into categories and sub-categories, you’ll be surprised how many proven U.S. brands on Amazon.com have not made their way to the U.K. site.

5. Capitalize on less popular brands

For every international buyer who asks if you stock a particular product, there are many more who don’t ask

While high-end cosmetics are popular in Russia, so are drugstore brands like Nivea, Garnier, Max Factor and L’Oréal. This holds true in almost every category. Brands that are low on the popularity scale in the U.S. can be in high-demand overseas.

6. Cash in on collectibles

Collectibles of all kinds are in demand worldwide. Again this is another category where, even though a product may be saturated in the U.S., it can have a huge following in another country.

7. Listen to your global customers

For every international buyer who asks if you stock a particular product, there are many more who don’t ask. Cultivating a relationship with your international customers is a great way to find out what else they are looking for.

A client of mine who sells cosmetics on eBay learned that her European customer was the only one in a circle of friends with Internet access. That explained why she was buying hundreds of dollars of cosmetics every few weeks. This customer still buys from this same seller on eBay today. And many of the products that this savvy seller now sources and sells to other European buyers are a direct result of the suggestions she receives from her very first international buyer.

Dial in to the details

When product sourcing for the global customer, make sure to calculate the increased cost of doing business internationally into both your prices and profit margin, and adjust accordingly.

You’ll also want to do your due diligence on learning the packaging, shipping and customs details, so that you know exactly what’s involved when you receive that first international order. This is an area where many people get cold feet. There is a bit more involved, but once you get the hang of it, it will become a normal part of doing business.

Without an international presence you’re leaving money on the table. Global e-commerce growth is still in its infancy. The time to get in and expand this area of your business is now.

About the author

Lisa Suttora
Lisa Suttora is an internationally known e-commerce expert, internet marketing strategist and veteran trend spotter. As founder and CEO of WhatDoISell.com, Suttora has helped thousands of enterprising entrepreneurs build successful, niche-based online businesses. Since 2004, WhatDoISell.com has provided premier education and a global community for online retailers. To get the latest on hot product niches and trends, subscribe to Suttora's free trend sheet Hot Trend Alerts. Suttora also has a 15-day e-course to help sellers make money on today's eBay. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Don

    Some of the realities of selling internationally:
    1) The cost of shipping/handling & insurance to international destinations has skyrocketed!  Who is going to pay more for s/h/i than for the item itself? Or, 30 – 90% of the total for s/h/i?

    2) Ebay favors the buyer in almost every dispute.  Foreign buyer says the item received is not what they ordered – eBay gives them a refund.  Most sellers can absorb the loss of lower priced items but who can routinely lose $100’s or even $1,000 of dollars?

    3) Delivery confirmation is not available (except Canada) to foreign countries.  Sending higher priced items is very risky and eBay’s buyer protection program takes the side of the buyer if there is no delivery confirmation.  Worse, the buyer says they got the package but the box was empty – seller loses.

    4) Insurance claims on damaged or missing packages is anything but routine on international shipments.  If anything goes wrong or becomes the least bit inconvenient, buyer’s vent their frustration on sellers.

    5) As government’s worldwide are roiling from the actions of corrupt banksters, governments are becoming more vigilant in collecting taxes and duties.  For years, these exorbitant fees were seldom collected but now, you can count on duties and taxes being collected.  Buyer accustomed to not paying these fees now are getting hit with them and they are not happy.  Who do they blame?  The seller of course.  I shipped a pair of $200 vases to England and the buyer was socked with a $47 bill (duties and VAT.)

    I know that it is a small percentage of sellers and buyers that are bad
    apples but unfortunately, eBay’s method of handling the bad apples is
    rotting the whole barrel.  It use to be caveat emptor, but now it is seller beware.  International selling is very risky, expensive and a sure way to destroy your positive feedback.  The question becomes, is a 20% increase in sales enough to cover losses and potentially damaging feedback?  The answer varies depending on the product and the seller’s risk tolerance.  I use to buy and sell internationally for the first 10 years on eBay but it has quickly dwindled to nothing.

    • MJ Granite

       Thanks Don!  I’d been thinking about selling internationally, but no more.  You’re right…not worth the hassle.

    • Elias Smith

      You hit it right right on the nail. I shipped a $400 x-box kinect to Brazil. USPS shipping was $94.00. Fed-Ex was $400.00 cheapest. I was worried the customer wouldn’t get the item due to corruption in their mail system. Customer did get the item along with a $270.00 customs tariff. Definitely not a happy camper.

    • Paul

       Agree to the pitfalls of international orders. 7 Ways to Source… reads more like a one page fluff piece from an airline magazine than anything helpful and informative, at least to this reader.

  • Jac

    Not just that, I opened by ebay account with my ID few months ago and started selling. But ebay suddenly suspended my account and accusing me to be associated with another account. I can’t believed what they do! I did nothing wrong and I need to explain another account which I don’t have details! I quit on ebay! 



Newsletter Signup

Subscribe!