A web-only retailer that ships to 200 countries has learned its lessons the hard way.

One of the biggest benefits of e-commerce is the ability to reach global consumers, but one of the biggest headaches is delivering the items that they have ordered.

Good shipping is all about managing for the best and expecting the worse, particularly at peak times. My time in the trenches has taught me that it is better to promise a longer delivery time and surprise the customer by a day, than have a frustrated or worried customer. Even during off-peak cycles, best practices for shipping is about continually exploring alternatives to squeeze out the best value for customers in service versus cost, and then exceeding the customer’s expectation to deliver real value and encourage consumer loyalty. Unfortunately, delivery errors are often learned the hard way, after customer complaints and lost time and money, especially when entering a new market.

Spreadshirt is active in 20 markets and we ship to nearly 200 countries. Check out our top five tips to avoid the most common cross-border shipping mistakes as you scale internationally:

1. Research relevant custom regulations

Let’s start with some of the boring stuff. Each country has specific customs requirements and they are not interchangeable. What works for one might get your product stuck in customs in another region. Research necessary package requirements and regulations; such as certificates to prove the product’s country of origin BEFORE you communicate delivery expectations for your customers.


2. Check your labels, seriously

As part of our global expansion drive, we investigated our high shipping costs. We soon realized that we were paying more than $60,000 for products that simply weren’t deliverable because of invalid customer addresses. Our shipping company would then charge to ship the package back to us, so we were paying customs and shipping charges twice for each undeliverable package.

We have now turned to a more cost-effective address verification system to cut down on error. Keep in mind that your packages and labels will also need other specific markings, revealing information such as the country of origin and the presence of any hazardous materials. It’s important to brush up on labeling requirements and to also talk to your shipping provider who can advise you on any labeling errors that should be addressed.

3. Choose the right shipping company for your destination

We have found that no one international shipping company or method is the best provider for every circumstance. Certain shipping companies have established relationships with customs in specific destinations so selecting a company for specific countries may speed up delivery to your customers. Most shipping companies with a strong presence in a country will also have a physical office location in the destination.


4. Know who will be handling your product

Make sure to ask who is actually shipping your products! When you contract with a shipping service, that company might not necessarily be handling the actual shipping. Often the company then turns the package over to a shipping management organization, which then handles the shipping timeline and method. Since the management company is out to make a profit, they often ship via the cheapest way possible, which is often the slowest.

5. Ensure that products are packaged correctly

Find out the number of times a package will be handled and the mode of transportation and ensure you safely package your product so that it is intact on arrival. You should also be aware of any regulations on shipping containers for the destination country. Businesses using wood pallets, for example, might not realize that some countries regulate wood packaging to control pests and ask companies to follow specific standards.

As we have grown internationally we have learned that shipping is a complicated process and most ecommerce companies won’t ever become shipping experts. However, you will need to be curious about the issues surrounding international shipping because they are important to your global success and often change daily.


A good start is to check all the basics, such as labels and regulations, and to adopt a multi-carrier approach, as the same process won’t work in every country. This will allow you to provide your customers with more flexible delivery options. You will need to be as competitive as domestic retailers from the get-go. Otherwise, customers may begin to imagine that your product will not arrive in time, and their delivery fears will quickly become your cross-border expansion nightmares.

Web-only retailer Spreadshirt Inc. is No. 431 in the 2015 Internet Retailer Top 500, and No. 219 in the Europe 500, according to Top500Guide.com.