When Matt Alper launched Copshoes.com from his living room in San Antonio, Texas, he had no idea that his line of shoes and boots for police, firemen and security personnel would have such a huge market appeal. Three years later, he has moved into his own warehouse of several thousand feet and has 11 employees.
But the most surprising development along the way has been the fact that he receives 10 percent of his total sales from outside of the U.S. He gets another 10 percent from military families stationed around the world. All in all, Alper has used both paid and organic search at Google, Yahoo and other major search engines to drum up international business, which for him is a mix of retail consumer orders and wholesale clients.
"Obviously, if you are selling items that only cost $5, then you should not try to go global, because shipping is going to cost you $30 and that is not going to work," Alper said. "But I absolutely encourage other marketers with the right kind of products to go for it. Selling internationally is not nearly as hard as it was in the past, due to the Internet. And it has meant a lot to the progress of my business."
Copshoes.com (www.copshoes.com), which specializes in American made footwear, has seen interesting sales trends in international orders. For instance, one of the nations that orders most frequently is China, which is intriguing, since that country is the world's largest shoes exporter.
Russian men in uniform, "Want nothing but American made shoes," Alper said. "We have one wholesale customer in Russia who has opened an American bank account to make ordering easier. The banking system there was too cumbersome, so he took measures to make the process faster. There are things you have to deal with, though, with the global customers. One of those things is avoiding fraudulent orders."
Dealing with Fraud
During his short but burgeoning stint in the global shoe business, Alper has learned many valuable lessons about international trade, most notably in the area of fraud. For instance, due to a frequency of the problem in certain countries, he no longer accepts orders from Venezuela, Indonesia, Nigeria and Romania. Most recently, he said, Gaza, Israel, has come up as an area where fraudulent orders are originating. "We have learned many lessons about selling internationally," Alper said. "Any U.S. based ecommerce business that sells internationally deals with bad orders. But we are extremely happy that we have gained the experience because it augments sales."
Here are a few tips that have helped Alper deal with the fraud issue:
While wire transfers with customers on the Caribbean Islands are likely to be good, they can also take up to a week to complete, due to unsophisticated banking technology. The same is true for paying customers in other so called Third World nations.
- The Postal Service may claim to track packages once they leave the U.S. borders, but do not be surprised if you lose sight of the shipment after it leaves the states. It is important to know this when or if you receive customer calls asking about their deliveries.
- For suspect orders or large orders, ask the customer to fax the front and back of his credit card, as well as a form of identification. It is better than a phone call.
- Call your credit card processors because they have a staff to assist you with questionable orders. Do not be afraid to rely on their expertise.
- Analyze the order and be skeptical. Why would a customer purchase, for example, 10 routers? Likewise, why would an overseas customer request overnight shipping?
- If possible, purchase fraud detection tools. Many credit card banks and payment gateways offer effective fraud detection tools that are incredibly inexpensive.
U.S. based ecommerce merchants who sell products internationally will quickly learn these lessons and take appropriate measures. Listen to Ben Boxall, president of VR3, a Los Angeles manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of aftermarket automotive products. Boxall's company sells its products through several of its ecommerce sites (www.roadmasterusa.com is the largest).
"We export roughly 1,200 orders a week outside the U.S.," Boxall said. "And we have learned many credit card fraud precautions. In addition, we individually review each order over $250. We call every customer who placed that order unless it is a repeat customer who has previously been approved by us. For our company, we have found that fraudulent orders are generally greater than $250 each."
Alber concurred with Boxall that an experienced merchant can frequently detect fraudulent orders. Alber said that sudden orders from a single country will raise concerns, as will large purchase amounts and orders with multiple quantities of the same product.
But credit card fraud is not the only concern for merchants who sell internationally. How to ship the products, most experienced merchants say, is the other primary issue. Alper said that he primarily uses the U.S. Postal Service to ship internationally and has installed a shipping calculator on his site to assist his customers in determining the cost.
"If a package is lost, you are frequently dealing with the local overseas postal services, and that can be a real hassle," he said. "You learn which countries have good postal services and which do not. Canada, England, Greece and others are quite good. But China's postal service, for example, is terrible."
VR3's Boxall agreed that, for smaller packages, the USPS is the cheapest. But for cartons and pallets of goods, Boxall said that he uses UPS.
"UPS provides very helpful information for international shipments," Boxall explained. "I would encourage merchants to visit both the UPS website and the USPS site. They have lots of advice to help with overseas shipments."
Both merchants have learned valuable lessons about international, sales in addition to credit card fraud and shipping matters. In the end, they concur that the extra effort is worth it.
"It is far too big of a market to ignore," Alper said. "It is profitable business for us. International customers tend to be repeat buyers, and it is a segment of our business that we hope to grow."
Companies included in this story:
San Antonio, TX 78238
VR3/Roadmaster USA Corp.
6542 Greenbush Ave.
Van Nuys, CA 91401
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