Global eCommerce presents a vast and lucrative opportunity for on-line retailers to grow their international business. Conventional wisdom among international mail experts says that cross-border eCommerce could grow more than 190%* during the next four years and the number of shoppers across the globe could increase as much as 40%*.

More and more shoppers outside the US want to purchase from domestic businesses for all the reasons we know that make American retailers attractive to the rest of the world: the style and quality of goods they offer, competitive prices, vast selection options, frequent bargains and this country's unerring devotion to excellent customer service.

That rising level of foreign consumer interest signals two courses of action, which US businesses who want to grow must follow: 1) establish and adhere to an international mailing and shipping strategy and 2) spend the same amount of time building an equitable and easy returns policy. A positive customer experience - in this case, providing a simple and painless delivery and return event - builds customer loyalty, satisfaction and company revenues.

Buyers' Expectations and Demands

New markets are opening to US retailers all over the world. As those international opportunities increase, so do foreign buyers' expectations. Online shoppers - the recipients of international parcels and packages - are shifting their buying habits. In fact, they are trending toward smaller, more frequent, lighter-weight shipments delivered directly to their homes or other convenient pick-up locations and demanding flexible shipping options.

That last point is particularly significant because consumers outside the US are generally responsible for selecting a carrier for an international return and covering the associated cost. This predictable boom in cross-border eCommerce will fuel the need for easy-to-use and inexpensive returns protocol. A full-circle retail strategy serves businesses well; exceptional customer service for returns can be equally, if not more, important than delivery.

The Size of the Market

The Atlanta-based Colography Group, a research and consulting firm specializing in market intelligence for multinational shippers, discovered several fundamental facts that define international consumers and the size of the international market for mailed returns to the US, including:

  • Customers outside the US carefully consider a US merchant's return policy prior to purchasing.

  • Nearly 8.5 million packages are returned each year to US air export shippers. That is almost five percent of US air export shipments in the less-than-70-pounds-category.

  • Among the different Colography-identified international mail returns segment - mail order/etail, retail, telecom, manufacturing, wholesale and other industries - returns were most common in the manufacturing and wholesale segments.

Canada Is a Good Example

In a separate study, Colography explored how returns and return policies affect the purchasing behavior of Canadian consumers. Survey data of Canadians revealed that approximately one of every four active online consumers returned an item purchased in the last 12 months. Almost three of every four Canadian consumers stated that a retailer's returns policy influenced their decision to purchase from a particular merchant.

The behavior of Canadians coincides with the global landscape of international returns. Many buyers will drop an etailer in order to find one that offers the customer service they expect. Further, three out of four buyers make their purchase decision based on tracking services offered (email or text notifications, etc.) - for both delivery and returns.

Shipping costs on returns is a noted point of contention for customers. In fact, the most common complaints from customers is paying for return shipments. Companies that seek carrier agreements that include return options differentiate themselves and create a competitive advantage, resulting in increased favor among customers who appreciate the flexibility.

The Lesson for US Mailers and Shippers

Shoppers in the ever-expanding global eCommerce world have made four unambiguous and universal points that affect international mail return behavior:

  • International consumers are increasingly savvy buyers.

  • They review international merchandise return policies carefully.

  • Convenient and simple return options influence their purchasing decisions.

  • Affordable returns options will contribute to repeat customers.

    US-based international mailers must consider and respect these consumer behaviors when selling in the global marketplace. Customers expect an easy experience from the etailers they choose to do business with. Providing a simple return procedure pleases customers, expands the frequency of transactions and, ultimately, raises the per-event purchase amount customers elect to spend.

*Source: The Colography Group