These days, most businesses have a website and if you have a website then, in principle, anyone from anywhere can buy your products. In practice, of course, life is not usually that simple, so here are three questions you may want to consider before setting up an export business (or to review an existing business).
Can you legally ship your products to all territories?
There are many goods which are perfectly legal in some places, but completely illegal in others, cannabis and alcohol are obvious examples of this. If your product is banned in some countries you want to know before you agree to ship there. You may not be breaking the law in your country by sending the item there (in principle that’s possible but it’s extremely rare), but you could find yourself dealing with all kinds of avoidable hassle from shipping agents, customs and/or your customer.
Do you actually want to ship your products to all territories?
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. Any product can lead to a request for some form of post-sales support, even if that’s just a return or a replacement after the original was damaged (or got lost in the post). Some categories of products are notorious for triggering after-sales support, for example, clothes are often returned because of sizing issues and high-tech items lead to customers having questions on how to use them.
In principle, you could set up automated systems to deal with just about any post-sales request. For example, you could have customers fill in a preset form to get a return and/or have an FAQ system to walk people through how to use their products. In practice, however, not only can this be more complicated than it sounds, even if you put the systems in place, the reality is that there is no guarantee that customers will actually use them and there is a very strong likelihood that there are still going to be some scenarios for which you will have to provide direct, customised support. This then raises the question of the time it will take you and to what extent you could be hindered by language issues.
Another potential issue is the lack of respect for intellectual property. Any time you ship out a product to someone, you run the risk of it being reverse engineered and put into production by a competitor. In theory, having robust intellectual-property protection in place should safeguard you from this, in practice, there are substantial parts of the world where intellectual-property laws are blatantly ignored. The supreme example of this was possibly Michael Jordan’s fight with the Chinese legal system for the use of his own name. This was a fight he only partially won.
How easy is it to manage pricing and payments?
Pricing is going to depend partly on costs, including variable ones such as local taxation, processing fees and postage charges. This means that a price which is completely viable for one country or even one region may be completely unsustainable in another. You could try to get around this by having a base price and then adding on extra charges such as postage, but customers can find this approach a bit confusing which could trigger requests for support. You are also going to have to think about what payment methods you are willing to accept and what their fees and rules are. Visa, Mastercard and Paypal are the big names most consumers will know and use, but these can work out expensive, especially for cross-currency transactions. Cryptocurrency is becoming increasingly popular but is still not really mainstream.