In the World of Cross-Border Shopping, Not Everything Can Cross Borders

What’s on your to-do list? If you’re thinking about expanding into cross-border, it’s probably filled with the basics like keeping on top of currency conversions, duties and taxes, international advertising, and a mountain of other concerns.

But what about discovering which items in your inventory can legally be shipped where? With all of the fine details on the forefront of a new cross-border merchant’s mind, something like compliance can seem like a nonissue. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Since customs regulations can vary wildly by country, expanding into cross-border isn’t as simple as throwing a shipping label onto a package and sending. Consumers’ tastes aren’t the only factors that dictate what can be sold where.

For example, something as innocuous as chewing gum is forbidden in Singapore. No dental products with fluoride can make it into Algeria, and no musical greeting cards can be imported into Bulgaria. Those remote control helicopters and drones that have gained popularity recently are unwelcome in India. Matching pairs of shoes are barred from entry into South Africa, Mexico and India. Even the US has a couple unexpected import restrictions, with the popular candy Kinder Surprise making the list.

With all of these seemingly random restrictions, retailers can be left wondering if anything in their inventory is safe for export and import. Repercussions for missing one of the constantly changing guidelines that can be inconsistent—even between neighboring countries—can result in heavy fines and/or legal consequences. However, retailers shouldn’t let this fear dissuade them from expanding into international markets.

The field of global ecommerce is lucrative enough—eMarketer forecasts that global ecommerce sales will reach $3.5 trillion by 2019 —that ROI can still be achieved. With proper preparation on the back-end and a clear idea of the steps to ensure compliance, seamless cross-border shipping is possible.

These are three important considerations when expanding into the cross-border world:

Legality of certain products and special care shipping

Outside of some of the more obscure regulations outlined above, there are some regulations that regularly apply to shipments of seemingly normal goods. Some goods such as firearms, certain categories of hazardous materials, and oversized packages simply can’t be shipped anywhere. On the other hand, goods containing hazardous materials such as lithium batteries, products subject to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and goods containing other wildlife products are restricted such that they can only be shipped, for example, in certain packages with special labeling or together with the appropriate permits.

Merchants should carefully examine any company that claims to be able to facilitate orders of prohibited or restricted goods. Merchants must take special care to ensure that their products don’t contain any illegal components and any regulated products are shipped in appropriate packaging with all required documentation.

Product descriptions and documentation

Retailers need to ensure that before items are packed for shipping, they have an accurate product description with details such as material composition, ingredients, included components, and declared country of origin. Even if the retailer partners with a company that is willing to act as the exporter of record to simplify the process, they should still ensure that their product both can be imported into the destination country and that it contains all of the documentation to qualify for export.

Certain products may need additional information to clear US customs. Medical supplies and sunglasses shipments must include a Drop Ball Test certificate, device listing and registration numbers. Articles of clothing need a composition list, gender, and manufacturer’s ID number.

Footwear also needs a composition list for both the sole and upper along with a manufacturer’s ID number. Shipments of watches require a value breakdown.  Neglecting to include any of these items with a shipment can result in delays that will be passed onto your customers.

Regulation around the receiving country or consumer

In the US, retailers must ensure that they haven’t attempted to expand into Comprehensive Embargoed Countries (like Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, or Syria) or those subject to the US Department of Treasury or US Department of State sanctions. Merchants also cannot export goods to certain individual consumers that are on a denied persons or unverified or entity list. Merchants should invest in a Denied Party Screening system to avoid mishaps in this area.

Retailers don’t need to be overwhelmed by the ever-growing list of export and import restrictions to which they have to adhere. By leveraging industry-leading experience and expertise in this area, retailers can not only manage the risks involved but truly seize the opportunities of cross-border commerce.  And, that can be one less item on your “to do” list.

Jamin Dick is senior vice president, Supply Chain, Global Ecommerce at Pitney Bowes.

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