It’s FIRE: Free International Returns for Ecommerce

Hipshipper offers Free International Returns for online sellers. Meaning, whatever the reason may be – damaged or wrong item, buyer’s remorse and everything in between – Hipshipper will cover the return costs.

Yes, as fantastic as it may sound, it is true. Hipshipper offers Free International Returns for online sellers. Meaning, whatever the reason may be - damaged or wrong item, buyer's remorse and everything in between - Hipshipper will cover the return costs.

Why we do it?

We believe that the issue of international returns is a major pain point for both sellers and buyers.

The ‘returns thing’ has been mostly solved when in the domestic market, or is on a fast track to being solved with Amazon leading the way by favoring sellers who offer free returns. The same way Amazon paved the way to “free shipping” becoming the norm, “free returns” will soon follow - in the domestic market.

In the international market the issue of returns carries more complex, and costly, implications and thus is a more glaring point of possible conflict between the buyer and seller. Simply put, nobody wants to pay the expensive return shipping cost.

For sellers, shouldering the cost of return shipping practically means losing money on the sale. Meaning, after refunding the buyer for the item, the seller is left with the cost of the return shipping that puts him in the red. That is a risk that many sellers, especially smaller ones that work on slim margins, are very wary of taking - understandably so.

For buyers, getting an item that they don’t like, or didn’t order and having to pay the return shipping cost is no less frustrating; you didn’t get the product you hoped for, and you need to ‘lose’ the money on returning it.

Everybody loses. The seller that paid for the return costs will mark the buyer as “problematic” and won’t want his business again. The buyer that paid for the return costs will never buy from that seller again.

Basically, anytime ‘returns’ come up with regards to a cross-border sale, it’s not going to end well; one of the sides will feel cheated, or at least upset for losing money.

Does it answer the question why we do it?

Hipshipper offers Free International Returns as part of our master plan to ensure deal profitability on every cross-border sale for the sellers, and a little piece of happiness for the buyers.

By doing so we undo a conflict before it even begins. On top of the financial side, this is also highly advantageous for sellers in order to keep their ratings within the marketplace intact. Most marketplace conflicts / tickets get resolved in favor of the buyer. Hipshipper takes a seller-centric approach, actively helping marketplace sellers to protect their business.

We believe that as a shipping company we are uniquely situated to act as a go-between. Almost all conflicts between sellers and buyers in the ecommerce universe could be solved immediately if a third-party would ‘pick up the check’ for return shipping costs. So now it can, and Hipshipper is the one to enable it.

Before we dive in, here are the highlights for the busy online seller!

Shipping: eBay GSP ships all items with Priority International mail. Hipshipper offers Priority & Expedited.

Rates: Hipshipper offers very competitive shipping rates when compared with eBay GSP.

Returns: Hipshipper offers free international returns. eBay GSP doesn’t have a solution for international returns.

Now we'll take a deep breath and flash out the all the details. Let’s start with a cliche, validate it and then move to facts.

The world is getting smaller. We can get from point A to point B much faster and cheaper than a decade or two ago. In the same way, we can buy stuff from any place on earth and have it shipped to us, pretty quickly and quite affordably. Looking at the other side of the coin, we - this time we are online sellers - can offer our products to a global audience, quite literally. That’s a nice, big audience.

For eBay sellers looking to sell internationally, the seemingly obvious option is to sign up with eBay’s own Global Shipping Program (GSP). “With the click of a button” your products can be purchased worldwide; that’s a tempting proposition and many sellers sign up for the service without proper consideration. As everything else in life, GSP has its pros and its cons, and there are alternatives; thinking otherwise would be naive.

Hipshipper is such an alternative, with more pros and less cons.

We’ll go through the comparison according to the following:

  • Getting started (implementation)
  • Package Handling
  • Shipping Cost
  • Profit on Shipping
  • Tracking
  • Returns
  • Scope of Customer Service
  • Customer Service in Practice

Getting Started (implementation)

Obviously it’s hard to compete with the one-click implementation of GSP, but Hipshipper isn’t far behind. All you need to do is install our Chrome or Firefox extension, enter your store name and PayPal account and that’s pretty much it. Your store is now connected to the Hipshipper dashboard.

Hipshipper will automatically setup your international shipping rate table on eBay and add international policies to your selected items, on top of your domestic policies.

You’ll have some decisions to make:

  • Do you want to ship to remote US addresses
  • If you want to have all your items available for international shipping or just selected few
  • Whether to give your customers the option of expedited shipping

These are decisions you need to make anyway, whether you ship internationally with Hipshipper, or eBay GSP.

One nice decision you’ll need to make, which is unique to Hipshipper, is whether do add a fixed surcharge to the shipping price, which adds pure profit to your bottom line.

Package Handling

eBay GSP doesn’t perform any product inspection when they get your package at their domestic center in Kentucky. In this regard, we provide a value-added service that GSP lacks.

When your package reaches Hipshipper’s domestic center in New York, we conduct a product and packaging inspection. We verify that the correct item is inside and that it’s not broken. If your package has been damaged during the domestic trip (torn, wet, crumbled) or if we think your packaging isn’t sufficient to withstand international travel, we’ll repackage it.

Of course, no additional costs will be applied to you for the repackaging.

Shipping Cost

Here we have a big advantage over eBay GSP; actually a few big advantages.

eBay GSP ships all items with USPS Priority International mail, not the most cost-effective service, especially for cheaper items.

Hipshipper works with multiple international carriers (FedEx, DHL, UPS, Asendia and yes, also USPS) and every order is being matched with the best rate we can get from our shipping partners. We offer very competitive rates when compared with eBay GSP, again, especially when it comes to lower-cost items.

Another thing eBay does is add customs fees that in most cases results in customers paying a higher customs fee than they should have (plus excessive postage charges.) This isn’t just us saying that, you can read about this here, here and here.

Hipshipper doesn’t charge customs fees pre-shipping. Since customs fees are extremely complex to calculate and each country has its own rules and regulations on how to charge customs, we leave it to the countries to collect their own customs. Make sense, no?

If you use Hipshipper for your international shipping, the only costs appearing on your product pages are the item cost, and the shipping price. Simple. It also has a strong positive impact on the purchase decision.

Profit on Shipping

Straight and to the point: Hipshipper gives sellers the option to profit from the shipping, GSP doesn't. We do that by allowing our sellers to add a fixed price factor to the shipping cost (flat or percentage) which translates to pure profit. Needless to say it is not indicated in any way in the shipping cost presented to the buyer on the site or in post-purchase documentation.

Tracking

As per tracking, we are shoulder to shoulder with GSP, which isn’t a bad place to be.

Hipshipper offers real-time, cross-carrier tracking for buyers. Using Hipshipper’s own tracking number, buyers are able to view - in real-time - the progress of their order, step by step, through a simple interface on the Hipshipper website. We also offer live chat for buyers regarding shipping inquiries.

Returns

This is the part for us to puff out our chests and proudly say, we got you eBay!

Hipshipper offers Free International Returns. eBay GSP doesn’t.

Actually, GSP doesn’t handle returns at all, leaving it to the buyer and seller to figure it out between them. As you can imagine, this can lead (and often does) to friction between buyers and sellers, resulting in complaints and negative reviews on the marketplace.

In order to avoid all that, Hipshipper takes full ownership on the issue of international returns. No matter what is the product, the country it needs to be returned from or the reason the buyer wants to return it, Hipshipper will shoulder the cost and handle the logistics.

By removing one of the main obstacles facing international sellers, Hipshipper is truly making its mark as a singular solution for international shipping.

Scope of Customer Service

When we say customer service, we think of it in the broadest sense of the word. It’s more than answering the phone or replying to a chat message. It’s about our responsibility as your service provider - when does it start and end and how far we’ll go to protect your interests, in front of the buyers and the marketplace.

eBay GSP is very clear of the perimeter of their responsibility - it starts when your package reaches eBay GSP center in Kentucky and ends when the buyer receives the package. Whatever happens to your package from the moment it left your warehouse until it reached, or didn’t, Kentucky, is of no concern to eBay GSP.

Next, GSP ‘disconnects’ when the buyer gets the package, before he, or she, opens it. The ‘shipping’ was completed, and you’re back with eBay’s ‘the buyer is always right’ philosophy.

In contrast to that, Hipshipper’s responsibility starts when the package leaves your warehouse and only ends when the buyer is pleased and satisfied with the purchase, and your marketplace ratings have remained intact.

Hipshipper provides post-delivery support and service, in the form of free international returns. Be the reason buyer remorse, damaged goods, wrong item and everything in between, we’ll we’ll take charge of the logistics and cost; our support team is pro-active and agile in its thinking and actions and will make your customer happy.

Customer Service in Practice

When you need support from GSP about your international shipping, you don’t have a dedicated support team within the sprawling infrastructure of eBay’s seller-support. You will be handled by a support person that deals with, basically, a million different support issues.

With Hipshipper, this is what we do - we ship internationally. Our customer success and support team are highly knowledgeable of every aspect of international shipping, can answer any question and provide an adequate solution to any problem. More than that, they are, first and foremost, on your side.

To Sum Up

Bottom line is, use GSP or Hipshipper, your package will arrive at its destination overseas. Question is, at what cost and what happens if something goes wrong?

Use Hipshipper for super-competitive shipping costs for your customers, ability to make an additional profit on the shipping itself and the peace of mind of not worrying about international shipping, free returns included.

Online marketplaces are wholly buyer-centric. Meaning, their approach is to side with consumers even at the expense of the sellers. It was of course Amazon that set the tone on this. This is what Jeff Bezos said on the acquisition of Zappos way back in 2009, “Zappos has a customer obsession which is so easy for me to admire. And that is a very key factor for me.”

Amazon and the rest of the online marketplaces embraced this obsession in the decade since.

So? You might be asking, what’s the problem with a great shopping experience backed by exemplary customer support? Absolutely nothing. Hence the insane growth of the Amazon marketplace - consumers love it.

But every coin has two sides (food for thought - there’s still no Amazon coin.)

The Problem

Leaving aside the incredible spoils consumers get - like free two day shipping, soon to be one - the problem accentuates when there’s a conflict between buyers and sellers.

Conflict is a big word, but on a marketplace a conflict can be about a shade of blue.

A consumer in Germany purchases a light-blue button-down shirt from a US marketplace seller. The shirt is shipped across the ocean, an excited consumer opens the package and his face crumbles. The light-blue is darker than he was expecting. Disgruntled, he complains about this to the seller, writing he doesn’t want the shirt.

The most common resolution is to return the item and get a refund. Who’s paying for the return shipping? That’s the crux of the buyer-seller conflict.

If the seller accepts the shirt back, meaning refunds the buyer and ships it back to the States, he’s in the red. He suggests to refund the buyer for the shirt if the buyer ships it back on his expense. The buyer already paid for the shipping, the thought of paying for the return as well and be left with no shirt puts him in an angry red.

There you have it, a conflict in blue and red. When the buyer contacts the marketplace the conflict will most likely be resolved in his favor.

Marketplace sellers face a harsh reality defending their ‘seller ratings’ in front of the marketplaces. They pay a price for this, quite literally, sometimes to the point of losing money on a deal. Multiply it across a double-digit percentage of deals, and you’ve got a profitability issue, especially with cross-border transactions where the cost of shipping becomes a burden on the seller.

Before the Solution, a Bit of Expansion

Obviously the solution won’t come from either side, meaning the buyer and seller, and for obvious reasons - it doesn’t make any financial sense for any of them to shoulder the risk and possible cost of a resolution.

But remember the problem? The marketplace will most likely verdict in favor of the buyer, which if looked at a wider perspective creates a real predicament for marketplace sellers - is it a smart business decision to sell internationally? The world indeed is big and round and filled with lots and lots of shopping-hungry folks, but the same folks can be fickle at times. More than that, online marketplaces have been teaching them for more than a decade that it’s quite alright to be fickle.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. When I’m shopping brick-and-mortar I can be as fickle as I want, even though I can touch, feel and tryout the product before I buy it; buyer remorse is best manifested at home. The online has no other option than to match up to the real world. It’s doing pretty swell so far but still is far behind. Allowing fickleness is definitely part of the deal.

It’s also in the seller’s best interest to allow the buyer as much latitude as possible as part of the grand shopping experience consumers expect. No shortcuts or hidden passageways here - shoppers want it all and will gravitate toward those who offer it.

So how online sellers can be able to offer the experience buyers demand? As Ringo said, with a little help from friends.

Now the Solution

So. If the solution won’t come from either side, the only viable option is to have a third-party entity step in and solve it. Since this article isn’t about altruism in eCommerce, we need to add to the equation a profit for that third-party solver.

On the surface, it seems to mighty complicate things. Not only both seller and buyer need to not lose but another needs to profit. How can you profit from taking the loss of others? Stranger things have happened.

As we’ve detailed above, both the conflict and its solution stem from shipping, so it is the shipping company that holds the best hand to handle this. In order for the shipping company to stand the chance to make a profit, one assumption must be set in stone - the initial shipment of the product from seller to buyer must be paid. By whom it’s less of an issue, but must be paid, in full, to the shipping company, securing the profit of the shipping company from the transaction.

Quick summary so far: A product has been purchased and shipped from seller to buyer by a shipping company. Seller profited from the sale, shipping company profited from shipping. Moving on.

Now let’s introduce a conflict into the equation - product is damaged; came out of production damaged, damaged in transit, damaged by buyer’s dog - doesn’t matter. Shipping company steps in and ships it on its own expense back from buyer to seller. Conflict resolved.

From the three parties involved, the shipping company is able to ship in the most cost-effective way, so the ‘loss’ it suffers is also the most cost-effective.

Obviously if this happens in 100% of transactions the shipping company will soon stop shipping all together. Yes, alright - 80% return rate would also kill the shipping company, but that doesn’t happen. The shipping company needs to figure out what the magic percentage here that would allow it to achieve profitability. If that percentage of returns is realistic based on real numbers (this of course differs from niche to niche, destination to destination) then voila, it sounds very much like a solution to the problem of international returns.

The cool thing about it, by achieving profitability the shipping company also ensures deal profitability for the seller and protected shopping experience for the buyer.

If you’re thinking that all of the above is a nice theoretical exercise well, it’s not. Our Free International Returns feature is live and kicking since March. It's only one of a few key differences between Hipshipper and eBay Global Shipping Program. And yeah, we feel pretty good about solving the international returns for online sellers.

How should we start? Do we need to convince you that it is in your best interest to start selling internationally? Alright, here are some numbers.

The average value of international orders is 17% higher than US domestic ones

⅓ of online retailers rate ‘international shipping’ as a top growth engine

70% of online shoppers shop internationally

*Stats by Pitney Bowes & Statista

Oh, we have another one: US population is 325 million, global is 7.5 billion.

Still, if you’re reading this it means you are not selling internationally, something is holding you back. A few things probably, since selling internationally has its own risks and obstacles, especially for less-than-huge online sellers.

Let’s see what these risks and obstacles are and how we can remove them for you.

Obstacle 1: Emotional

We’re not going to get too psychology 101 here, but we hear from many online sellers in the domestic market that they are “anxious” about going global. It is understandable; breaking out of your comfort zone (and your country is most definitely your comfort zone) can be scary.

Hipshipper’s Solution: To Get It

We get it.

Obstacle 2: Logistics

The difference between selling domestically and internationally is mostly about shipping.

Shipping domestically is simple as American pie. If you’re big enough, the carrier picks up the packages from you. If not, you take the packages to the post office. Either way, that’s about it.

Shipping internationally is a whole different story. You need to integrate with different carriers and negotiate rates, you need to be aware of international shipping regulations, to deal with customs charges and be able to provide customer support to foreign nationals and deal with international returns and refunds.

Hipshipper’s Solution: Hipshipper

If you ship internationally with Hipshipper you won’t need to worry about all this. All you’ll need to do is get your packages to our domestic US center and that’s it. We’ll do product inspection and repackaging if needed, we’ll put on the international shipping label on and we’ll deliver the package to your customer on time at a competitive rate. And if anything goes wrong, we’ll solve it. You won’t have to do anything.

Obstacle 3: Customer Service

When selling internationally the customer service aspect of your business will need much more attention - more customers means more issues to solve and with cross-border transactions these issues tend to be more complex. To handle all these issues professionally requires acquiring knowledge and maybe even training others in your operation to take ownership of this. Basically, it requires investment of time and resources. For smaller businesses, this can be a deal breaker.

Hipshipper’s Solution: Taking It Off Your Hands

The vast majority of cross-border customer service issues revolve around tracking, shipping and returns. The way we see it, we are perfectly positioned and equipped to handle these issues for you. Since we are the shippers it only makes sense we’ll find the best and quickest solution. And we do. We are known for resolving all tickets, all of them, and in a timely manner.

On top of that, we have a unique Hipshipper tracking number and an online interface for your customers to view in real-time the status of their package. We use straightforward language in our tracking dashboard, making it super easy for buyers to understand what’s going on with their package and if there is any action they need to take at any stage.

Risk 1: International Returns

Returns is without a doubt the most glaring risk online sellers see when they consider selling internationally. We’ve heard this so many times “If I need to pay for a return from overseas not only I don’t profit from this sale, I lose my profit from the next few sales as well.”

Completely understandable and specially true for lower-cost, slim-margin products.

International returns are especially harsh burden on online sellers. Of course it depends on your niche (fashion & shoes are at the top of the list) but consumers can be fickle and are used from the brick-and-mortar world that returning an item to the store is totally acceptable; most stores won’t even ask for the reason.

Hipshipper’s Solution: Free International Returns

Since this is the thing we’ve heard most from sellers that’s holding them back from going global, we wanted to remove this risk in the most complete way we could think of: Free International Returns. Free for you, free for your customers. Just like that. From any destination, for any item, for any reason - international returns are on us.

Risk 2: Hurting Your Seller Rating

This relates to the previous point. If a customer wants to return an item, there must be a reason behind it. Whether the shoes are too small (because she misread the size-conversion table) or the blouse’s shade of turquoise is darker than she thought (because she purchased the blouse on her phone while riding a poorly-lit train) or the eye serum bottle broke (because these things do happen.)

Now no matter what the reason is, the customer isn’t happy and when customers aren’t happy they vent. Online, and in marketplaces especially, buyers are quick to leave a bad review, or complain to the marketplace - both are bad news for the seller.

How’s this relates to the previous point? With international sales, these complaints tend to escalate to disputes exactly because of the high cost of returns.

Hipshipper’s Solution: Proactive, Seller-Centric Customer Service

As we see it, one of our main roles is to protect our sellers’ reputation and keep their marketplace ratings intact. As opposed to the marketplace, we don’t see customer satisfaction coming on the expense of your seller reputation.

We’ll proactively work to prevent cases from being open and if they do open instruct you what you need to say and do in order to ‘win’ the case. If we suspect escalation is coming or that the claim is going to close against you, we will fully refund the buyer in order to avoid a bad review against you and downgrade of your seller rating by the marketplace.

 

To get the bigger picture of your options for international shipping read our eBay Global Shipping review and comparison to Hipshipper.