Good Advise for e-Commerce Importers

1: Be organized.
This doesn’t just pertain to paperwork, but all of your importing issues. It is important that you schedule deliveries with enough time to be able to not only receive your inventory, but also get it out of the way for the next delivery. Truckers will typically give you 2 hours or even less to unload, but then you must pay for the additional hours. If you organize deliveries from the port properly, then you won’t have truckers charging you time for them to wait.

2: Dimension and weight accuracy.
Be very accurate on your dimensions and weight when importing products, especially if you ship LCL (Less than Container Load). International Freight Forwarders plan their loading of the containers based on these numbers. If you misquote, or “guesstimate”, you are likely to throw off the numbers for the carrier, causing them undue strain. As most things are floor loaded (meaning no pallets) when shipped overseas, every measurable square inch is used. If your numbers are incorrect by more than a percentage or two, you could find your shipment delayed until the forwarder decides to ship another container that will accommodate your shipment.

3: Incorporate all costs when comparing prices.
If you have three people working to make sure shipments are coming in, and you are comparing the rates of companies who provide shipping against those who provide shipping and logistical services, analyze if outsourcing will alleviate your in-house costs, ultimately increasing productivity. While the provider of both services may have a higher quote than the others, ask yourself if the value added is going to help your business with importing products in the long run.

4: Check the availability of your freight service providers.
Are you able to get in touch with your freight forwarder when things go wrong? Will your freight forwarder contact you before you find out from your client? How does your freight forwarder stay in touch with the truckers to find out current situations? These are questions to ask prior to signing on with any freight forwarder. You don’t want to have to hunt them down if a shipment is delayed. The same goes for customs brokers. Most will contact you straight away if the proper documents are not filed, but did they divulge all the necessary documents that you will need?

5: Make sure to be very clear about your product.
Origin, material and destination are important pieces of information when it comes to clearing customs. When deciding on the proper service provider(s), make sure they understand everything about your product, any tests that have been conducted to appease other government entities (FDA, CPSC, EPA, etc) and all documentation that will be required. If you have been vague about importing products that require specific knowledge, you are likely to encounter unexpected fees from your broker/freight forwarder.

6: Obtain a “Customs ruling”
If you have a new product that you sourced in another country, and you are unsure which tariff it falls under, you can typically send it to a customs broker who will get you a ruling number. Then, each time you file, you can use that same ruling number for that specific product.

7: Know the product you are importing.
Know how the country you’re shipping to classifies your product. For example, a bed for dogs can be considered a pet accessory in one country and a bed in another. Different countries have different rules and fees, so find out what they are before you begin importing products.

8: Speak to a customs attorney.
If you are new to importing products, you can avoid a lot of hassles by speaking to a customs attorney prior to starting your importing business. Make sure what you have sourced is from a reputable manufacturer and find out all necessary implications of your product. Also, check to make sure if it is subject to the various consumer entities. Getting everything in order will help the process go that much smoother.

Why You Need a 3PL Fulfillment Service

Imagine that you run a small business selling customized iPhone cases to customers. It’s a small business — you’re the sole proprietor — and you spend a good deal of time reaching out to prospective customers, podcasts, guest bloggers, and other means to drum up business. You also spend time dealing with product improvements and customer support.

Your excellent work has led to a tremendous spike in orders… except now you have to somehow process 10–20 orders per day in addition to doing all the other things you were doing.

You have three options:

  1. You can fulfill the orders yourself and spend the extra few hours a day handling this fulfillment… time that will come out of efforts to grow and sustain your company.
  2. You can hire someone internally to fulfill these orders and pay them to store and process inventory, pick and reconcile order forms, and then either arrange a carrier pickup (e.g. FedEx) or take them to a distribution center for shipment.
  3. You can outsource fulfillment with a 3PL, and they will do all of this for you.

Obviously, option #1 isn’t particularly great, because it involves compromising your company’s growth at a pivotal time.

Option #2 isn’t bad… but it is usually quite costly.

Option #3 — using a 3PL Fulfillment center — is a fabulous option in many cases, because it will be cheaper than hiring an associate in terms of absolute-capital outlay, but you’ll also very likely benefit from shipping costs due to a fulfillment center being able to operate with economies of scale (excellent ones ship millions of packages a year and thus have access to the very best shipping rates).

The services a 3PL Fulfillment center will vary based on the place, but over at ChinaDivision, we offer the following services (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Warehousing: your product has to sit somewhere. Sheds, storage units, and living rooms are options for some… but a fulfillment center has extensive warehouse space and can warehouse your products for you.
  • Inventory/Order Management: When an order comes in from a customer, a great fulfillment center will automatically adjust the available inventory and reconcile the order against current inventory levels.
  • Integration: Fulfillment centers should be able to integrate their software with your shopping carts across every channel. So it doesn’t matter if your customer came to you through Amazon, your Shopify site, or your eBay store — all stores should be integrated with your account through the fulfillment center.
  • Shipping and Handling: Printing out shipping labels, affixing them to boxes, building the boxes themselves, and then taking all of the units to be shipped… this takes time, money, and effort. Fulfillment companies can handle this easily and turn a 2 hour job into a 15 minute one.
  • Special Kitting: Do you have a subscription box that requires assembly? Are you trying to prep your packages for FBA? An exemplary fulfillment center will be able to accommodate any and all of these requests.