Cyber Monday is almost here, and small businesses across the U.S. should keep one important fact in mind: the online holiday shopping phenomenon, marketed and launched around our Thanksgiving celebrations, is now a global affair. Throughout the year, businesses of all sizes, including corner retail shops, home-based enterprises and larger internet-only merchants, are reaching – and shipping to – customers as far away as India and China. Starting on Black Friday, and even before, you can expect this kind of international activity to ramp up, just as your domestic sales surely will.

If your business is selling to global audiences, then you need to be prepared for the unique marketing and shipping challenges that the holiday season will bring. Of course, your international customers will be looking for many of the same things as your U.S. customers this holiday season, including competitive prices, impressive sales offers and free or reduced shipping. But communicating with buyers in different countries, and delivering your goods to them on time and in one piece, take special care and expertise. For instance, you will want to make sure your social media and marketing strategies account for the language and cultural differences that exist from area to area. And you will want to ensure your shipping partner understands high-volume planning and is experienced with Customs and border clearance processing.

For online sales, the upcoming holiday season promises to be one of the biggest ever. Adobe Digital Insights predicts 11 percent growth, with holiday online sales expected to reach $91.6 billion. Consumer research firm Fluent suggests that online Cyber Monday sales could surpass in-store Black Friday sales. A big part of that will stem from international activity. Amazon, for instance, has taken credit for introducing Black Friday and Cyber Monday to the United Kingdom in 2010 (though others peg the date at 2013), and since then, it has grown to become a major shopping event, with online sales surging more than 160 percent above pre-season levels. Black Friday is now the largest shopping holiday in the UK. The story is similar in many countries, from Brazil to Sweden to Spain.

With this in mind, here is what your small business can do to make sure the holiday rush is a success:

Get your shipping offer in order

Your holiday shipping offer must be clear and competitive within your category. International and domestic customers alike expect to receive free shipping with a minimum purchase, and many actively seek out free shipping and returns. Also, be sure to clearly display estimated delivery dates and ordering cutoff dates for Christmas and Hanukkah deliveries.

Use your return offer to attract customers

Free returns or exchange offers can help bring customers to your site and keep them there. Internet Retailer highlights several studies noting that customers will buy more – and more often –  when they have confidence in the return process.

Understand international rules

E-commerce policies vary from country to country, so businesses that sell internationally should be aware of the policies affecting their customers. For example, a European Union rule requires e-tailers to allow customers 14 days to return unwanted goods.

Be social

This holiday season, the impact of social media marketing and communications is expected to be big. It is a fast and effective way to reach customers and engage with them. Social media is a particularly effective tool for broadcasting promotions and bargains, and importantly, it is a tool that crosses barriers and boundaries. You may even consider moving into social media platforms that are specific to different countries.  For instance, in China your company should have a presence on Sina Weibo and Qzone.

When it comes to shipping, remember the basics

To make sure your customers receive their products on time, you need an effective shipping strategy that works across borders and during high-volume shipping times. You also need to remember the basics, including:

  • Wrap items individually in Bubble Wrap, or use Styrofoam inserts so they don’t touch each other. Each item should have a minimum of two inches of cushioning on all sides.
  • Fill the box. Less empty space will help prevent items from shifting and breaking in transit.
  • Add an extra address label inside the package in case the outer one is damaged or stripped off. Even the stickiest labels can come off!
  • Ensure that all seams and flaps are securely taped. For additional reinforcement, apply extra strips of tape to the bottom and top of the box.
  • Don’t unintentionally ship dangerous goods internationally. Always declare the contents. Many common gift items can be classified as dangerous goods for air transport. These include but are not limited to children’s toys that contain batteries; electronics and battery-operated Christmas decorations that have lithium batteries;  cologne, bath sets, nail polish and lighters; and any aerosol cans — all of which may be flammable.
  • Remember that each country has its own standard for what goods are subject to duty. The DHL Trade Automation Service tool (TAS) is free and only requires that you establish a login credential to access a plethora of information related to any international transaction.

Is your business ready for the Cyber Monday holiday rush? Let us know on Twitter @DHLUS.