Ecommerce Coffee Chats: Taking the Fear Out of B2B & International Selling

Ecommerce Coffee Chats: Taking the Fear Out of B2B & International Selling

Is your business prepared for the future of ecommerce? That’s a broad question, but one that deserves attention. As B2B and international selling channels gain momentum, the time to invest in the right technologies and processes to get there is now.

In this conversation with Krish Iyer, Head of Industry Relations and Strategic Partnerships at ShipStation, we get into the benefits and challenges of tackling international inventory and shipping. As ecommerce continues to evolve, so do customer expectations and demand. The time is now to make changes to your business model to stay ahead of the competition and delight consumers.

And what happens when peak season has already started? Listen to Krish’s top tips on how to navigate the peak season 2020 landscape successfully, and learn the benefits a ShipStation  platform gives sellers who want tighter control and more options for their shipping process.

 

Full Transcript

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Intro to Krish Iyer

Kim Wren, Director of Business Development, SkuVault

Hi, everybody, and welcome. I’m Kim Wren. I’m the director of Partnerships and Business Development for SkuVault. And I’m here today to chat with Krish Iyer of ShipStation, and you are the head of Industry Relations and Strategic Partnerships for ShipStation. I’m going to let you talk about that a little bit, but I love your background in logistics. You’re also part of the Parcel Shippers Association. So, if you want to tell us a little bit about you.

Krish Iyer, Head of Industry Relations and Strategic Partnerships, ShipStation

Sure. Thank you. Yes, Kim, I’m our head of Industry Relations and Strategic Partners for ShipStation, known as the platform and merchant ecommerce that allows people wherever they sell, however they ship, to make their processes more efficient and to reach more buyers in more places. And so, right now, we are in an exciting, although obviously, a challenging time, overall, but certainly, a good place to be here in ecommerce to do some exciting things. As far as the Parcel Shippers Association, that is the association that lobbies on behalf of the shipper in order to affect change, and affect legislation, and to fight for industry-related issues.

Kim

Interesting. I had no idea what it was. So, that’s interesting to know. How long have you been involved in that?

Krish

I’ve been involved off and on for a number of years. This year, I serve as the Vice President of the Parcel Shippers Association as well.

Kim

Fun. How long have you been at ShipStation?

Krish

A little under four years, Kim. And so, it’s been a fun and exciting ride.

Tackling International Inventory and Shipping

Kim

Yes. Well, it’s certainly been an interesting year for ecommerce, so yes, for sure. We came into the year knowing it was going to continue to grow. Nobody had any idea at what pace we were going to change that in the spring. So, I want to talk to you a little bit about the logistics of all of it in ecommerce, but the first thing I want to talk about is as we’ve had to change this year, a lot of ecommerce sellers have had to look at doing a lot more merchant-fulfilled. Amazon could not handle everything. So, people were bringing it back in house. And I think a lot of people, at that point, realized that they could handle it. But now, they also have to look at some of the international shipping and how to get that out there. How do you feel that’s changing, and what are some tips, and some tricks, and some ideas through all of the international?

Krish

Sure. I think the first question is, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the words “inventories” since I’m on a call with my friend, but I do think inventory is the key question that we need to ourselves this holiday season. Do we have too little inventory to satisfy the demand or do we have too much inventory?

And based on where you land on the spectrum there in relation to that question, then I think we can answer the question about international. If you feel like you have excess inventory or enough healthy inventory levels to satisfy it, I think now, it is, as counterintuitive as this may sound, the right time to evaluate international. What do I mean by that? Right now, a lot of brands are always worried about, okay, how do I target international? Or, maybe I’ll look at that in a few years, and that’s a down-the-road phenomenon. But the reality is, the reason why now is a good time is that buyer expectations are a lot lower when it comes to shipping and transit times.

So, if we’re talking about the typical pitfalls with international, customs delays, shipping delays, a lack of visibility sometimes, right now, you could have a much more forgiving customer and you can experiment, especially if you have the inventory levels that can support it, to really start with like-for-like markets. What do I mean by “like-for-like?” I mean, if you’re a seller here in the US and you sell apparel, for example, pick a market to experiment on that’s relatively easy with customs laws, relatively easy with imports, talking about countries that have similar tastes and preferences, either going up North, certainly to Canada, or going across the pond, the UK, Australia. These are markets that are going to be a little more forgiving when it comes to international customs laws, duties and taxes. The things that scare people as opposed to a Brazil, or an India, or a Russia. And so, now, I think, is a good time with a more forgiving customer and a chance to experiment with your inventory levels to sell to that global consumer.

Lessen the Fear of International Shipping

Kim

Okay. Talking about people being afraid of shipping overseas, one of the things that I think a lot of sellers who haven’t done that, I think something they’re afraid of is the paperwork. And ShipStation can obviously help with that. It’s all right there, and it’s all built in. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Krish

Yeah. With the paperwork, the reality is people get scared of it, but 80% of all export international shipments, the only thing that it needs is the shipping label or the airway bill, and one piece of paper called the commercial invoice. Our software does generate the commercial invoice. The reality is for most products, especially in e-commerce, that’s all you need. It’s going to depend on the specific item you’re selling, but the reality is the paperwork, once you get the hang of it, is really not that difficult.

Kim

From experience, I know that if you’re shipping to Canada, if you’re shipping within the America continent, the North America continent, to Canada and to Mexico, especially, it’s actually pretty easy. And under four pounds, it’s just a very quick, simple form that you can have ShipStation spit out with your shipping labels so that it all comes together, and you’re not doing anything extra. Your postman will pick it up for you if you’re doing daily pickups. So, they will come and get it for you, just so people know. Because I know they think that means they have to take it to the post office too, and a lot of times you don’t. But your mileage may vary on that depending on your postmaster in your area and what they know of the rules and regulations.

Krish

I was going to say, I can do you one better on that one. And that is the idea that US, Mexico, and Canada has a brand new piece of legislation that came through to replace NAFTA with what’s called the USMCA. That stands for United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement.

Kim

Oh, [crosstalk 00:07:23].

Krish

[crosstalk 00:07:24] very creative as far as the naming, but what it does mean is that the thresholds for importation limits into those markets has increased. And some of the trade and customs rules has relaxed a little bit to have a more robust level of trade, particularly because, admittedly, NAFTA was not crafted with e-commerce in mind, but with importation limits that are more favorable to e-commerce sellers. So, now is a good time to look at that, to trade within Mexico, Canada, US as a region because the new legislation does encourage that.

Kim

Okay. That’s great to know. I did not know that. One of the things you mentioned to me when we were talking earlier was MercadoLibre and being able to sell there. I don’t know how many people are aware of that site. It’s not something I had heard a lot of. I had heard of it, but not a lot because if we’re selling to Canada, we know Amazon has Canada. Walmart’s in Canada. And we also know Walmart is very strong in Mexico. I know. I went on a cruise last year that we pulled into port, and literally, the first two things I saw were Walmart and Sam’s. They were right across from my balcony. But MercadoLibre, what can you tell us about that?

Krish

Sure. Yeah. MercadoLibre is actually the fourth largest marketplace in the world, and they are in Latin America. It’s remarkable. We don’t think of Latin America a lot [crosstalk 00:09:11] when it comes to ecommerce, but they’re a quiet player just to the South of us. And there are ecommerce buyers who want to buy your products, and they are just down South. And so, ShipStation, in particular, we have a relationship with the MercadoLibre where we have referred our sellers to sell on MercadoLibre, particularly specializing in Mexico. So, the shipping costs are decidedly reduced, and the transit time is not terrible, not too bad leaving the US. And so, it’s something I encourage people to take a look at to really say, “Hey, this could be for me.” And so, selling on the fourth largest marketplace in the world and to a set of customers that want your products, I think, is something very appealing that certainly that sellers should take another look at while using SkuVault to manage inventory.

Kim

Well, and you can use it because we integrate with ShipStation, So we can just bring those orders right in from ShipStation and track your inventory so you’re sending everywhere you need to. So, it’s perfect. It’s a perfect relationship. That’s awesome. You obviously know a lot about shipping, a lot about logistics, a lot about moving things around. I would like to hear your take on people being able to ship inbound to themselves a little bit. I think that that’s something that scares people when they’re sourcing. If you’re going to source overseas, what’s that look like? Can you just touch on that a little bit?

Investing in B2B Marketplaces and Channels

Krish

Sure. I think right now, there’s a lot of fear because of some of the delayed transit and things like that, but it is better to invest in some of those solutions to buy in larger quantity, certainly from Asia or from other markets to bring it in in a larger quantity so you don’t run out of inventory. I think that that’s a great way of looking at B2B to some extent, meaning can you buy in bulk quantities from somebody overseas to help as far as supplier’s concern? And conversely, on the other side, can you, as a seller, start investing in B2B marketplaces or B2B selling channels, whether that’s online, whether that’s offline? And that’s a real area that I think people, sellers, and brands, in particular, need to take a look at, especially to the earlier point that we talked about as far as managing inventory levels. And if you have excess inventory, that’s a great way to take a look at it, is through those types of channels.

Kim

Right. And that was something we had talked about was B2B. I think that people are often afraid. I don’t even think it crosses somebody’s mind, a lot of times, to say, “Oh, let’s go B2B. Let’s see what we can do B2B.” But it is often someplace where people can get in, and they don’t even realize it. As you touched on, if you have some excess inventory, this is the way to do it.

Any other ways that you know of to look at or things that they should be looking at for B2B?

Krish

Sure. I’m going to over simplify it a little bit, but the reality is that selling B2C and B2B, the only real difference is the quantity level. Now, again, I’m oversimplifying it, but the reality is in a B2C transaction, you’re probably talking about one buyer, one seller, one package. In a B2B transaction, it’s a lot more multilayered in terms of the number of shipments you may be sending and things along those lines. But the reality is it actually is larger than B2C e-commerce, B2B, but a lot of people, just, for some reason, just don’t talk about it, partially because there’s a lack of automation or traditionally has been and because there’s just a lot of nuances of trust and who you can buy from, who you can sell to, that differ than B2C. But the payoff is there especially if you have a lot of inventory, then it really can make a big difference.

Kim

Yeah. I know it’s a little different, but as you… And even if, as you start thinking about getting into that market, and you look at possibly creating a small brand, and doing something, looking maybe at Alibaba, we both deal with Alibaba a little bit and bringing some of their players into your house so that you can look and see if there’s products that you can get that make you a little more competitive in that B2B market within the United States, even, so that you’re importing and you’re selling to the person who wants to, then, resell one at a time. One of the things that we learned a long, long time ago was that not everybody who’s a manufacturer wants to sell directly.

Kim

So, looking for distributors or manufacturers that want distributors as well, that you could become a distributor for. That can get you into what, a lot of different marketplaces in a lot of different places that you can go. But we also, if we go back to looking at some of these marketplaces, what do you see as maybe some of the bigger international marketplaces besides just selling to Mexico? Is there anything overseas? How do you get into that? What do you do? What do you look for, maybe in Asia, or Australia?

Krish

Sure. I think the first is if you have a certain selling channel in the US that you feel comfortable with, you should stick with it, whether that’s Amazon, whether that’s eBay, whether it’s another selling channel, the reality is most of those marketplaces have programs that recruit US sellers, US products because our products are at a premium for those buyers. And those buyers may be a little less sensitive to things like the shipping cost or other logistics that we may have as far as price sensitivity here in the US, free shipping. So, I would say that the best thing is take a look at your current selling channels and start contacting them directly to say, “Look, do you have a cross border program for US sellers that allow me to bring my products and SKUs to you to sell in one of your other markets?” Almost all the major marketplaces have various programs. Just depends on how well they’ve publicized it or who gets invited. But sometimes, it’s just as simple as contacting them.

Krish

The other thing I would say is we, ShipStation, have some relationships with some non-US marketplaces that recruit US sellers and products. I mentioned MercadoLibre. So, I would take a look at some of the tools and partners that you work with and do they have relationships with some of those global marketplaces? And then, third, quite simply, almost all of those marketplaces do have US cross border programs to recruit sellers, and you can contact them directly. Now, how successful you may be in that regard really depends on how much they want a US seller, which they probably do. Do they have API or technology documents that are in English? Not always. So, I would say that those are probably the paths I would go. Definitely look at the channels you sell on currently, and then, try to see if those marketplaces have programs is probably the path of least resistance [crosstalk 00:17:42].

Kim

Excellent point. I personally know Amazon, of course, is everywhere, but eBay is very big in Australia. People here think, “Oh, eBay’s made it…” They’ve kind of dropped down the list a little bit. I don’t think they’ve really dropped down. I think other people are just showing larger growth. eBay already had that market. So, their growth just isn’t as big as some of the other growth that we’ve seen in e-commerce over the last six or eight months. I saw a list that came out recently that showed Best Buy is, I think, the number one for growth in ecommerce during COVID. Well, if you started at zero, it’s pretty easy to be moving to the top fairly quickly, where eBay and Amazon already had that market. And so, they were a little lower on the pole because they weren’t starting at zero.

How to Prepare for Peak Season

Kim

I think that’s great advice. Take a look at some of them, but also, don’t discount Walmart when you’re looking at everything because Walmart’s everywhere. Just another way to go.

I’m going to switch gears. I want to talk about peak season a little bit. It’s coming, or it’s here. I’ve been told it’s here this year, that it hit in April. I don’t know, but it’s going to be really different this year. The logistics are different. That last mile is going to be a concern. We may have some labor disruption because people are afraid to go back to work or unable to. There’s going to be different jobs available, and supply chains are disrupted. Thoughts on any of the peak season issues that are coming up, and what do you think people should look at, and know, and think about for the peak season?

Krish

Sure. I think your point on the labor is a really strong one, really valid here. The advice I would give is start early, and start really looking at your staffing levels, and start posting now. Honestly, if you’re posting now, then it may be too late. That should be a real priority, is your staffing levels for the holidays in your warehouses and the labor that you need. I’d say that that’s first off. The second is while we can’t always anticipate what problems that we’re going to have, we do have some known unknowns, meaning do you have ways to manage your inventory that won’t cause a bottleneck in the process? Certainly by using our friends at SkuVault. Do you have the right shipping workflows in place? Do you know, if that’s been a mild to semi mild or medium issue during the year, it’s going to get exacerbated during the holiday season.

Krish

So, it may be the right time right now to get on ShipStation to really get that process down now before the holidays, rather than experimenting during your busiest crunch time. Those are the things that I would say. Look at labor, and try to plan right now and prioritize that. Number two, take a look at what your known unknowns are in terms of if it’s been an issue during the year, it’s going to get a whole lot worse during the holidays, so it’s better not to bury one’s head in the sand. And number three, can you take a look at what technologies you have in place and prioritize accordingly?

Kim

Good advice. Good advice. And especially the technologies. I think you really need to make sure right now, you need to make sure they’re up to date. Make sure that you’ve got some good processes set up. In some cases, it may be too late to try to get more inventory. If you can and it’s a seller, do it. I don’t know that this is the year to try to venture into a lot of new markets. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We’ll see. I think, overall, peak season, yeah, we agree. It’s going to be an interesting one this year. So, we’ll see where it goes. When we first spoke, I asked you about your blog, the blogs you’ve written, and the article that I read that you had written in, it was a publication from, what, a couple of years ago, about cross border trade, I believe? 2016. Do you like writing pieces like this? Does writing about cross border trade and writing about shipping, does that [crosstalk 00:22:25]?

Krish

I do. I do. I think, to our earlier point, there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty about it, and it’s very tempting if you’re a seller to say, “Eh, I’ll do that in the future,” when the reality is, now is the time, even during the pandemic to do that. So, yeah, I enjoy writing about that and being an evangelist for concepts like cross border, like fulfillment. I think these are things that are important topics, and certainly want to take out some of the fear factor for our merchant base, our shared merchant base here if we can do it.

Kim

Well, we work in ecommerce, and we work in SaaS, and the ecommerce side is very exciting, but the SaaS side, and especially, the industries that you and I are in are boring and afterthoughts, but they’re so important. They’re things that shipping and warehousing are just topics that people would rather go, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that,” but you can’t run your business without them. You have to have them for your ecommerce. So, having experts like you provide information for people to be able to very easily go onto shipstation.com and look at those blogs, and look at what you’re saying, and stay on top of things, I think is very, very important.

How ShipStation and SkuVault Work Together

Kim

So, thank for staying on top of those things. We really appreciate that.

Finally, I think we have people tuning in that want to hear a little bit more about ShipStation, a little bit more about SkuVault, how we work together, and what we can do to help people. I’m going to let you talk about ShipStation a little bit, and some of the things that it can do to really help e-commerce sellers. I, personally, am a ShipStation user. I have been for a very long time, and I know that at SkuVault, it’s our number one connection. We have more people using the ShipStation connection than we do any other connection that we have. So, obviously, it’s a huge tool for people in e-commerce, so I’ll let you talk about that for a minute.

Krish

Sure. Our platform allows sellers, as I mentioned, wherever you sell, however you ship. The idea is can you bring in your various selling channels? If you’re selling on Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Etsy, other ones, as well as are you using inventory tools like SkuVault, as well as carrier relationships… Can you bring that into have a more simplified and professional workflow? And that’s where I think we excel is if you’ve ever found the management of varying selling channels to be a challenge, if you’ve ever found the management of multiple carriers then to be a challenge, then I think, or a great fit. One other aspect that I’ll say is that we have a lot of sellers who give us feedback about the idea that they sold on one channel, meaning they started on Amazon, maybe they had a second channel at Walmart, but the sheer fact that ShipStation has so many various integrations to marketplaces, a lot of times, they’ve said, “I never knew I could sell on Sears. I never knew I could sell on a marketplace cross border.”

Krish

And the fact is that they, then, got on to ShipStation, saw that tile inside the application, and said, “Maybe that’s something that could be for me.” And then, that helped them grow the business, grow their sales, and ultimately, got more orders out the door every day, and probably use SkuVault to manage the inventory on that as well. What I’d say, that’s our pitch for ShipStation. In addition, for folks here watching that have had challenges with returns, always an issue that causes a lot of heartburn and an angst, we have tools around the idea, can you offer a more proactive returns approach? Meaning things like a branded returns portal, something that you put out there that’s professional, that has your logo, but allows your end consumer to initiate the returns self service with the carriers and options that you choose rather than somebody returning it to you in a shoe box and sending it on your dime overnight.

Krish

We find that from a lot of retailers, which is why we put in a lot of time and effort into building resources like that. Same thing with a branded tracking page, same idea that you can push your users to those sorts of tools. They are professional. They allow you to brand them. And more importantly, it reduces the amount of where are my older type of calls, or calling your customer service to initiate those returns, allow your folks to be doing what they do best, which is manage, certainly, hopefully, new sales, and new orders, and things of that like. We create these tools with that in mind to increase your efficiency and improve that customer satisfaction. So, that’s what I’ll say there on ShipStation. And right now, we still do have a 90-day free trial. LETUSHELP is the promo code. And certainly, we can give users more information about that, but that is something to take advantage of now, and that can get you through the holidays.

Kim

Yes, it can, and that’s good to know. I think something that sellers getting into this that are… And we don’t see it just from small sellers. At SkuVault, we see people coming into the ecommerce industry, a lot of times, who, they’ve got an established business, and they’ve maybe been selling on one marketplace or just a website. And suddenly, they’ve realized that they need to grow. What they didn’t realize is that shipping is so difficult if you’re trying to ship everywhere. And if you’re using a tool like ShipStation, everything is coming into one place, so I don’t have to go to eBay and ship. I don’t have to go to Amazon to ship. I don’t have to go to Walmart and all my international channels because everything’s right there in one place. I do all of my shipping from that one software, and everything’s taken care of, and the marketplaces are all updated, so it’s all taken care of.

Kim

And then, we have a seamless connection at SkuVault with ShipStation so that if you’re using the two systems together, once you ship, ShipStation communicates back to SkuVault and tells us that that order has been shipped, and we immediately update your inventory and make sure that your inventory is correct, and send that back to all of the marketplaces so that it’s a very seamless operation to be able to get all of that information back out to where you need it to. And of course, there’s a lot more that SkuVault does with that, but our ShipStation integration is probably one of the more advanced that we have because we send location information over to ShipStation so that you can run using your picklist or our picklist, depending on your preference. We do find that some smaller, especially the smaller companies, prefer the ShipStation picklist.

Kim

It’s very customizable. We’ve written the HTML for many, many people to be able to use it, put their logos in it, put scam bars in different things. We like the way that you can customize things with it. And we have a team that will be happy to help people with that when they need help with it. By us sending that location back over, that helps as well, and being able to get that information. So, there’s a really good flow of information between the two companies where everything’s going back and forth. But I think that that’s really important for people to know that it does help make your process so much easier if you’re using these tools. And you will find yourself not having to be into some of the marketplaces quite as often.

Kim

Maybe you don’t have to be on your backend of your website as often. But most importantly, you don’t have to have your warehouse workers and your pickers and your packers in those. When you’re looking at something like eBay, where yes, you can get the additional logins, but it’s a little more difficult, sometimes, for those. Then, this makes it easier because you have that peace of mind of knowing that people aren’t getting in there and looking at your financial information in there and possibly messing with things that they shouldn’t be. That can make things a little easier and give a business owner a little bit of a peace of mind.

Krish

Sure. Since we’re in the mode of promoting each other’s [crosstalk 00:31:05] here, I’ll say I can’t stress enough that as you’re a brand that grows to multiple channels, having a professional inventory management platform is so, so critical on, especially, as you scale and grow, one of the challenges is the marketplace and your relationship with that marketplace. If you don’t manage appropriate levels of inventory and sell out, you will end up with a negative marketplace rating. That’s a whole lot worse than never having sold on that marketplace at all.

Kim

Yes.

Krish

So, that’s not meant to be punitive or to scare people too much on expanding. We want you to expand, but it is one of those pitfalls of growth, and really having a professional inventory management platform is so, so critical in how you scale and how you grow, especially with some of the largest marketplaces out there where that real-time communication of inventory, real-time communication of tracking, real-time communication with your warehouse, operations, and vendors is going to be just essential. So, I cannot stress the importance of that enough.

Kim

Yes. Really, at the end of the day, it also comes down to customer satisfaction. You want to keep your customers happy. Yes, the marketplace be unhappy, and they will smack you on the wrist, and in some cases, they will throw you off if you’re not complying by their rules. And if you’ve ever been thrown off of one of these marketplaces, sometimes, you can’t get back on. Sometimes, you can. You can beg. And I’ve helped a lot of sellers get back onto several of them, but sometimes, it’s too late. Your violation was too big, and they won’t let you come back.

Kim

So, you do want to make sure that you’re providing that excellent customer experience because these are not necessarily your customers. They belong to the platform, to the marketplace. So, you have to keep that mind. But even at your own website, you still want to be able to provide that excellent customer experience because in the world today, there’s an awful lot of competition out there. So, if you’re not doing it right, the guy next door is probably going to, so you want to make sure you keep them. But anything else you’d like to add?

Key Takeaways

Krish

I think we’ve covered it. I think the key takeaways we have for what we discussed today are do you have the right tools here to approach the holiday season? Inventory, shipping certainly are things our various organizations here can help you with as a merchant or as a brand selling online. Are you investing in the future and looking at things like B2B selling channels, international selling channels? I think those are definitely things that, while everybody wants to get through the holiday season, now is a good time because your buyers are going to be a lot more forgiving on the trial and error. So, now is a good time. And it’s also a great way to manage inventory and especially excess inventory, if you can expand to some of those channels. I think, hopefully, our key takeaways here are short-term planning, let’s see what we can do to help with our various tools. And long-term planning, help you expand to grow and succeed are hopefully two big takeaways that we had here today.

Kim

Yes, I agree. Get out there and get going. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. And you have a great rest of the week.

Krish

All right. Thank you, Kim.

Kim

Thanks. Bye-bye.

Krish

Bye.

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