A Guide to Global Business Shipping

Almost all US businesses have one thing in common: they only ship within the US. In fact, only 1% of American businesses take advantage of the global market, and many of them only export their products to one other country.

Global shipping seems daunting, in part because every country has a unique way of addressing mail. And once you ship products internationally, you’ll also need to incorporate global addresses into your database for billing, marketing, customer support and data intelligence purposes. Since there is no single standard format, this further complicates all of these processes.

However, less than 5% of the world’s population lives in the United States, so without eventually expanding their target market, US businesses are significantly limiting their revenue opportunities. Business owners that arm themselves with information and dive into global addresses instead of feeling intimidated by international shipping open up a huge growth strategy.

So what are the differences between US addresses and those in other countries? There are so many different postal regions, and so many different formats, it would be impossible to list them all in a concise, readable article. It is perhaps more useful to focus on some tips and strategies for coming up with perfectly formatted addresses every time.

Start with the country of origin
It may be a relief to know that, in most cases, the best way to address a package or letter is by starting with US procedures. If you are mailing something from within the United States, then the mail will be directed through US systems. Therefore, the format you use has to be understandable to the software and people who take the first look at it.

This doesn’t mean that you completely disregard the format of the country the mail is destined for. It simply means that you can look to your shipping provider––whether you are using the USPS or a private company––for guidance on how those addresses should look.

The address itself should reflect the destination country
As a general rule, the bottom of the address needs to match US guidelines, and the higher up you go, the more you need to defer to the country you are sending mail to. So the address line should be written in the native language of that country, using their alphabet, accent marks and notation systems.

Think of it this way: the US will read the country and the region to determine which airplane, train or ship to put your mail on. Once it arrives in that country, they need to be able to read the individual’s city and street name to get it to the proper residence.

Use an Address verification service
Address verification software helps to standardize the addresses that either you or your customers submit. These tools can catch errors like reversed street names, doubled up information or invalid postal codes. When you are dealing with thousands upon thousands of addresses, cleaning the data as it comes in is invaluable.

The advantages to using a verification service are many. First, it is expensive when mail is incorrectly addressed and, as a result, you have to issue refunds or resend products. Incorrect addresses can also lead to poor decisions, when your database does not accurately reflect where your customers are.

Make it easy to read
Perhaps the best way to ensure your mail gets where it needs to go is by ensuring that everyone can read the address to begin with. Remember, computers are often used to scan and sort mail, meaning that gimmicks that make your packaging look beautiful can lead to disaster on the back end.

Script type fonts, colored text, dark backgrounds, or laser cut labels with complicated shapes are all a bad idea, particularly when you are sending something outside of the US. Instead, opt for standard fonts, black text and simple white labels that leave at least one eighth of an inch all the way around the address itself.

It’s not a ZIP code
The United States is one of the only countries that uses the term “ZIP code.” The ZIP stands for “Zone Improvement Plan.” The letters were chosen on purpose for marketing reasons. To encourage people to use the full ZIP code on addresses, the USPS pointed out that mail with a ZIP code would get there faster–or zippier, if you will.

However, if you contact service providers in another country to ask questions or get help with missing mail, talking about ZIP codes will just confuse or annoy them. Instead, use the correct word for the country you are referring to, or “postal code,” if you are unsure.

Following these guidelines will get you started in building a great database of international addresses and taking that first step into global exporting. A little research and the right tools go a long way in ensuring that all of your international mail gets where it needs to go.

howell trentTrent joins Smarty as Head of Marketing with over 25 years of experience in information technology, training & certification, and software industries. Prior to Smarty, Trent led high-performing global marketing teams at leading companies in the software and technology industries. Trent holds an MBA degree in Marketing from Brigham Young University.


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