Selling to consumers in Alaska and Hawaii can provide small and medium-sized online retailers with valuable insights that may apply to international e-commerce, as well as valuable new markets in their own right.
International e-commerce, or cross-border e-commerce as it is sometimes called, is a fast-growing opportunity that excites many online sellers. China or some South American countries are growing faster than US online sales. In fact, 16 percent of global e-commerce sales last year came from cross-border orders.
Despite this opportunity, international sales, especially to unknown or distant countries, are not without problems or uncertainties. As an intermediate step to international sales, traders could try to increase sales in countries like Hawaii, Alaska, and the United States. Selling to these relatively remote U.S. locations is less complicated than selling to another country, but it still offers applicable lessons for sellers who want to learn how to ship overseas.
As an intermediate step to international sales, traders could try to increase sales in countries like Hawaii, Alaska, and the United States. Selling to these relatively remote U.S. locations is less complicated than selling to another country, but it still offers applicable lessons for sellers who want to learn how to ship overseas.
Flexible pricing and display of prices
Scarcity drives prices. Americans who live in Hawaii, Alaska, or US territories like Guam or American Samoa certainly understand this concept. For example, try buying a gallon of milk from the Safeway in Lahaina, Hawaii, on the island of Maui, where it was $ 4.99 last week. Similarly, Hawaii News Now reported milk prices on Oahu in the range of $ 4.99 to $ 7.49 per gallon.
Ecommerce retailers may also find that some items may charge higher prices from buyers with less access to these products, whether those buyers are in Hawaii or another country.
In this way, sellers may want to offer Hawaiian and Alaskan consumers (and ultimately overseas buyers) a different price than buyers in other markets. Dynamic pricing is not an unreachable technology, it can now be implemented on some e-commerce platforms or with third-party solutions.
This approach can be particularly helpful with residual items. Imagine an online apparel retailer closing shorts in October because most domestic customers are more interested in coats and hats. This dealer can discount shorts heavily and even lose money just to free up cash and inventory space. But customers in Hawaii may still be willing to buy shorts at near full price. So why not show these prices or even market them specifically for them?
Similarly, in the spring, some online retailers will close down winter items like flannel shirts that could be popular in Alaska for a few more months.
In other words, prices vary by region and retailers can and should present market-relevant prices.
Shipping rate management
Typically, US-based merchants cost more shipping to Alaska and Hawaii than shipping to neighboring US states. These relatively higher shipping costs sometimes surprise merchants and have even led some sellers to stop shipping to Hawaii and Alaska.
As evidence, consider that web developer Patrick Rauland posted a tutorial last year describing how to exclude Alaska and Hawaii from WooCommerce. Several Ebay sellers, including LuizaY, Saviortools2010, and 2002jrhaines2, have posted questions about the Alaska and Hawaii bans on the marketplace’s community forum. A simple search on Google shows that many retailers have concerns about shipping to these remote domestic destinations. Now imagine some of these sellers trying to sell internationally.
Despite the perceived cost and apprehension, shipping can be to Alaska and Hawaii. Amazon does it for free.
For example, sending a Priority Mail, a large flat-rate box, from Caldwell, Idaho to Kehei, Hawaii costs $ 15.80. Sending the exact same box from Caldwell, Idaho to Olean, New York also costs $ 15.80. The cost is the same, although delivery to Hawaii would take longer. However, if the same size packages were sent via UPS it would cost more to go to Kehei.
The lesson here is to properly manage shipping costs and expectations to Hawaii, Alaska, and the United States. Use real-time shipping rules, delivery time estimates, and a variety of carriers to offer the best possible prices. What retailers are learning about shipping items to Alaska or Hawaii and offering viable shipping options to customers will help them prepare for shipping to overseas destinations as well.
Consider fulfillment services
One final lesson to learn from selling to relatively distant domestic customers is the value of a good fulfillment service.
Fulfillment services store, pick, pack, and ship products for retailers. For example, on the island of Oahu, a retailer might stock popular items in the warehouse of a local fulfillment company. When a customer in Hawaii places an order, the fulfillment service packages and ships the order, saving the customer and the retailer time and money.
Shipping to the fulfillment center can be done in much cheaper bulk, possibly even on a container ship.
Once a seller learns to trust a fulfillment service in Hawaii, it may be easier to trust a fulfillment service in a foreign country.
Availability creates loyalty
Shopping online can be a disappointment, at least for some shoppers in Alaska and Hawaii.
Imagine a shopper from one of these states who visits an American retail website, finds it a few times, and adds these items to their cart, only to find out after 20 minutes of shopping that retailers don’t ship to Alaska or Hawaii.
Not only has the buyer wasted her time unnecessarily, but she will also likely never return to the merchant’s website even when it comes time to order Christmas gifts for delivery to friends and family in the 48 contiguous United States.
Conversely, Hawaiian and Alaskan shoppers who can order through a specific ecommerce website can become loyal repeat buyers.
Caring for these buyers can and likely will result in increased sales.
Self-service customer service
Serving customers in vastly different time zones can cause problems for online retailers. Before online sellers complicate multiple time zones with language differences for some cross-border orders, they can master remote customer service with Alaskan and Hawaiian buyers.
Hawaii is seven hours behind Eastern Standard Time. So when the office hours of a New York-based online retailer ends for that day, it will be Honolulu by noon.
While online retailers want to respond to phone, email, and even social media customer service queries as quickly as possible, self-service customer service may provide far-flung customers with the answers they need almost instantly.
Consider placing detailed customer service information on-site. You might even add videos explaining important policies like returns, shipping, or the like.