10 Top Tips for e-Commerce Importers

by Gwen Carrington | eCommerce, eCommerce Fulfillment, Freight

1: Get your paperwork straight. 
Nothing is more infuriating to customs than receiving a shipment with incorrect or incomplete paperwork. More shipments are flagged for examination thanks to paperwork issues! Make sure to file your ISF 10+2 completely AT LEAST 24 hours prior to lading. Many customs brokers require that the ISF is received 72 hours prior to lading so they have the time to get it filed.

2: 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 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.

3: Dimension and weight accuracy. 
Be very accurate on your dimensions and weight, 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.

4: Research your bond options. 
Continuous vs Single Entry bond. As the name implies, a single entry bond is only good for one entry of the shipper. It does not cover the ISF bond. However, a continuous bond is good for an entire year and includes the ISF bond (not ISF filing). If you expect to ship more than once in a year into the US, spring for the continuous bond. And shop around: these bonds are marked up, depending on the broker, and not all brokers charge the same markup. Make sure you have a big enough bond. While the minimum requirement of $50K bond is enough for most shippers, a higher bond may be more appropriate for your product, especially if it is a high duty commodity. Speak with your customs broker to determine the best bond for your company.

5: 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 in the long run.

6: Check the availability of your 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?

7: 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, you are likely to encounter unexpected fees from your broker/freight forwarder.

8: 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.

9: 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 in advance!

10: Speak to a customs attorney. 
If you are new to the importing game, 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.