How Beauty Brands Handle International Shipping And Customer Service

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions relevant to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 24 brand founders and executives: How do you find the best international shipping rates and dependable delivery worldwide, and handle customer service in various languages?

LOUIS MARTY Co-Founder, Merci Handy

In Europe, our French post “La poste” has a service rate of 93%. In the U.S., we are still learning and testing different carriers. Overall, 2020 was a very difficult year for operations due to the pandemic. In order to support our customer service needs, our team speaks French, English, Spanish and German. We use Weglot for our Shopify translation and, if we have a question in another language, we use our best friend, Google Translate. To ensure smooth conversation, we always tell the customer when we are using this tool.

JULISSA PRADO Founder and CEO, Rizos Curls

For international sales, we have partnered with distributors all over the world where customers can buy directly on their websites in order to buy locally. For example, one of our distributors is Le Curl Shop in France. Through this method, we’ve been able to ship to 57 countries. We have the full list of our international distributors on our website. When it comes to international shipping, we found that DHL is the most reliable. 

Handling customer service in multiple languages as a small business is definitely a challenge. We do most of it ourselves via Google Translate or tapping into our resources with our circle of friends who may speak that specific language. For example, one of my brother’s friends speaks French, so he helps us with communication in French.

Melody Akhavan CEO and Founder, Dermasuri

We have used a number of international shipping carriers over the years. We are budget-conscious, but also need dependability for a smooth and on-time delivery. As a brand, we are not familiar with all the documents needed for various countries. There are just so many. We rely on our carriers to navigate us through it all and make the process easy. Every six months, we give five highly referred companies a sample scenario. Then, we have each one compare total quotes and then drill down to compare each line item. We use Serra International and have been very happy.

Safi Tshinsele Van Bellingen Founder, Nebedai

I work with two fulfillment companies to handle my delivery. I ship the stock to them, and they handle the delivery to customers. I had to try different ones to find the right fit. Some were too expensive or not reliable. We ship with the carriers Yodel, Hermes and UPS. The most reliable (yet the most expensive) is UPS.

The customer service is in French and English, yet sometimes, we’ve had customers asking questions in Portuguese. I have a good notion [of] Spanish, so I can handle it. Otherwise, Google Translate is my best friend. 

Giovanna Campagna Founder, Joaquina Botánica

We are currently still in search of the right partner to help us secure international shipping rates that will be affordable for us and our customers. We have significant interest from customers in Latin America and Europe, so international shipping is a priority. We are considering working with DHL, as they can offer reduced rates if you commit to a certain monthly spend. We are also looking into a platform called Global-E that facilitates sales and fulfillment across borders.

Michele Snyder SVP of Global Marketing, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare

By far and away, international shipping has been one of the greatest challenges our brand has faced over the last year as a result of COVID-19. Once the pandemic came to life locally and internationally, everything drastically shifted, from our delivery methods, rates and beyond. Particularly if you’re shipping from the Asia/China region, there is significantly more demand for boat shipping given increased air ship rates, which has led to challenges in managing port reservations.

Our evolving strategy has been planning as far ahead as possible in order to account for potential delays, while also considering backup paths and alternate routes. From a customer service perspective, we have not had translation challenges given we work with domestic country managers and distributors.

Lindsay McCormick Founder, Bite

We currently don't offer international shipping. We did at the beginning and were shipping through DHL International, but packages were being lost or destroyed in transit, so we unfortunately had to stop offering that (for now). We use USPS primarily for our U.S. shipments because they're the “public transit” of delivery with the lowest carbon emissions of any current delivery options. We also buy carbon offsets to balance out the emissions caused by our customer shipments.

ALEXANDRA DJOUKANOV Brand Manager, Orpheus Skin

We have an experienced logistics partner, and they are doing a great job in contracting and negotiating the shipping rates with all the international carriers like DHL, UPS and FedEx. We evaluated more than 30 shipping services from different carriers trying to find a dependable, faster and secure delivery service. Our top priority is that the orders are not lost in transit, arrive undamaged and on time. We avoid shipping services that transfer the package to the local postal services, although that is often a cheaper alternative. We have experienced serious delays with such services when we first enabled worldwide deliveries. 

We are a Bulgarian brand, but our small customer care team speaks several languages. Besides native Bulgarian, we are fluent in English, Spanish and French. We’re successfully handling customer inquiries in one of these languages. As the U.S. is our focus market, we’re mainly receiving inquiries in English, but we also have customers from Bulgaria and Latin America reaching out to us, and we’re happy to offer them customer service in their native language.

Gwen Jimmere CEO and Founder, Naturalicious

Haha! This is such a loaded question. I wish I had a great answer. USPS typically has the best rates, but they are also the most unreliable. We saw that with "The Great E-Commerce USPS Shipping Fail of 2020/2021," where companies all over the U.S. were shipping orders around the holidays that wouldn't get delivered for weeks or months. 

It was even worse for international shipments. I understand why this happened, and it is still happening in many cases. But that doesn't make the nightmare any better for businesses when customers are pissed off that their orders from eight weeks ago haven't arrived, and it's because USPS is backlogged. 

UPS is more expensive, but more reliable. So, it's a catch-22. Customers already don't want to pay for shipping at all.  So, we have a dilemma. Do we go with USPS and charge the lowest rates possible, but the package may not arrive for months? Or do we go with UPS/FedEx/DHL who will charge far more, but almost guarantee it will arrive in a timely fashion? We've been opting for the UPS option lately, but we are always monitoring pricing and delivery times to find the best balance for us and for our customers.

In terms of handling customer service in other languages, we have a number of bilingual team members on our customer service team who speak both Spanish and English. For French-speaking customers, we have someone we can call on to translate for us as needed. For everyone else, we use Google Translate.

Jack Wolton Co-Founder, Object

At present, we only ship to the U.K,, Spain, France and Germany, and we’re lucky enough to have native speakers in all those languages on our team. When we start to sell to other countries, we’ll consider hiring freelancers or a remote customer service agent to ensure there is no language barrier between us and our customer.

When it came to shipping, we looked at three key factors: price, convenience and sustainability, as sustainability really is the foundation that our brand has been built upon. Our main market is the U.K., so we put a lot of research, time and effort into designing our products and our mailers, allowing them to fit through U.K.-sized letter boxes. This makes it much more convenient for our customers because they don’t have to be at home when the delivery arrives. Also, it’s more cost effective for us and our customers because “signed for” delivery is not necessary. 

We’re at a very early stage with the brand at the moment, so we’re saving on costs by packaging up orders ourselves. Therefore, mailers that fit through letterboxes give another big advantage, as we can post multiple packages through a letter box in one go at our end, rather than having to arrange for a delivery company to collect them up from us. Delivering products through letter boxes is also much more environmentally friendly because it reduces the number of trips that delivery companies have to make.

Taking everything into account and looking at all available options, we found that U.K. Royal Mail was best for U.K. deliveries, but it also suited us for international shipping as it had very competitive rates, with various delivery and tracking options. As we grow, we will continue to review our shipping needs, but always based on the three key factors mentioned above which are key for our customers.

Irina Gottesman CEO and Co-Founder, House of Grō

We are in the process of getting EU certification, which is no small feat. We started the process six months back and should be certified within a few months. As far as languages, the same way we communicated with our kitchen staff (Spanish, Chinese, etc.). When we operated our restaurants, [we took a] universal soul-to-soul approach and, of course, [used] Google Translate. (I was a co-founder of a restaurant called Jade Eatery and Lounge from 2006 to 2019.)

Valentina Ferrer Owner, Kapowder

Initially, we had an international presence, so overcoming the shipping prices for the consumer overseas was a huge part of building our U.S.-based distribution. At first, we naturally had to find the right post company in Australia to deliver and offer the right price to overseas customers. Luckily, this year, we now have American-based distribution and offer an affordable postage rate.

Being a worldwide company with multiple languages, we are lucky enough to have staff working for us that are bilingual and can communicate. Our website is also set up with translations. I feel this is crucial to any company offering overseas sales since being able to communicate with your customer is key.

SIRKKU HAHN Founder and CEO, Inari Arctic Beauty

As a European company, we have the advantage of the EU regulations, which make it easy to offer international shipping to other EU countries. When working together with a professional fulfillment partner, shipping also to countries outside the EU is uncomplicated, although it demands some knowledge of customs clearance. We do have customers from Asia and the U.S. who want to order, and it’s a pity that we have not been able to offer deliveries so far. Our project for 2021 is to start expanding outside Europe, and we are currently looking for a knowledgeable partner to help us with that.

MURPHY D. BISHOP II Co-Founder and CEO, The Better Skin Co.

For international, we find that DHL is the most dependable and the rates are on par with FedEx and UPS. We charge the international customer the actual DHL price, which can be expensive.   For international orders, we try to include a free hero product to help the customer digest the expensive shipping. We need a more affordable international shipping partner.

Vera Oh Co-Founder, Voesh and Glowoasis

We limit our international delivery for our distributors to cover in their region. We haven’t had many inquiries in other languages because we have international distributors in multiple countries. But, when we do receive inquiries in other languages, we have very diverse team members to help translate, or we ask our distributors to assist.

Tiffany Buzzatto Founder, Dew Mighty

We are looking at international distribution partnerships to try and lower the language confusion. So far, we have been able to function in English, but, as we grow, we plan to find the right partner to house and handle the customer service aspects in local languages.

Kay Cola CEO and Founder, TheOrganiBrands

We work with special account managers that help big clients get the best rates. Although we ship worldwide, most of our customers speak English or use Google Translate. We also have Spanish-speaking employees.

Charlotte Knight Founder and CEO, Ciate London

We work with our warehouse who are experts in e-commerce delivery. It's really important to have a strong relationship and trust with your warehouse to make sure you are getting the best rates for your brand, but also a warehouse who can provide a super strong customer experience. 

Most of our customers are English speaking, but, on occasion, we receive an email from someone who speaks a different language. We do our best to understand and communicate to them by using the translation tools available to us online. The majority of our non-English speaking customers purchase from one of our incredible retailers across the world.

Dr. Andreas Flohr CEO, ATP Cosmetic GmbH and LIVV

Our approach is to work with at least three suppliers for every service we intend to source. This helps provide a good understanding of the market, compare services and have a stronger position to negotiate the best value for our company. We also balance the rates with the going service and capabilities we can expect from different market players.  We like to call it the "Total Value" proposition.  Regarding customer service, our experience so far is that working with a local agent helps facilitate the language barriers and to better understand local needs. 

MELISSA JOCHIM Founder, High Beauty

Our fulfillment warehouse selects the best pricing, but generally we default to the carrier that is most successful with processing international shipments such as addressing the correct paperwork for customs upfront.

SELMIN KARATAS Co-Founder and CEO, Kazani

With international shipping rates, I still do it the traditional way, which is through the post office because I couldn't find a company to work with. I also have Shopify and, on the backend, they calculate the shipping rates automatically. You can print out the shipping rate sheet and apply the label on the package you are sending. As we grow, I will give it to third-party logistics, and they will handle it all.

Carolyn Aronson CEO and Founder, It's A 10 Haircare and Be A 10 Cosmetics

We trust our distributors to recommend the best international shipping rates and dependable delivery. Because we sell to distributors within each country, the distributors handle customer service directly, which removes any language barriers.

Ilinca Sipos Founder, Rara Club

Thus far, both UPS and USPS have been very reliable for domestic and international shipping. Our customer service is English only, available via email.

Awa Mballo Tall Founder, AMFA Beauty

For the shipment of my packages, I did it by DHL, which offers a fast and reliable service.

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