Probably the most referenced post on this blog to-date, Burdened by Borders, focused primarily on the challenges of international eCommerce within the EU. The borders in question, not necessarily tangible borders such as international customs and immigration checkpoints, but rather borders created by policy and politics, are what make eCommerce companies cringe when expanding into new markets. These borders are everywhere in our world, providing unique challenges that require flexible and innovative solutions. One innovator, PuntoMio, is helping Latin American consumers successfully navigate the borders that are present when dealing with US eCommerce vendors. They’ve been around since 2008 but with the recent flurry of vendor additions such as BrandsMart USA and new payment partners like Banamex, they’ve been making news.
As pointed out on PuntoMio’s site (which nicely validates my prior points — thank you, PuntoMio), there are numerous challenges buying across international borders:
- Frequently it is difficult to find US products in another country without paying a premium.
- International shipping is either very expensive or not avialable.
- The majority of US stores don’t offer international returns.
- The majority of US stores don’t accept international credit cards.
So how does PuntoMio help consumers navigate these border issues? First, upon registration, they provide foreign consumers with their own US mailing address. Second, the consumer uses this address and items are shipped to PuntoMio (in Miami) then shipped out to the consumer to their home address. Third, customs and duty are handled by PuntoMio and the end consumer is billed separately. What about returns? Punto Mio’s service includes free return shipping to Miami should a product not fit the bill.
One of the most imposing eCommerce borders is the effective handling of international customer service. Since many US eCommerce vendors don’t ship to international destinations, it should come as no surprise that most don’t staff for supporting those who don’t speak English. PuntoMio also offers their customers shopping assistance via Live Chat, which is an invaluable service to a consumer shopping in foreign territory.
While customs brokers are everywhere, automating this process for buyers in other countries is a huge step in the right direction for international eCommerce. Having dealt with customs brokers myself when shipping some items from Venice to my home in Atlanta, I can tell you that although my items arrived safely, the customer service aspect of the experience was lacking — actually, it was completely non-existent. It’s obvious that the customer experience is important to PuntoMio and if they can deliver on their promises, this will open doors for eCommerce that have been a chore to open in the past.