If you’re ready to start selling your products into the growing U.K. market, RangeMe’s platform is a great way to connect with British retailers keen to source what you have to offer. But finding a buyer for your goods is only half the battle—you’ve also got to deliver. That means shipping products on time, in compliance with U.K. regulations, and at a cost-effective rate.

The good news is there is a lot of help available. Wherever you’re based, international shipping is a competitive industry; companies recognise their ability to help you through the process of shipping is one key to clinching your business, alongside price and customer service.

However, there is no single carrier that offers the best deal for all companies. The right carrier for you will depend on your individual needs and circumstances, and you will need to do some research before picking your winner. You may even decide to choose more than one carrier, if that is the best way to handle different requirements.

How to choose an international carrier

Cost is naturally going to be a key issue when you consider different shipping options, but it should not be your only consideration. For example, while postal carriers are often cheaper, they may be slower and less flexible. Express carriers often charge higher fees, but work with a broader range of packages, including heavier cartons, and they offer more delivery options and provide more additional services.

Depending on what you are shipping – and the needs of you and your customers – it may be worth paying more. If you need to get perishable items delivered quickly, say, you will need a service that guarantees rapid delivery; that may cost more than

a service for shipping goods that don’t have a short shelf life. Do your research carefully, making sure you’re comparing like with like and scoping out costs for the services you’ll actually use. You may want a choice of delivery options, for example, if you’re selling several different products where time pressures vary.

Also check on the tracking and insurance services carriers offer. Most carriers should offer shipment tracking so that both you and your customer can see where your products are, but the accuracy and detail of services can vary significantly. As for insurance, it makes sense to protect yourself against loss or damage, but coverage is not usually included as standard in shipping charges. Make sure you understand what insurance covers – and factor the cost into overall price comparisons.

Dealing with customs and duties

One important service your carrier should be able to provide is advice and assistance on how to deal with customs when your goods arrive in the U.K. The rules can get quite complex, but they’re important to understand because your goods won’t be released to your customer until you’ve met the requirements.

The first question is whether you or your customer are acting as the “importer of record” for the purposes of dealing with customs. Most retailers in the U.K. will expect you to take on this role – in which case you will be responsible for complying with all the rules.

If so, your business will need to have an “EORI” number in order to import goods into the U.K. – apply for one here – and a registration for VAT, the tax that is payable on sales of most goods and services in the U.K. (apply here). The importer of record is responsible for paying import VAT when bringing goods into the country (you then charge this cost to your customer), though many food and drink products are zero-rated.

There may also be customs duties to be paid on your products. The amount due will depend on the nature of the product and whether you are based in a country that has a preferential trade deal with the U.K. You can check the commodity code for your product here – this is the code that determines what duty must be paid.

As well as settling any VAT or customs duties due, you’ll need to make sure your products are accompanied by the right paperwork. You’ll typically require a commercial invoice, a certificate of origin showing where the goods are from, a bill of lading, and a packing listing. But you may also need extra documents such as health and sanitary certificates for certain foodstuffs. You can find out exactly what is required here.

How to reduce freight costs

Many producers selling to the U.K. for the first time are happy to pay a little more for professional support as they get used to the process. For example, you may want to work with a customs agent, as well as a shipping company, to help you navigate through the U.K.’s customs procedures. But over time, as you start to feel more comfortable with selling to the U.K., your focus will naturally move on to reducing the cost of shipping.

There are lots of potential opportunities here. Some are practical – reducing packaging sizes in order to secure lower rates, for example, or reducing the cost of packaging. Some carriers offer low-price or even free packaging materials, particularly to small business customers.

It may also be possible to reduce costs by organising your shipping more effectively. Sending fewer larger orders, say, is likely to prove cheaper than a lot of smaller shipments, depending on what you’ve agreed with your customer. As your sales increase, moreover, you may be entitled to volume discounts for spending more with a carrier.

Another possibility is a hybrid approach. For example, buying insurance from a third-party specialist, rather than your carrier can save money. Using a combination of carriers can also reduce cost – you pick the cheapest carrier to get your goods into the U.K., say, but then shop around for a more affordable last-mile agent.

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