January 24, 2013, 9:19 AM

A discreet retailer attracts online shoppers from abroad

International orders account for 14% of privacy-focused e-retailer PriveCo’s revenue.

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It wasn’t long after PriveCo Inc.’s 1998 launch that it received its first order from an international shopper. The e-retailer, which sells a range of products many consumers tend to keep private, from vibrators to Rogaine, figured out what it had to do to fulfill the order.
While CEO Tom Nardone says the company never specifically pursued international sales, they came anyway. “Our opinion was somebody ordered it. Let’s just ship it. We just started that way,” he says. “To me it was never that hard.”

Over the years, PriveCo, No. 809 in the Second 500 Guide has shipped products to consumers in 74 countries, and Nardone says today 14% of company revenue and 13% of orders shipped come from international customers. Half of the e-retailer’s sales of Rogaine, a medication intended to regrow hair, is shipped to customers overseas, for example. Nardone says that’s because the product is cheaper in the United States than in most other countries.

There have been some bumps along the way, but between working with shipping carriers DHLand the U.S. Postal Service, PriveCo has been able to learn the ways of international shipping. That includes knowing how to prepare packages for shipment, respecting individual countries’ import rules and being ready for customer service questions.

All orders that ship internationally go through several checks before leaving the retailer’s warehouse. After the international order is picked, the order routes through PriveCo’s one full-time customer service staffer who verifies the destination address is valid and formatted correctly. He also pulls together all the necessary documentation, such as the packing list and commercial invoice, which is prepared using either DHL’s free international shipping software or software from the USPS, and verifies that the destination country is one the State Department says is OK to do business with.

That’s not to say there aren’t hiccups. Some of PriveCo’s more risqué products sold on Bachelorette.com are prone to problems with customs. Orders to customers in India, for example, sometimes take 30 days to arrive. PriveCo’s customer service staffer routinely responds to e-mails about delays from international customers. Customer service also has to respond to questions about taxes and duties, which PriveCo does not collect. Customers have to pay any applicable fees upon delivery.

Read more about international shipping in the February issue of Internet Retailer.

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