International Checkout Goes Where Few Shippers Dare

Sending a T-shirt or a pair of jeans overseas can land a retailer into the unfamiliar and occasionally hostile destination of duties, taxes and customs-clearance fees.

International Checkout Inc., a Van Nuys, Calif.–based shipper, has carved a niche of managing international sales and fulfillment for retailers such as Bebe, Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet, Trina Turk, Joe’s Jeans and Kitson. It recently announced that it would be working with high-profile boutique Ron Herman.

Kathy Beteta, International Checkout’s executive vice president, said that the niche has been lucrative for her 11-year-old company. It started as a cottage business that Saskia Chiesa, the company’s founder, headquartered on her living-room table, and it has grown into one that currently employs more than 50 full-time people and maintains a 20,000-square-foot warehouse.

People can send e-cigarettes, car parts, coffee and anything else legal through International Checkout, Beteta said. But the company focuses on fashion and apparel. Chiesa worked as a model and appeared in magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, according to her LinkedIn profile. She started the company after friends in Europe sent requests for jeans and other American fashion items and had hard times navigating customs.

International Checkout’s interest in fashion has an e-commerce edge. The company posts a button to the checkout pages of its partners’ websites. The button gives consumers the option to go to a checkout page hosted by International Checkout, which becomes the merchant of record. International Checkout accepts payment directly. The company also handles taxes, shipping and fulfillment. Beteta said that the company guarantees against fraud. To guard against fraud, the company uses tools—some proprietary—to evaluate whether the consumer and the consumer’s address are valid. International Checkout makes its money by charging fees for shipping and handling.

International Checkout provides a unique service, said Robert Krieger, president of Krieger Worldwide, a customs brokerage headquartered in Carson, Calif. Not many retailers ship internationally, he said. With a service such as International Checkout, retailers can take international sales. While many companies handle business-to-business international shipping, few handle business-to-consumer international shipping. He was not aware of another company where a consumer could purchase products from many retailers and have a third party ultimately ship them overseas.

Judah Phillips, an author of data-analytics books and founder of Boston-area analytics consulting firm SmartCurrent,said that International Checkout’s business can be a bit like negotiating an international crisis.

“E-commerce merchants shipping items to overseas destinations can be challenging but potentially lucrative business propositions if done correctly. Doing so certainly takes planning and a strategy to complete efficiently without negatively impacting the customer experience or reducing the revenue generated by sales from higher-than-expected costs,” he said.