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How to grab a slice of the US import market
Alexandra Dominguez
Alexandra Dominguez
7 min read
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Is exporting to the USA part of your growth strategy? It should be. Home of Amazon, eBay and Black Friday, it’s no surprise that it is one of the world’s biggest e-commerce markets. In fact, it sits only behind China in the world rankings, with annual revenue in 2023 expected to reach US$915 billion1

The good news for your business? Consumers there are well versed in shopping from cross-border brands, so all you need is an international shipping partner and you can take a slice of the very lucrative pie! Read on as we explore how to export to the USA, including the consumer trends and insights that will help your business tap into this thriving market.

MARKET OVERVIEW

A trillion-dollar economy on the horizon

Over the next five years, the USA’s e-commerce market is forecast to grow 64.76%, to hit a peak of 1.5 trillion dollars in 2028(2).

A thriving customer base…

As of 2023, the country’s e-commerce penetration rate sits at a healthy 75%(3). With a population of over 340 million(4), that means a lot of potential customers for your business!

…with money to spend!

In 2024, average revenue per e-commerce user in the USA is expected to be $4235.12(5) – and it’s set to keep growing!

Where does the USA import from the most?

The country is the world's largest importer of goods, followed by China and Germany6.

USA’s top trading partners in 2022, by import value (in billion US dollars)7

DOING BUSINESS IN THE USA: CONSUMER TRENDS

Where do consumers in the USA shop online?

Online marketplaces can be a helpful gateway for cross-border businesses wishing to sell to a new country for the first time.

Here are the most popular marketplaces in the USA, based on share of visits (April 2023)8:

What are they buying?

The variety of products that can be purchased online in America is continuously growing. Within the US consumer base, clothing and shoes stand out as the top two preferred categories for online transactions. 

Most popular categories for online purchases in the USA, as of September 20239

(% of respondents who had purchased from that category in the previous 12 months)

How do American consumers like to pay for their online purchases?

Consumers in the USA favor mobile wallets and credit cards over other payment methods, likely due to the widespread popularity and positive user experiences associated with mobile payment apps such as Paypal.

After all, research shows that 61% of e-commerce shoppers will abandon their cart if they cannot pay using their preferred payment method10.

Market share of payment methods in e-commerce in the USA (2022)(11)

What do American online shoppers care about?       

Excellent/personalized customer service

In a US consumer survey, this was considered by respondents to be the main thing online retailers should prioritize.12

Fast and free shipping

90% of US online shoppers expect two- to three-day delivery as a baseline, whilst 30% look for a same-day service at checkout. 66% expect free delivery on all orders.13

Sustainability

62% of American consumers say that sustainability is an important consideration when they shop online, whilst 27% would be prepared to pay more for green delivery. 14

AI-enhanced shopping experiences

74% of US shoppers said they’re interested in using generative AI to obtain detailed information about products they’re considering buying.15 The technology is particularly appealing to Gen Z: 55% would like an AI assistant to simplify product discovery, whilst 51% want to try augmented and virtual reality experiences.16

Leading shopping holidays in the USA

Be sure to add these dates to your marketing and sales calendar so your business can prepare and cash in!

During the long weekend, many retailers run sales to shift leftover Christmas stock.

A time for people to celebrate their mothers and spoil them with flowers, chocolates and jewelry.

The Dads need some attention, too! They get their own day in June.

Actually a two-day event, this global sales bonanza attracts record numbers of shoppers through the e-commerce giant’s online doors.

The spookiest day of the year is a big deal in America. Join in the fun to get your brand noticed.

Originating in America, this sales weekend has now evolved into a global phenomenon. Be prepared to offer significant deals and discounts if you’re to stand out amidst fierce competition. 

December entails a flurry of festive shoppers looking for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. And don’t forget about Super Saturday – the last Saturday before the big day when last-minute shoppers spend big bucks.

ENTERING THE MARKET

Exporting to the USA: required documentation

When shipping internationally, there are several pieces of documentation commonly required to clear your goods through customs smoothly and help authorities determine what import taxes and duties are due:

  • Commercial Invoice
  • Bill of Lading
  • Air Waybill
  • Certificate of Origin
  • Export and Import Licenses
  • Export Packing List
  • Insurance Certificate

This dedicated guide goes into detail on each document, including what information you’ll need to complete it.

While proper documentation helps prevent customs delays, it is also important to be familiar with the customs clearance entry types and processes. Depending upon the shipment’s value, commodity and entry type, the customs clearance process will vary.

  • De Minimis ($800 USD) – this entry type is part of a consolidated pre-clearance using manifest data.
  • Informal ($801- $2,500 USD) – this entry type clears customs as part of an informal manifest clearance managed under a DHL bond. Duty payment may be required depending upon the classification.
  • Formal (Over $2,501 USD) – this entry type requires formal entry process. Shipments are held for separate Automated Broker Interface (ABI) entry. Duty and Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF) payment is required.    

Prohibited commodities

Several commodities are not permitted for shipment by DHL under any circumstances, following full consideration by the operational, legal and risk management teams. They include animals, hazardous or combustible materials, and illegal narcotics. The full list can be found here.

Useful resources  

DHL’S expert tips for exporting to the USA

  • Ensure you provide complete, accurate and compliant information on the shipment’s Waybill and Customs/Commercial Invoice to avoid it being delayed at customs.
  • Provide an accurate and detailed goods description on the Commercial Invoice. Generic descriptions such as "samples" or "spare parts" are not sufficient. 
  • Consider shipping your goods as Duties & Taxes Paid (DTP). Whilst the payment of duties and taxes on international shipments is typically the responsibility of the receiver – i.e., your customer – DHL does offer a DTP service to account holders. This means DHL will invoice the shipper (your business) to cover the costs. The benefit of this is the end customer will not receive an unexpected tax bill when their package arrives at customs – which may damage their opinion of your brand.

Thinking of exporting to the USA?

You’re in the right place! We know that the above guidelines may seem a little overwhelming, but that’s where partnering with DHL will pay off. As international shipping experts, we’ll support you through all customs procedures so that your shipment avoids delays. Sell to the world with DHL!

Start your journey here