International Shipping – What I Have Learnt

Shipping anywhere, even locally is arguably the most ‘dangerous’ part of our trade. International shipping however is in its own league. It is cause for such anxiety and fear among some dealers that many I know, in the continental USA, will not ship abroad, period. I have found though that most of the stress, pain and suffering can indeed be minimized and this blog will try to explain how.

Though I have never been offended by my American colleagues who had fixed policies that they would only ship within the USA or Canada (alright I was once, I emailed a gentleman on Ebay all excited to bid on an item I had been looking for and asked if he could ship internationally, offering to pay a large amount to do so, the reply a single NO!) I myself have not had the luxury of being able to shrink my business world so small. I am a bit of a globe trotter and currently reside in Jerusalem, Israel, so for me to try and concentrate my buying and selling in a place with 7 million people would be rather limiting. The trial and error process of working with different shipping companies was painful but thankfully, these days the anxiety I used to have when sending or receiving parcels (especially expensive ones) has all but gone away.

In short, if you are going to be sending all over the world use a private company, be it FedEx, UPS or DHL (The Big Three). Here are the main reasons in my opinion why:

First, delivery speed all of The Big Three pretty much keep to their promised delivery time (give or take a day). This for me is very important, because when it comes to my clientele many of them are buying gifts and should items not arrive when they are supposed to, well that wonderful birthday present will just never get there (let’s not even discuss late anniversary gifts). In addition, as a seller I need my stock ASAP! Wasted days in transit mean wasted potential days for selling. Just to put things into perspective a box sent to me recently with USPS (their highest priority service with tracking and signed for) that was running late arrived after 27 working days (it on average takes 12-15 working days), a similar box sent with UPS arrived after 3 and when running late due to a storm arrived after 5. Similarly, I received a parcel recently from Royal Mail (United Kingdoms USPS equivalent). It arrived at the high end of its average time i.e. after 10 days (I happened to return the item and did so with UPS, the item arrived there within 23 hours). My all time favorite situation was a book sent with USPS that arrived here after a week and then sat in their depot for six days (after clearing customs) before they delivered it to me (they weren’t short of any information apparently there was just some “priority delay”, whatever that means).

Secondly we have the issue of tracking. when you send with USPS or Royal Mail internationally, (please understand that though I fully recommend you send with tracking and sign for, it does make the box more important to them) the tracking will not be updated regularly, especially since both of those companies (just like EMS the Israeli equivalent) outsource to a local carrier, and so the relay of information is a lot slower. It has happened a few times where I only find out two days late that they tried to deliver the parcel because I was not home or the cell phone was not provided (it should not come as a surprise that items get lost completely or for a couple of weeks often enough to matter).

Lastly, there is the matter of package TLC (tender loving care). This is a two fold matter, first you have the companies themselves, The Big Three all have their own chartered planes, warehouses, etc. meaning that during the entire process the parcel is handled by a single firm who applies its care policy up and down the entire chain of command where as the other companies such as USPS rely on foreign companies they outsource to, to uphold their standards. That USPS staff are very careful in USA does not mean their ‘ambassadors’ have the same reverence for your beautifully packed parcel marked fragile (everywhere in red!). Then there are the customs who apparently will not open a parcel being delivered by a private shipper unless the scan indicates it has illegal content, where as they will happily open parcels sent by government owned/sponsored postal companies. The logic being that the legal implications can be far worse with private companies. I have not been able to verify the last point as fact, but I will say this I have never received a parcel from The Big Three that has been opened.

But, I am sure many of you are shaking your heads, there is after all a large price difference between the private companies and the postal companies? Here is the exciting bit, if you work regularly with one of The Big Three, they will give you far better pricing. I have used both UPS and DHL often in the past but now use UPS exclusively as their bulk pricing (since I use them so often) is excellent, they pick up at my door for no extra charge and I have a dedicated relationship manager. To put this into perspective it costs me about 10% percent more than I would pay if I was sending with EMS who do not pick up. In addition I give all the vendors I buy from my International UPS number when they ship to me and I pay for shipping when it arrives this has saved me a lot of money as well since a private person sending from e.g.: California might be quoted $100 plus $3 Insurance for every $100 of declared value and I will be charged instead $45 and 1% percent of declared value Insurance for the same parcel.

As a side point, I am still shocked at times by how poorly some people pack goods, to try and save a couple of bucks by sending in a small box when the item is so valuable is beyond me. Most of the shipping companies have very strict rules about paying out insurance. The short of it being if the item can wobble inside the box, does not have at least 2 inches of padding in all directions and isn’t sealed properly you will not be reimbursed. If you hate packing let a professional do it, it is so very much worth it (anyone who has had to try and deal with shipping insurance claims knows how horribly long and bureaucratic it can be). Also if an item is heavy write in big red letters on the box heavy and the same for fragile, it does matter to The Big Three, who will toss to their co-workers seemingly small, light or not easily broke boxes.

It is becoming more and more apparent, that we live in a global village and to limit oneself to a small market is often short sighted and could be financially unwise. Many have had there own little horror stories with different shipping companies but after all has been said and done I am very grateful to have The Big Three for international shipping.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest

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