Shipping Globally Revisited
By Renée Magriel Roberts
Over the last few years we have been steadily increasing our capacity to handle overseas sales. In an increasingly global marketplace, this seemed not only prudent, but also absolutely necessary.
I've dealt with many of the challenges we have faced in previous columns on global trading, currency conversion, and insurance. After now having had some experience with developing shipping alternatives, this is the topic on which I'd like to focus.
Like many other booksellers, we began by using the obvious: the United States Postal Service. While the USPS had a surface mail alternative (remember the m-bag?), there was an economical way to ship heavier parcels. However, with the demise of surface mail services, we were forced to seek out other sources, and this has proved to be advantageous, if somewhat frustrating.
We began by signing up with UPS, and I wrote an entire column on their services. While the domestic Mail Innovation service has value, it took about a year for UPS to contact me after my initial contact - that is over a year! Awful service, so I sought a different source.
Our objective was to find a reliable overseas shipper that could save us money over USPS prices, while offering comparable priority service as well as a still lower cost "standard" air mail service that took a bit longer. We settled on FedEx International services.
The effectiveness of sales from shippers largely depends upon where you are located. While UPS took over a year to sign us up from first contact, just about the next day two FedEx sales executives came to our door. They had two tiers of prices based upon the length of time to delivery (5-10 days, 10-15 days), both below the USPS. Plus, they offered free shipping from our shop via FedEx Express to their Newark sorting facility. From there the parcels fly to their respective countries and are put into the local mail system.
To prepare a FedEx package, we have to apply a full address and return address, as well as a customs slip. Packages are put together in a FedEx-supplied waterproof mailer with an outside manifest. We put internal shipping references on each manifest so that we can track which of our orders went into each package, so there is a bit more work involved on the packaging side. They charge for fractions of a pound, so there are savings not only in the basic rates, but also savings because they do not round up.
While the prices are good, perhaps the only disadvantage we can see is that FedEx billing is hard to match against specific packages. Unlike a lot of FedEx web services it is not particularly user-friendly.