Friday, June 17, 2011

Shipping -- Free, Included, Domestic, International

Shipping, especially international shipping is a topic that continual comes up in discussion in a few business forums we are part of.  While discussed often it is always something that is returned to time and time again, with a few running themes.  I am going to spend a bit of time on each shipping topic I have seen or been involved with the discussion on, with a great deal of time dedicated to the complicated international shipping challenges that face sellers based in the United States.

--- The first topic that seems to come up for new sellers, is whether or not to charge shipping to customers or not.  Shipping has to be paid, but what sellers have to ask themselves is what is the perceived value?  If the customer thinks free shipping offers them a greater value, then they will always choose to shop from sellers who don't visibly charge shipping.

For me free shipping isn't about perceived value as I know somewhere along the way I am paying shipping.  It is just easier when shopping with a set budget to deal with sellers who don't charge shipping, so I don't have to attempt to add the shipping in as I go when shopping.  Basically it is easier to stay within my own budget when I don't have to worry about shipping being added.

--- In conjunction with Free Shipping the topic of accurate verbiage seems to come up just as often.  Whether it is better to have the verbiage read free shipping or shipping included.   The consensus seems to be that it is dishonest to list free shipping when it is included in pricing.

Yet, my view is that the buying public is intelligent and that on-line shopping has been around long enough that everyone knows shipping is built in somewhere if it isn't being visibly charged at the end.  Shoppers know that lights, bags, shelving, heating, water, sewer and employee labour is being factored into the pricing when they are shopping at a brick and mortar store, yet it isn't posted.  Why should it be any different for an on-line business? On-line sellers have the same overhead, just on a much, much smaller scale.

---International Shipping

Shoppers in other countries do not understand why so many U.S. sellers make the choice to Not ship international.  There are a lot of factors to consider and we looked at them all before deciding that international shipping was not for us on a regular basis at this time.  At Entwined Vines we are currently not set up for International Shipping and that is stated in our policies.

Let me try and explain some of the challenges facing a seller shipping to outside of the U.S.:

-- Each country has a package size limit. 
Meaning that if the dimensions exceed the allowable they are rejected.  If the weight limit of the package exceeds the maximum it is rejected.  Usually at that point depending on the country the package is chucked and not returned to the sender.

-- First class USPS international .
has four different types of pricing, within those there are nine different lists of countries to choose from.  It can weigh no more than 64 ounces, be of no more than 24 inches long, and cannot exceed 36 inches in combined length, height, & depth.  

-- Priority Mail USPS
has 17 different price lists, countries are assigned  a number and you have to choose.  It cannot exceed 42 inches in length, 79 inches in length plus girth combined. As well as weight limits which vary from country to country.   Tracking is not available with this type of shipping.

And that is the easy part in regards to international shipping.  There are more options, but I won't bore you by discussing all of them.  They tend to all run the same guidelines in regards to weight restrictions and multiple pricing methodologies.

--- Where it really gets complicated is in the restrictions of what can and cannot be shipped to other countries and their requirements, especially in regards to jewelry.  I understand why some of the restrictions are in place for jewelry.   Stop and think about it gemstones, gold, silver, and other metals act as currency.  Importing them in the form of jewelry, while seemingly innocent can have an effect on economies, if a person chooses to dismantle the jewelry.   How often in our history have we heard of women selling their jewelry to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads.  As the cost of metals goes up it is a lot of money that can be lying around in one's jewelry box.

Here is a direct quote for Canada to give you a better idea of what US sellers are limited to when it comes to international shipping on Jewelry.  The guidelines for Canada are a couple of pages long, so I am only quoting the specific information in regards to jewelry.


Under Prohibitions
*Gold bullion, gold dust, and nonmanufactured precious metals.

*Coins; banknotes; currency notes; securities payable to bearer; traveler’s checks; gold, silver, platinum, manufactured or not; jewelry; and other valuable articles may be sent only in registered items.

*Precious stones, set or not set; all items used as dress ornaments and coming under the term “jewelry” including articles of gold or other precious metal for personal use such as cigarette holders, cases, powder cases, card cases, opera glasses, fountain pens, watches, etc., are permitted in insured parcels provided the articles have value not over $5 U.S. A parcel containing a number of such articles valued at $5 or less may be insured for the total value of the contents up to a maximum of $200.

Let me give you an idea, shipped a package to Italy last December, less than 16 ounces, the insurance on that package was 23.00.  Not an expense that a small business owner can absorb and not an expense I can imagine many customers being willing to pay.

This also doesn't cover what happens on the customers end, when they receive the package as far as tariffs and duty taxes.   I know that when I visited Canada and made purchases, had to go through customs and pay those costs, I would think it would be the same in all countries.  However, I could be wrong.

You can see the full list of International Shipping Guidelines here.

I did not write this to whine or complain about the difficulties of shipping international.  Nor was it written to justify why we currently do not ship international.    My intent in writing this was to give international buyers a better understanding of why so many artisan's in the handmade community whom are based in the U.S. choose not to ship international.

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