The Flip-Side: So Much For Global Selling

Stylized US map

A couple of weeks ago, Anthony, of UK Fountain Pens, wrote about his problems with international buying. The article struck a nerve with me, although from the flip-side: international selling. There is a distinct difference – I’m in the US, not the UK.

Being in the United States, I have it pretty good with buying internationally. I can purchase fountain pens without any added customs duties or fees. I’ve never paid any added taxes/duties, and delivery is usually pretty quick. (Any fountain pen under $800 is duty-free, or at least it was a couple of years ago when I checked, and I never get a surcharge from USPS.) While it can vary, shipping charges from established overseas retailers are very reasonable.

But selling is a different story, and I had to cut back, and then eliminate, the pens I’m willing to ship internationally. In my last batch of pens, I decided that if I was selling the pen for $200 or more, I would offer it internationally. Although now I don’t think even that would be worth my aggravation.

One annoyance is the drastic increase in shipping costs over the last few years. While USPS is still the lowest cost option by far, I can’t help but feel buyer’s think I’m profiting by the shipping charge that I quote, despite the charge being at cost and actually below cost once PayPal fees are added on. Most international buyers decide not to buy once they see the shipping cost. Since the pens I sell aren’t expensive, shipping is a significant piece of the total buyer cost. PayPal charges their fees on shipping, and fees are often higher for many countries. So I make less on international sales unless I add a surcharge to cover the additional fees, which means I can no longer say “international shipping is at cost.” Plus, PayPal hates calling out charges tied to their fees. I could probably still truthfully say “at cost”, but proving it would be difficult since I can’t point the buyer to the USPS website. In addition, calculating all that is a time-consuming PITA. Since the pens I sell on this site are priced low (IMO), there’s not a lot of wiggle room to absorb fees. I price them low because sales through this site are typically smooth and problem-free and I figure the buyer will use the pen.

While shipping costs are a significant annoyance, my main gripe is with the USPS international depot in New York, which processes all of my international mail. When I lived in Middletown, CT, more than one package would come to me via Middletown, NY, adding a couple of days to the transit. This, despite the correct zip code being on the package, and in one case being of significantly larger size than the city and state.

Outgoing mail enters the depot, and if it’s a basic first class package only seems to come out when it’s number is picked by a random number generator. I’ve had outgoing parcels sit there for two or three weeks. USPS will not research the package since it’s the basic rate, and there’s no tracking insurance. They also sought to prove the stereotype that Americans are geographically challenged by sending a Germany bound pen to Canada. Canada was in no hurry to send it back, and that delivery took so long it dropped off tracking, but it did eventually arrive.

The solution to the outgoing mail problems is to ship using at least Priority Mail with insurance and tracking. This adds significantly to the cost, but at least USPS will look for a missing/delayed package within a relatively short time-frame. I had a box magically leave the international depot the day after I filed an insurance claim. While not perfect, insured/tracked packages usually travel problem-free.

As for the buyer accepting responsibility for lost/missing packages, I have a couple of problems with this. One, I’d have to use PayPal F&F or another service that provides no buyer protection. If I were a buyer, I wouldn’t want to do this. Two, my experience says there’s a good chance that any untracked/uninsured package will cause a lot of angst as it works its way through USPS. And, despite the warnings, the buyer would still blame me.

So I’ve decided not to sell internationally. Since I’ve never had a problem once the pen leaves the US, I can’t exclude specific “problem” countries. The problem country is my own, so international isn’t worth the aggravation.