Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Ins, Outs and Vagaries of the Postal System

A lovely lady contacted me via my Etsy shop today, asking about this book:

This is my Birds and Flowers guest book, with a moss green and natural linen Coptic stitch binding.

She would like to buy the book, but needs it (in NY, USA) before 30th March.  The enquiry was whether this is possible. 

Sounds simple - that is 15 days' time and normal postage takes 7-10 days for delivery in most of USA. 

Except... just before Christmas, lots of Etsians were reporting that items ordered from non-US shops, for delivery to USA addresses, were not arriving.  Customers were upset and asking for refunds.  In some cases that I heard, items posted at the beginning of December had not even arrived by end of January - and they had been ordered for Christmas presents. 

What was going on?  It turns out that US Customs had been keeping items back in much larger volumes, for extra security checks.  I believe there was a perceived bomb threat, or similar, so they needed to check more items.  This caused a huge backlog, which meant that lots of items just never arrived... Etsy shops were losing money, having to refund customers and/or re-make and re-send missing items.  We were warned about this problem by Etsy and other Etsy sellers, and advised to pass on the information to customers.

And no-one has yet confirmed that the problem is resolved... so, I have had to tell this customer that I can't be sure of the item arriving in time, though so far I haven't had any items go missing.

She asked if I could look into ways to speed up delivery (aside of the possibility of Customs delays).  I looked on the Royal Mail website and found prices for various postage options.

Assuming the parcel would weigh up to 320g:

Option 1 - Standard Airmail postage.  Target 7-10 day delivery to US addresses (most of them).  Not insured, no signature on delivery. Not tracked. Cost, £4.71 ($7.66).

Option 2 - International Signed For delivery.  This is an enhanced Airmail service.  Delivery still 7-10 days. Compensation for lost items (up to £41 - 100 times cost of a 1st class stamp).  Signature on delivery.  Tracked within UK, but not in destination country.  Cost, an additional £4.95 ($8.05) - so £9.66 total ($15.71).

Option 3 - Airsure.  Priority handling, target up to 1 day sooner than Airmail - ie. 6 days to USA.  Insured up to £41, or extra insurance available for an additional fee.  Tracked through UK and US postal services, with signature on delivery. Cost, £11.05 for my parcel ($18).

All good so far... I recommended Option 3.

Option 4 - Parcelforce Global Priority.  This is a guaranteed delivery service.  The package is tracked the entire way and delivered within 3-4 days, to US addresses (some exceptions).  There is insurance for non-delivery or lost items. Cost for a parcel of 300-310g, £48.09 ($78).  

OUCH!  The book is only $45 (around £28 just now). 

I told the customer I will use this service if she wants, but it will cost her an extra $72 on top of the book price (I factor in packaging and UK postage for many of my books, so the postage for elsewhere is the difference between UK and foreign rates).  Somehow, I don't think she'll fancy paying $117 for this book, however lovely she thinks it is!

There is a further option - Parcelforce Global Express - guaranteed delivery within 1 working day.  Cost? £53.19 ($86.51) for a package of 310g.  Super-Ouch!

I didn't even offer her this one... I wonder why?

I suppose it's nice to know the option of 1-day delivery does exist, should it be needed.  But it still doesn't prevent US Customs from swiping the parcel for Security Checks, should they so desire... and it would have to be a pretty special item to be sent by 1-day express mail at such a huge cost!

The good news though, is that I've probably sold this book - just waiting for the customer to make up her mind, click the green button and pay her pennies... Then I'll make it look nice and send it straight away.  Fingers crossed that US Customs don't fancy a peep and decide to keep it for a month or two!



  1. That's really interesting. Maybe why the Pass the Book took so long to arrive.

  2. Ooh, maybe it is! Another thing I have found out, is that you can send a book as "Printed Paper" and also mark it as a Book on the Customs form. I don't know if it has much effect on Customs as such, but it seems that the postal service treat it slightly differently and will take heavier items within their normal package delivery (5kg max weight, rather than 2kg). Perhaps Customs are nicer to "books" and "Printed paper" items... but who knows!

  3. I also found out just before Christmas that all items being sent into the US that are over 480grams attract a further $10 AUD security tax. I have noticed that postal costs out of Australia are just simply exhorbitant and now sending anything weighty into the US is just ridiculous - though, time frames are reasonably quick, but it seems we pay for it!

  4. I have to say the little parcel I sent to Deb in Arizona recently took about 2 weeks to arrive.....but did arrive safe and sound.

  5. I'm thrilled you have sold this beautiful book Lizzie. Don't get me started on postage; our one and only post office was turned into a hairdressers. Great eh?!!! Have you considered using ARAMEX shop and ship?

    Fingers crossed that your parcel gets there OK.

  6. Yep, don't get me started on parcels to America. As Rinda says, one of the Pass The Books took so long we decided it was lost and I bought another one. And my brother didn't get his Christmas presents until February!

  7. Well I hope the delivery has improved and my book doesn't get swallowed up by the Customs system! I just posted it today, by 6-day tracked delivery, with the customs form filled in properly and everything done right... hope it gets there quickly, as she needs it for 30th March!

  8. Good luck - I do hope it arrives OK! I've had some packages arrive very quickly and others take 2 months when posting overseas - sometimes you can't predict it! I always used the cheaper option though, so the service you're using ought to be fine :-)

  9. I am another one with tales of non-arrivals, though between here and Germany. Even Airsure won't guarantee signed delivery...

  10. Nope, Airsure only offer priority handling and signed-for delivery, to prove it arrived. There is insurance (in UK it is 100x cost of a 1st class stamp!), so if the item is lost, you can claim back the value of the item and your postage cost. If the item is worth more, you can pay extra insurance.
    If you want Guaranteed Delivery, it costs Mega-Bucks (that was the $70+ option!).

  11. I have just found you on Shimelle's 'What have you done...' on Blogging for Beginners. I have signed up for the course and can't wait for it to start! Love your book-and sympathise on the postage bit


  12. I hope it arrives in a timely manner. The stuff I ordered from etsy UK stores arrived fine for Xmas, but they were little things.


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