EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 273 - October 24, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 6

Consolidators Help Online Sellers Save Money on International Shipping

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Selling internationally opens up a new revenue stream for online sellers, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Some sellers have discovered a way to save money and streamline their international orders using international mail consolidators - and last week, online marketplace Alibris announced it would do the same.

Consolidators offer a full range of shipping services and can help online merchants take advantage of postage discounts that they would not qualify for individually. And the good news is that even low-volume sellers can take advantage of such services.

David Morey of Poverty Hill Books uses International Delivery Solutions (IDS) to send his international orders. Poverty Hill Books is a small independent book store located in Chicago, Illinois specializing in new and used academic scholarly titles, hard to find, rare out-of-print books.

Morey sends his books via USPS Priority International and said his international shipping costs are running 35-40% less than last year before he began using IDS; previously he shipped directly through the U.S. Postal Service. An advantage to using IDS, Morey said, is being able to offer over-sized and heavier books to international customers, which before was cost prohibitive. He expects his international business to grow as a result of using the service.

"There are additional services with extra charges for such things as having IDS print your labels and customs forms," he said, but sellers can avoid these charges by doing it themselves before shipping packages to IDS. "These extras are clearly spelled out so there are no surprises," he said.

Because of the volume of mail they process, IDS and other mail consolidators are able to negotiate extremely low rates with the postal service and work with postal services in other countries.

What if you don't have many international orders? There are no minimum volume requirements for using IDS. An IDS spokesperson said IDS charges mailers by the pound with rates varying according to the package's destination, and said economy FedEx can also be an option for online merchants looking to ship overseas.

David Morey has one caveat about using international mail consolidators. "You can't insure your parcels through USPS by going through a consolidator such as IDS as you can with USPS directly." He continues to ship directly through USPS for more valuable shipments - over $30, he said - if the book can safely fit into a flat rate mailer with additional protection such as a book-fold mailer.

Online marketplace Alibris is also taking advantage of mail consolidation services. It had previously required its marketplace sellers to send international orders along with customs paperwork to its Nevada warehouse (it paid the seller's cost of domestic shipping). Upon receipt, Alibris would then open, sort and ship the orders to the end customer.

Last week, it changed this policy after contracting with Brokers Worldwide. Under the new policy, sellers no longer need to fill out customers paperwork, and they ship all international orders to one of two Brokers Worldwide locations, one located east of the Mississippi, the other to the west.

Mark Nason, Vice President of Operations for Alibris, said one advantage to sellers is that the packages do not have to be opened and then repackaged before forwarding to the customer. Nason said they listened to sellers' feedback, including making it easier to ship to Canada. Previously merchants shipped products to Canada themselves; now they send it to one of the new centers. Alibris will no longer pick up the tab for sending international orders to one of the warehouses. Merchants will instead pay for domestic shipping and will receive back shipping credits from Alibris.

In August, I wrote about Bongo, which takes a different approach to helping merchants by targeting international shoppers. For online sellers who want international sales but don't want to deal with international shipping, Bongo's mail forwarding service is worth exploring.

There are many international mail consolidators, including the following; determine if you meet their minimum requirements and get quotes and references to help you decide if consolidators are right for your business.

International Delivery Solutions - link

Brokers Worldwide - link

DHL GlobalMail Parcel - link

FedEx SmartPost to Canada - link (also see ShipWorks with FedEx Shipping - link)

ParcelPool to Europe - link

Pitney Bowes Small Package Mail Service - link

UPS Mail Innovations - link


About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.


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