Online Sellers Find International Alternative to USPS
By Greg Holden
Ecommerce is all about matching the product to the market. But what happens if you have enthusiastic buyers for your product overseas who won't buy your great product because of high shipping costs? For New Jersey-based John Loughlin, whose family has developed an innovative high-tech bike lock, the answer is a shipping service based in - believe it or not - Sweden.
Loughlin is president and owner of Stanton Concepts, which sells the Tigrlock Titanium Bike Lock. Tigrlock is lighter than the conventional U-shaped lock and can lock both of a bike's wheels to the frame without removing them (it can lock the helmet, too). Loughlin estimates that 30 percent of his Tigrlock customers are overseas. (Tigrlock has a website in Japanese (www.tigrlock.jp), so it's likely many of them are in Japan.) A Tigrlock kit can cost $200; shipping to Japan, as calculated on the company's website, costs $50.
Loughlin says his overseas shipping costs are $30 lower than they would be with the United States Postal Service (USPS) thanks to Direct Link, the U.S.-based subsidiary of Sweden Post, which has been in existence longer than the USPS (it dates to the 1600s).
About 4 or 5 years ago, Direct Link decided to concentrate on the end user, including online merchants, and revamped its services two years ago. If you are a "known shipper" with an EIN number, you can use Direct Link for overseas shipping too, including eBay sellers. (If you aren't yet a "known shipper," Direct Link will help you become one.) The advantage? "We get big savings on international shipping and they also provide fulfillment services," Loughlin explains.
Features like free returns, personalized customer service, and consistent shipping times aren't usually possible with the USPS or other shippers. But Direct Link offers them all, according to Direct Link's Account Manager Ronald Russo, who is based in New Jersey.
According to Russo, these and other features make Direct Link an attractive option for U.S. merchants who want to reach overseas buyers. "Our clients' shipments are mailed out with the Swedish stamp and our items, once received in the country of destination, follow the same delivery process as USPS or any other post item would. As such, we are a true alternative to using USPS when shipping abroad," he says.
Direct Link has three locations in the U.S.: Los Angeles, Chicago, and the New Jersey area. If you live in one of those areas, you obviously have an advantage. But if you don't, Direct Link includes the cost for you to send your package to one of its locations in its shipping price. Russo says the company has clients across the U.S. who do so. When a package lands in the destination country, it's handed off to the local postal service for customs clearance and is delivered by the local post office. Duties and taxes are at the discretion of that postal authority, just as it is for packages sent via USPS. Customers can track, insure and require signature on delivery for your items if they wish.
Russo lists the following additional features sellers should consider:
- Lower shipping costs: Russo estimates that Direct Link costs an average of 20 to 50 percent less than other shippers.
- Lines of credit: Direct Link clients can operate on a line of credit if they like. This can help smooth out a companies' cash flow.
- TSA certification: Direct Link employees are certified by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and follow government mandated rules and regulations.
- No minimum volume requirements: Clients range from those shipping 10 packages a week to others who ship thousands.
- Customer service: Each customer is assigned an account representative who responds to questions or resolves problems that a shipper may have.
When you first hear about Direct Link, you might think that as a Swedish shipping service, it only ships to Sweden or perhaps to Europe, but Direct Link covers 193 countries. You might also think it is a new operation, but the service has been operating in the U.S. since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan opened the international shipping market to foreign competitors.
Above all, Russo advertises Direct Link as a viable alternative to the USPS. "Try calling USPS with a problem; you are lucky if they even know who you are," he says.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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