Sunday, February 19, 2012

International Postage and a Lost Package

In January, the United States Postal Service greatly increased the cost of Priority Mail International postage. The increase is enough that I am having to use a different strategy when figuring postage quotes to international buyers.

When international buyers purchase just a few books, the books can be mailed via First Class International mail. This method keeps the cost at a reasonable level. The postage is still expensive, as international postage always is, but most buyers are willing to pay the cost. The trouble is when the package ends up weighing more than four pounds.

All international packages weighing more than four pounds are required to be sent via Priority Mail International, which is very expensive, and most buyers balk at those prices. I tend to lose most all sales in which the packages end up weighing more than four pounds. This was even a problem before the recent rate hike.

I usually use the Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate box for international transactions, since the postage is a set amount and not based on weight. The medium flat rate box has a maximum weight of 20 pounds for international, so if a buyer is purchasing 10 pounds' worth of books that fit in the box, the savings is huge.

Unfortunately, most buyers want to purchase books that weigh a total of four to six pounds. For that weight range, priority mail is the only option and is far too expensive. This makes for many lost orders.

I can save many of those orders, even though I have to go to more trouble. By splitting the books up into two packages, I can get around the four pound limit, and the postage cost is significantly lower. Here is a recent example.

A buyer wanted to purchase seven Nancy Drew books that weighed 4 pounds 4 ounces. With packaging, the books would have weighed up towards five pounds. Priority mail international in the medium flat rate box to Canada would have cost $32.95 (PMI medium flat rate to all other countries is now $47.95.). Instead, I weighed two books and then the remaining five books.

I figured out that the total postage cost for two packages via first class international was $23.00, and this quote included the cost of two boxes, since I have to use my own boxes for first class. The savings was $10.00. The savings could have been $12.00 if I had extra used boxes to recycle. I try to save a few Amazon boxes when possible for international transactions, but I have no extras at present.

I plan to use this method for all future transactions when the package weight is slightly more than four pounds.

Several weeks ago, I wrote on my Facebook page about a lost package. The package still has not arrived, and I have strong doubts that the package ever will arrive. I have mailed out thousands of packages in the last 15 years, and this will most likely be the very first lost package.

The package was mailed January 5, and the delivery confirmation showed the normal information up until a scan on January 10 at a USPS sorting center in the buyer's home state. The sorting center is within 50 miles of the final destination and was probably the last stop before the package would have reached the buyer's post office. The tracking information ended at that sorting center with no updates since January 10.

I assumed the worst as soon as the buyer contacted me weeks ago. The fact that the package has not been scanned since it was at that sorting center is a very bad sign. I refunded the buyer's money a couple of weeks ago. The total was around $80 for a book that I cannot replace for the buyer. No examples are up for sale on the internet. The buyer will probably spend a couple of years trying to find another. This is very disappointing.

I waited around one week from the time the buyer contacted me about the lost package before refunding the money. I almost did it instantly, since the delivery confirmation ended so abruptly. I decided to wait a week just in case, then I felt that I needed to refund the money before any more time passed.

Many sellers like to claim that they are not responsible for the package once it is mailed. In truth, the seller is always responsible for making certain that the buyer receives his or her purchase and is satisfied. While I did not like having to refund the buyer's money, I owed the buyer since I was unable to get the book to the buyer. Certainly, whatever happened to the package was not my fault, but the buyer was also not at fault. The responsibility always rests on the seller's shoulders.


Donna said...

As a Canadian buyer, I really appreciate the effort sellers make to reduce shipping costs. Many times the shipping cost of books I purchase almost doubles their total cost. It's frustrating, and I frequently don't buy books I'd like to have because of it. C'est la vie! (Even so, U.S. shipping costs to Canada remain lower than Canadian domestic rates, so I still prefer U.S. purchases.) Thanks for your consideration, Jennifer - much appreciated!!

Chris said...

That's a great idea about dividing up the packages for international shipping! I don't have control over shipping costs, but I always find myself apologizing to international customers when I give them a quote for shipping. I'll have to remember this and offer to divide the books up and send First Class. Thanks for the idea, Jennifer.

Paula said...

Did your lost package ever get to the buyer? I've had this happen to me before - after what seemed like a really long time, all of a sudden the scanning info started again and the buyer received the package, thankfully, undamaged. This was still in the timeframe for media mail packages, but I know it was held up and took three times as long as it normally would. Never found out why, but I was glad it did find its way to its destination. Were you able to get your money back from seller's protection? I guess Bonanza doesn't offer seller's protection, but I believe Paypal does. Now this has me wondering if Google Checkout and Amazon offer seller's protection? I'll have to check that out.

Jennifer White said...

The package has not surfaced, and it has been missing since January 10. While it could still arrive, I think it is gone.

This was an eBay transaction. I'm just lucky that the buyer was somebody who contacted me instead of filing a case against me. It could have wrecked my Seller Dashboard, but at least that didn't happen.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't seller protection for when buyers file claims? I didn't have a claim filed against me. If I had insured the package, I could have filed a claim with USPS, but I did not have insurance.

I don't think insurance is worth it except for transactions of around $200 or higher. I have saved a ton on not paying for insurance, which in a sense covers the $80 loss.

Chris said...

Jennifer, have you tried filling out a form with your local post office? I have done this a few times, both as seller and buyer, and they have tracked the package down for me. You fill out info. for sender and addressee, describe the box and the contents and put in tracking # if any, and any other information.

A few months ago I had a large package of ND books coming to me and within 3 or 4 days the tracking # showed they were in Illinois, up near Chicago. Then, like yours, nothing. A week went by, 2 weeks, 3 weeks. No updates and no package. I mentioned it to my local PO ladies (the best!) and they said wait the 21 business days then fill out a form. So I did and within 3 days of filling out the form, guess what was on my doorstep!

The tracking was never updated; it just arrived within 3 days. Who knows if I would ever have received it if I hadn't filled it out. And who knows where it was! Sitting in a corner somewhere maybe. Anyway, its worth giving it a try.

Paula said...


Of course, you are right about seller protection. I don't know what I was thinking. :/

But as Chris pointed out, you might have some luck lighting a fire under the Post Office, as their own records show they didn't do what they were paid to do - deliver the package. Although it's not much, you probably can get your ebay fees back also, since you have proof of refunding the buyer's money and an undelivered package. I know I would apply for a fee refund out of principle, lol!

Jennifer White said...

Good news! The package I mailed in early January that had disappeared has now been delivered to the buyer. It only took 2 1/2 months! Apparently, the shipping label got torn off, and they found the buyer's address inside. I am so glad that I have included packing slips inside my packages for the last several years.