Thursday, February 1, 2018

Large increase for cheapest international shipping rates

You may have noticed that our base rate for international shipments just went up substantially. Not our fault -- USPS made some dramatic changes as of January 21 that caught many of us by surprise.  In particular, the cheapest method of international shipping, First Class International for Large Envelopes/Flats, can now only be used for documents, not for merchandise. So merchandise, however small, must be sent using the First Class International Package rate, at a minimum cost of $13.30 -- over ten dollars more than the base rate for Large Envelopes/Flats.

Luckily there is something of a workaround, though it seems it is only offered through USPS partners such as and Endicia. For a $2.50 per piece surcharge, the Large Envelopes/Flats rate can be used for merchandise. That brings the total shipping charge to just under $5, but now the items have to be sent to a USPS regional processing center (for us, in New Jersey), where they are relabeled for the international part of their voyage. Since the international label isn't on the package when it is initially mailed here in the USA, neither is the tracking number. Not a huge issue for us, but it's causing concern among eBay sellers: eBay penalizes sellers who don't ship promptly enough, and now packages sent by this method don't get scanned and shown as shipped until they go through the regional processing center. What is of greater concern is that with the service (which we use), the option to automatically email recipients with shipment information is no longer available. This would appear to be a software glitch, but it's still a major inconvenience -- so please bear with us if shipment notifications on international orders don't get sent out as promptly as before.

All in all, this is a most unfortunate change, which will surely hurt American sellers of all sorts of small articles -- quite a contrast to countries that use postal policies to boost exports.

UPDATE: As of February 6, appears to have restored the option to automatically email recipients when sending items by First Class International.

AND MORE: Another aspect of these changes is the implementation of electronic submission of Customs declarations. Instead of the Customs statement being attached to the package prior to our dropping it off at the Post Office, it is now transmitted automatically at the time our shipping label is generated. It is then printed out and attached to the package at the USPS processing center prior to the package being shipped out of the country. The intent is clear enough, and I'm sure the new system will eventually make processing more efficient. I'm not sure the rollout is going all that smoothly, however, as I've read that things have not been going well at some of the regional processing centers,  and I've noticed that several of our recent international packages have been directed not to the nearby New Jersey center used at first, but all the way to the center in California -- even though some of the packages were going to Europe, not Asia.
This is also now affecting the higher classes of international package delivery, not just First Class International. So if your order is being sent by Priority or Express, and the tracking number still shows only "printed", that's why -- rest assured we still deliver all our packages to the Post Office the day the labels are printed, no matter what problems USPS is having with displaying up-to-date tracking information.