Dec. 29 2006 12:07 PM

The prospect of sending packages to a neighboring country or around the world can be quite daunting, even for those who do it frequently. The identifiable challenges including customs clearance, tariffs as well as commercial invoices are formidable enough, let alone navigating through the unpredictable obstacles of natural disasters, domestic strikes and more. In international shipping, some providers have no alternative networks to make adjustments, which can result in lengthy delays and even delivery failure altogether.


Now before you give up and stop reading, it is not all doom and gloom; the task of getting your package into another country is easier than it sounds. Similar to the expression in sports, both professional and "amateur" shippers will do well to "get back to the basics." Time and again, most of the frustrations of shipping internationally are due to the neglect of four "Ps" of shipping:  packaging, paperwork, place and providers. Here are some common-sense tips about each that you cannot afford to forget.


Packaging: The Importance of Presentation

In general, there are three things to consider up front:


1. Avoid sending perishable items, such as food and beverages. Unless your core business relates to consumables, you can simplify your shipping by sticking to packaged goods and printed matter.

 2. Printed matter, as opposed to products or goods, is ideal because you rarely have an issue with the shipping. Keep in mind, anything that could be perceived as resalable material could face additional charges or delays.


3. Avoid using wood (i.e. pallets) to ship your parcels. Some countries employ embargoes against wood because of bugs and diseases.


More specific to packaging, here are some timeless tips:


Paperwork: Know What You Need to Provide and Want to Receive

Your service provider should be able to help you through the paperwork required for shipping internationally. For the most part, you only need to complete the provider's own documentation, along with the commercial invoices for customs. Consider, as well, how much information you need about your shipments, such as tracking or proof of delivery.


In addition, here are some extras to consider:


  • Use an address cleansing and formatting service for your international mailing list. Doing so can improve the accuracy at which your packages are delivered.


  • Most service providers can recommend others who offer foreign mailing lists.


  • For items of high value, consider purchasing shipping insurance.


    Place: Destination Countries

    The three most important things to remember about your destination countries are:


    1. No two countries are alike.


    2. All nations are unique.


    3. Every country is different.


    It's a message that bears repeating. Be sure to check with your service provider or the destination country itself for the latest updates to international shipping regulations. Some providers can also help you target and adjust your products toward different cultures and markets. ·


    Providers: Choosing an International

    Shipping Service

    Shippers know that volume is key to being able to get the most out of your service. Just as important, though, is that your provider's delivery network conforms to your expectations. There are basically four types of providers.


    1. Postal authorities have the expertise in your country, bar none. However, their delivery network is usually only domestic, which means all of the responsibility and tracking ability is gone once they give your packages to the destination country's postal authority for delivery.


    2. Wholesalers and consolidators can help you gain the benefits of cheaper rates because of their shipping volumes. However, they rely upon postal authorities and other providers for delivery networks, which also could remove tracking ability.


    3. Express couriers have led the industry with being able to track your packages and deliver them within one or two days worldwide. However, this service can be costly.


    4. International shippers with offices around the world have networks that can offer global tracking, services with more options and flexible delivery times. However, they are not as fast as couriers.


    With regard to networks, be sure to find a provider that has contingencies in place to overcome various events that impact delivery around the world. For instance, if a foreign worker's union goes on strike, can your provider adjust to alternative delivery networks? What if the postal authority in your destination country is unreliable; does your provider have a hand-delivery service that keeps your packages in its own network until final delivery?


    Managing Returns

    So you've remembered your four Ps of shipping and are ready to jump into international markets. Before you get started, though, there is one more consideration: undeliverable parcels. What will you do with returns?


    While packages are returned because of bad addresses, they could also remain undeliverable because of improper address formatting. Don't neglect the use of an address cleansing and formatting service, which will minimize the number of returns in the first place.


    Be sure to check with your service provider about managing your returns. It is possible to get the reason for the return, and then supply your provider with a corrected address for redelivery of the package. Nine times out of 10, your packages could be redelivered, allowing you to maintain your commitment to your customers. Or, at a minimum, you could be collecting back the charges applied for duties and taxes if you are not concerned with final delivery. In some countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, for example, there are laws allowing shippers to collect back duties as well as taxes applied to packages that had passed through customs but that were later found to be undeliverable.


    Remember your four Ps: packaging, paperwork, place and providers, and also be sure to consider returns. Consulting with your provider about how to save more money while increasing reliability will be well worth your time. Shipping packages internationally does not need to instill fear in your heart. On the contrary, a helpful provider can make it much easier than it looks.


    John Sweeney is the vice president of Operations and Service Quality for Spring in the Americas. Spring is a joint venture company formed by TPG, Royal Mail Group plc and Singapore Post. For more information, please call toll-free 800-345-5577, or send an e-mail to Spring in the Americas at or you can visit

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