Episode 31 – International Shipping

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Hello, and welcome to The Craft Room Podcast. Today let’s talk about international shipping.

I know it’s been a while, but there’s a good reason for that, and part of that reason is the topic of this podcast … international shipping. So, we’ve been in a pandemic, we’re in our second year, and I thought things were looking up. Mail was moving faster, but then last month we had something happen this affecting, certainly us in Australia who are bringing things in from the USA. Around mid October, USPS declared that some of their methods of shipping would be suspended, so they weren’t going to offer all of their usual variants of shipping to Australia, as well as some other countries. But about a week later, the word came that they had suspended all mail delivery to Australia. That meant all parcels and letters. This has affected the craft industry fairly significantly, and it’s affecting anyone who wants to send a care package from the USA to Australia, anyone who is making a purchase from overseas, and especially if you intended to make a purchase for Christmas. I’ve noticed that this has become problematic for myself, as a craft retail store owner, in that at least half a dozen of my suppliers send products to me via USPS. Other suppliers use different courier companies like DHL, UPS and Fed ex, and there are plenty of them, but the suspension of mail to Australia from the US has placed higher demand on these other services, prices are going up and things are slowing down somewhat. But the bigger problem is the prices going up. The reason these other companies can continue to send mail overseas is that they have their own fleet. They have their own trucks, and their own planes, so they’re well organised to send their mail overseas, not relying on the methods that USPS do. I will admit, I am not super researched and up to speed on exactly how USPS works. As far as I can tell, it’s the equivalent to Australia Post for America. 

The other methods of post have been coming through fine, but prices are going up. For example, the way that I’ve noticed this the most has been in two places. The first was when I was at my packaging supplier a couple of weeks ago, and they added a surcharge to my order. They were adding them to all customers orders. It wasn’t much, only $3 which really is a drop in the bucket, but I had heard the owner telling a customer who was in there wrapping up her purchase before I made mine, that the cost of a shipping container (and I don’t know if it’s to rent it, to use it, to process it), but whatever used to cost $2,000 now costs $12,000. That is a 600% increase on the cost of bringing something in, and that’s by sea (which is notoriously less expensive than by air, and all of my product comes by air). So, because there is such high demand right now, everything is going up. A few of my suppliers have also mentioned that costs of products is going to be going up. I’ve been doing this for 7 years now, and some of the companies I have been buying from for 5-6 years, their prices haven’t changed. The price of a 6×4 stamp set has remained the same in the entire time I’ve been with them. So this shipping problem is also creating an increase in costs way down the line. The people who make the materials, wherever they’re getting their raw ingredients from, they’re having to pay more for shipping, therefore it has to be factored into the ingredients, therefore it has to be factored into the manufacturing, then it gets factored into the wholesale price which then has to be factored into the retail price. And there is shipping at every stage of the process, which is just going up and up and up.

The next time I really noticed this was when I placed an order with a company called The Rabbit Hole Designs. Previously they’ve used USPS to ship products to me, which has been really affordable. However, I had to make a decision. Was I going to be proactive or just wait? I have a lot of product that is with several suppliers that has been paid for, and it’s just sitting there because they can’t use their regular shipping for me, so I decided to be proactive. I contacted DHL, which is a private courier company and I opened a business account with them. I am in the throes of having my first order sorted out and picked up, but I honestly have no idea how much that is going to cost me. But, a couple of weeks ago I emailed The Rabbit Hole Designs and said “I know that you usually ship to me via USPS, but is there any chance you could use my account with DHL. I’ll give you the details, you can put the order through.” but unfortunately the answer back that they couldn’t. The DHL account that I have doesn’t work with their systems for their shop. It was a whole thing, and on top of that, they didn’t have this very popular product that everybody wants, that only they sell. The Rabbit Hole Designs came out with this new embossing powder tool, everyone’s raving about and Jennifer McGuire loves it. If Jennifer McGuire loves it, then everybody wants it. I did have some, they sold quickly … I didn’t anticipate their popularity, so I went to order more, they were sold out, I had to wait for more to come in, then USPS suspended delivery to Australia. There’s been this back and forth, so I said to my customers on a live unboxing video I was doing one evening “Look, we’re just going to have to wait. We need to wait for commercial flights to start moving again so that the mail will start moving and hopefully the suspension will be lifted, but we’re just going to have to wait until probably next year to get our hands on these tools.”. However, not more than two days later I had another email from The Rabbit Hole Designs, and they had actually integrated UPS into their shop so I was able to have it shipped that way. Now, I knew that it would cost a little more than usual, however I was not prepared for the actual cost of it. On a $350 order, I’m paying over $200 in shipping. But that is the choices that we have to make right now. Do we pay more to get the things that we want and need now? Or do we wait, and wait and wait and wait … we don’t know how long we’ll be waiting. So that’s where we are right now in the craft industry. Do we pay more for shipping, or do we just wait for this suspension to be lifted and for mail to start flowing freely again.

So, I’ve paid it. MaryAnn from The Rabbit Hole Designs was amazing, and she paid a portion of the shipping (and went me halves in it). I still paid over $200 in shipping but it would have been a lot more … it would have been dollar for dollar shipping to product if she hadn’t done that, so thanks MaryAnn! This is what it is, and we as shop owners have to make these decisions. Are we going to pay more? How much are we absorbing? I mean, we can’t sell things at a loss … that kind of defeats the purpose because bills still need to be paid, but don’t want to overcharge our customers. It’s a really fine line.

My customers have been nothing but spectacular and kind and thoughtful and amazing (y’all are just incredible), however I have a friend who works in regular retail. Even though it’s a lovely store that sells pretty things to what you would assume would be quite nice people, she’s really copping a whole lot of abuse out there in the brick and mortar retail space from people who want to come into the shop, but they don’t want to check in or wear a mask. It’s been really rough for her. So I’m feeling pretty privileged, really, sitting here in my home, being able to sell online and not have to face doing all of that, and I think I’m also lucky that I work in a craft space, and crafters are usually pretty amazing people … pretty kind and patient. However, I did want to do this episode today, because knowledge is power, and when you know what to expect because you understand what’s happening, it can really help you stay calmer and be more understanding (it certainly does for me). I think I’m a nice person, but even I can have a really bad day and get a bit cranky sometimes. Understanding, knowing why something is happening, or why something is the way it is, I find incredibly helpful, so I thought with my tiny bit of insider knowledge, I’d share that as my episode for this week.

So, what do we do? Here we are, we want these gorgeous things, these new releases are coming out. We see the gorgeous stuff. What do we do? How do we get our hands on it? What’s affected? Well, as far as I can tell, for us here in Australia, it’s really only USPS that is affected … I don’t know of anywhere else that’s affected. I’ve ordered from my supplier in the UK, that seems to be moving quite well. DHL is still moving at its perfect pace, FedEx is still moving at it’s regular pace. USPS is still moving … it’s a bit slower, but it’s still getting things here in a reasonable time, so I’m not mad at that. I’ve ordered from Europe (specifically Denmark), just some personal shopping, and that seems to be getting here pretty well, so it just seems to be USPS where the issue lies.

I have a few recommendations of ways that you can get your hands on those new crafting goods, or make some decisions about what to do.

  1. If you want to order direct from the company that has the goods, and perhaps that’s your only option. If they are simply saying “No, we are not shipping to Australia”, you’re pretty limited in what you can do. If this is something that you really, really need, there are some parcel forwarding companies that you can have items sent to (like Hop Shop Go) they give you an American PO Box, so you can have them sent there. They’ll put your parcels all together and ship them to you. They’re offering alternatives to USPS, but you are going to pay a lot for those shipping services, but if it’s something that you need, that might be the way to go.
  2. If it’s a company that also has other retailers (so they also sell to wholesale customers), for example … Gina K Designs. I actually found out about this whole USPS situation via Gina K’s facebook group. I wasn’t a member at the time, but one of my customers sent me a screenshot of the announcement by USPS, so I got in there pronto. Gina knows what’s happening, I’m going to find out, and she had actually suggested to Australian customers that she has retailers in Australia. There are people in Australia, shops like me (I wasn’t a Gina K stockist at the time), but there were other shops where they would buy in bulk (because that is what we do as retailers, we buy a lot of stuff) so we can even that shipping out that we’re paying with the courier companies, and it’s a lot more reasonable than it is for someone who is only spending $40 or $50. We’re spending hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time so the shipping comes out a lot more reasonable. So her top recommendation was to go shop with these companies and Australian stores. I think at this time someone must have mentioned me or recommended me, not realising I wasn’t a Gina K stockist, probably because I had unpacked some Gina K products with my Stamptember unboxing. If you don’t know what Stamptember is, it’s a month long event held by Simon Says Stamp (I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, and I will mention it in a future episode, because I’m going to do one about group buys, but that’s way too long to go into today). But someone had mentioned it, and her staff or team must have noticed, because I had email the next day asking if I’d like to be a Gina K stockist. I asked my customers if they’d be interested, it was an overwhelming yes, so I thought “Well, I’ve always wanted to try Gina K Connect glue … that’s what Jennifer McGuire uses”, so I filled in the paperwork, they were amazing and helped me get it all set up. I placed my first order and it got her really quickly, and it almost all sold out on the first day, so I put in another and I’ll be putting in another order again soon, because I can get those large orders. I offer a pre-order service, so if a customer wants something in particular, I have a form on my website that they can fill out and you can tell me what you’d like me to order in. I figure, I’m ordering anyway from this company, if there’s something you’d like in particular, I can throw that in my cart and get it for you, and you’re only going to pay for local post. So check out the local retailers, perhaps do a Google search for the brand that you’re looking for within Australia. If Google gives you no joy, get in touch with the company and ask them “Do you have any stores in Australia, any retailers who sell your product here?” and perhaps they can point you in the direction of some of their retailers.
  3. Shop your stash. I know, this is the voice of reason here, this is more of a need situation than a want situation, but before you go nuts and spend a lot of money on very expensive shipping from the US, go and have a look in your stash. Do you have a fabric that’s the right colour? Do you already have a stamp set that has that sentiment that you want? Do you really need another Christmas stamp set? Do you have paint colour that’s near enough? Can you mix something that will work? Do you have a similar embroidery thread? Is there something you already have that’s going to do the job, just while we wait for this suspension to be lifted? So shop your own stash, because you have great taste, you know the kind of stuff you like, so the chances of you already having something that will do the job are pretty high.
  4. Look for an alternative. Let’s say you are looking for this one particular thing, but you know you’re not going to be able to get it or you can’t afford that shipping. Start looking around for alternatives. If you’re in a facebook group, or you know lots of other people who are doing the same craft as you, ask them. Say “Hey, I want this thing, can’t get my hands on it. Does anyone know of something similar?” You might get lucky and someone might be willing to sell theirs. Jackpot right there. Looking for an alternative could be the way to go.
  5. A great resource when looking for an alternative is your local retailers. I’m in the stamping business … I sell a lot of stamps, so if you are looking for this one particular Simon Says Stamp set (because they don’t sell to anybody else, you can only buy from them direct), but it’s way out of reach with the cost of shipping, and you shop with me or another retailer … message them. Send a picture and tell us what you’re looking for, and ask if we have something similar. Looking for an alternative that’s similar and you might be able to find something local.
  6. The last thing I’m going to suggest is the worst, but sometimes it is what it is … patience might need to be exercised. You might have to bench that project, you might need to make some notes, draw some sketches, bag the supplies to make a kit and make a note tha you need to wait until you can get the thing that you need. It’s a bummer … we don’t like to think about it, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you probably have another project on the go that you could do while you’re waiting for that thing to arrive. This is for those ‘want’ things, not for the ‘need’ things, but we might just have to be patient. While we’re being patient, there are lots of other things we can do. We can complete an unfinished project, we can start a new project (that’s always fun), we can learn something new. Head to YouTube, look for some tutorials. Maybe you have some Deco Foil and you wonder how to use them and get your moneys worth from this product. Go on a deep dive, find something you can do and learn while you’re waiting for the thing that you want.

I hope that this has been helpful, helping you understand maybe why prices on products are going up, why some items have been hard to get and why post is so unpredictable right now. I mean, we’ve been in pandemic postal conditions for well over 18 months (such a long time!) and I know people like to bag Australia Post, but I have to say … in the last 2 years only one order I’ve sent has gone missing. Because it was insured I could put in a claim and resend it to my customer. Things have been arriving quickly, arriving in good shape and things have been arriving, which is magnificent, and given that we’re coming into the Christmas season where it’s going to be additional post on top of pandemic post, I really do think that they’re doing a good job and I’m grateful we have a good postal service.

So, this is why things are the way they are. This is a temporary situation and we’re just going to get through it. There’s lots that we can do to distract ourselves and all of a sudden post will be flowing freely again and we can go back to our usual happy shopping, retail therapy and be happy crafters.

The last thought I’d like to leave you with is this. If we can’t receive mail, let’s start sending some mail. Maybe you can send some gorgeous little handmade gifts, or tags to family & friends, because, honestly, presents are great and shopping is fun but a handmade card in the mail, a handwritten letter from someone who’s thinking of you (a little trinket, a handmade item, some earrings, a brooch, a framed piece, a purse, a keyring … whatever it is that you make) … when you send something with love to someone else, it really makes their day. And when you see that person whom you love being happy, well doesn’t that just make you happy too? So let’s start sending some happy mail to distract ourselves from the fact that we can’t receive our happy mail, and before you know it, we’ll be back to normal.

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