The View from England

Beware parcel forwarding services?

There is an industry growing up within ecommerce that offers parcel-forwarding services. It is mainly in the U.S., but there are similar services in the U.K., where I live. The services offer a U.S. or U.K. address, which receives items from stores that will not ship internationally. Then these services will forward items internationally to a customer’s actual, local address.

Many parcel-forwarding companies offer additional services like repacking, inspecting, and photographing the contents, and consolidating multiple parcels into one shipment. This can save shipping costs, especially using couriers that charge more on size than weight.

The parcel-forwarding industry is growing because so many ecommerce retailers do not ship internationally. The gap in the market being filled by these middlemen — for a fee.

The questions I have are, “Why have we merchants let this happen? Why are we letting others offer a service that we could do as well, if not better?”

As technology advances and more of the world shops online, the demand for international shipping will only increase. There is a huge market internationally and it is crazy for merchants to ignore it.

As is, some savvy customers are getting around these artificial territorial restrictions by using these forwarding services. These services are making a huge profit.

I have used one such service to import some items that are not easily available in the U.K. In essence, the service is just a box forwarder — not really paying much attention to what it is shipping, or to whom. The service has generic addresses in nameless industrial estates. Individual post office box numbers are described with terms like “suite no.” or “dept. no.” or “room no.” to give the impression that its a hotel or large residential address, not a post office box.

Having used their services and seen the type of address format, I now recall shipping parcels from my ecommerce sites to such places.

I can also see the problems that can occur.

If a parcel goes missing or if an item is damaged, then whose fault is it? Whilst we may have carefully packed an item with due care, knowing what we sell and how best to protect it, can we be certain that these middlemen will do likewise? Also, the couriers they choose for onward shipment: Are they as good as the ones we choose for initial dispatch? You can be certain that when something goes wrong, it is the retailer that will be blamed and carry the burden of any refund or chargeback.

I have no idea why customers use these services when buying from me, as I ship internationally. I do not understand why U.S. customers get me to ship to one of these U.S. forwarders when I can ship directly to them. I’m especially confused as I offer free shipping to the U.S. (For some reason it is cheaper for me to post a one pound item to the U.S. than one mile up the road from me.) I can only assume that these customers are in the bad habit of always using these services and have not bothered to change the delivery address when retailers ship worldwide.

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