Effective yesterday we are no longer shipping packages internationally. This also includes US Territory addresses and APO addresses.
Much like closing down Tastefully Driven, there were a lot of reasons behind our decision, but it can all pretty much be summed up by saying that it was too much work for how small of a part of our business it was, and that we’d rather focus our time and energy elsewhere. However, unlike with Tastefully Driven, I think this will get a little backlash from our customers, which I’ll touch on more below.
Here is the in-depth reasoning behind our decision:
- Customs forms – we got them semi-automated, but there is still a decent amount of work that needs to be put into correctly filling out the customs form for every single international order.
- Customer service – often times international customers take longer to place an order and ask more questions (understandably so because of the higher shipping charge and long delivery time). In conjunction with the language barriers, the average international customer requires quite a bit more customer service work than a domestic customer does.
- Fraud – chargeback fraud and other shady orders tend to come more frequently from international customers. Our $6k chargeback was international (although I still take full responsibility for not having realized earlier what he was doing). Supposedly fraudulent transactions occur nearly 3 times as frequently on international orders as they do for domestic orders.
- FedEx – we ship domestically using FedEx, but after putting in quite a bit of work and having several meetings with them, ultimately couldn’t come up with an international shipping process that made sense, both financially and in terms of our effort per order. If anything, both were worse than USPS so we stuck with them.
- Our industrial park – most international customers we’ve spoken with prefer USPS. Unfortunately our industrial park is a private park. USPS is not allowed in. We have to go to the post office to get our mail. We also had to go to the post office to drop off every single international order. As we’ve grown, that has become a larger and larger pain. Many times during the holidays we could barely get the boxes into our cars, only to get there and have someone working who wasn’t strong enough to lift the box (we had to help them put it in a cart in the lobby that they could then roll back to the mail room). Had we been able to get a pick up in our park, things might have been different.
- Liquids – shipping liquids internationally is a pain, and unfortunately a good portion of our products are liquid.
- Tracking & claims – this was one thing FedEx offered that was attractive to us. FedEx has pretty decent international tracking and a quick claims process. The postal service does not. It didn’t happen often, but it’s a pain to try to track down a package in Brazil that hasn’t had the tracking information updated in months. We never get a response when we submit for a package trace or a reimbursement for the lost package. We almost always have to bite the bullet and re-ship the package, not to mention deal with all of the customer service. For domestic orders this does not happen. When an order is lost we can always get a trace within 24 hours and a reimbursement if FedEx lost or damaged the package.
- Freight forwarding – I’d estimate that well over 50% of our international orders use US based freight forwarders anyway. When an international customer attempts to checkout now, they are sent to a page explaining that we no longer ship internationally and that they might want to consider a forwarding service like Bongo International. We decided not to try to work with Bongo (or any other freight forwarder) on integrating with our shopping cart because of the time involved, the potential liability if the freight forwarder screws up or does something illegal, and the potential for even more international customer service.
- Employees – as we start to enter our next growth phase, we’re making sure that everything we do can be easily taught to an employee. International shipping is much more complex than domestic shipping. Why spend 3x longer training someone because of the complexities that international shipping entails? I’d rather have our employees hone in on becoming really good at the core stuff we do, as opposed to cluttering their mind with situations and processes that account for a small portion of the business.
- Programming – every time we added a new feature to the site, I’d have to not only account for how it impacted domestic customers, but the international, APO, and US Territory customers as well. Because those are more complex, I’d spend 15% of my time on the US customers, and 85% on getting the rest to work flawlessly, especially when switching back and forth between addresses in different regions. Imagine a US customer proceeding to the checkout page with an aerosol product in their cart, then changing their address to a US Territory using our AJAX form on the checkout page. Well, US Territory orders have to fly via air and therefore cannot receive ORM-D products. There are a hundred similar scenarios that had to be handled seamlessly or it could cause a big problem. It’s enough to make someone’s head spin. When ~95% of DI’s orders are shipped domestically, this just doesn’t seem like the best use of my time…or anyone’s time for that matter.
In addition to this, we are switching Hawaii and Alaska from USPS back to FedEx. We changed to USPS in September of last year because several customers requested it, but now we’re switching back so that we can completely eliminate the post office from our shipping offerings. I feel bad about this because the change was so recent, but these orders are an extremely small percentage of our customers so unfortunately they’ll have to pay a little more to use FedEx (which, in my opinion, is worth the extra money because of the reliability and traceability…but that’s just me).
Last night I wrapped up all of the programming and deployed the changes. As I mentioned above, international customers are now redirected to a page explaining that we no longer ship internationally. We tell them that to proceed to checkout they’ll need to change their default address to a US address. We also display a message in their My Account page. And obviously we made it so that new registrants must have US addresses. As much work as it was to get that stuff functioning properly, it was more work to update our FAQs, Terms of Service, various other pages and screenshots across the site, and change the shipping quote system to only allow US addresses. I was happy to get it all done.
As I touched on in the beginning, I do expect some backlash from our international customers. There will probably be a few not-so-nice emails. We have a lot of loyal international customers that have been with Detailed Image for years, some predating when Detailed Image became part of Pure Adapt. For the most part, I think we’ve done our best to give them a positive experience, and any time you do that you will have a few loyal customers who don’t like that your business decision negatively impacts them.
APO (military) customers are even more tricky. There aren’t a lot of them, but the ones we do have are very passionate. They’ve had a tendency in the past to complain when certain shipping discounts only applied to the 48 contiguous states (i.e. places we shipped FedEx to). It sucks that FedEx doesn’t ship to APOs or PO Boxes, but they don’t. We did try to integrate their SmartPost shipping service that does just that, but that was a fucking nightmare that almost cost us thousands of dollars and pissed off hundreds of customers (not worth getting into). We’ve had a few disgruntled APO customers contact us in the past with some pretty harsh remarks. Stuff like “we’re at war protecting your ass and you’re so greedy that you can’t even offer us free shipping like you do to other US customers”. It’s tough to deal with because we obviously have a great deal of respect for everyone in the armed forces.
But unfortunately they aren’t our target market and it’s just not a good move for our business to continue to serve them. It would be awesome if they shipped their orders to a family member in the states who could then get it to them, but we understand that many may start shopping elsewhere. Much like with Tastefully Driven, we are essentially giving new orders and new customers to our competitors, which at the end of the day is fine by us.
This was definitely the right thing for us to do for the long term health of our business. We’ll be able to do a lot more for our domestic customers with a lot less effort by not having to factor in the international implications of everything we do. The right time of the year to do something like this is January, when sales are slowest and we’ve got the time to handle the project correctly without distraction, so that’s what we did.
We have two more of these types of announcements coming in the next ~2 weeks. Once the dust settles I’ll step back and analyze what we’re left with and where we’re going from here. Exciting stuff.