Mail forwarders, or one less barrier to online shopping – a review of sorts

Up until a year ago, nothing made me want to punch my computer screen more than the words:

amazingbargain.com ships to the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Alaska and Hawaii, and now ships to Canada as well. Shipping to other international destinations and U.S territories (such as Puerto Rico and Guam) is unavailable at this time.

Rebecca Bloomwood might have bad credit, but she didn’t have to deal with this!!

Luckily, I came across Parcel It On, a mail-forwarding service based in New Jersey in the US, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Great communication, low fees, and the Big Box of January 2011 arrived safe and sound.

How does it work?

I’ve only ever used Parcel It On, but from my research this is how mail forwarding services generally work:

  • You can choose a larger mail forwarder (like Ship2Me) which will give you a “real” US street address.  For example, the address you could get through Ship2Me is something like: Your Name, 1234 Paylor Lane, #4321, Sarasota, Florida.  My address is a few doors down.
  • You could also choose a home business type like Parcel It On, which will let you send parcels care of their address.
  • Order those amazing pair of shoes (or four!) as usual, and send it to your new “US address”, then contact the mail forwarder to arrange shipping of the new shoes to you in Australia!

How much does it cost?

  • Shipping fees will always be paid by you.  Some will charge whatever USPS charges (which could make the cost a little difficult to estimate, especially if you convert everything by either multiplying or dividing by 2) and others might give their own set shipping prices, which could also depend on membership level.
  • On top of shipping fees, the mail forwarder will charge a service fee, which could be a flat rate or a percentage of package value.  Sometimes this will be built into the shipping fee.
  • If you buy several packages, the mail forwarder will often “consolidate” these and send it as one package.  The benefit is that shipping for one big parcel could be cheaper than 6 small ones.  There is usually a small fee for each additional package.
  • If you are waiting for several packages to arrive and need to store a couple with the mail forwarder in the meantime, this could be subject to a fee as well, but the first couple of weeks are usually free.

How to decide which mail forwarder to choose?

  • Decide what exactly you are going to be using the mail forwarder for – ordering ridiculously cheap magazines from the US?  Once in a blue moon shopping packages?  To show your ongoing support of the world economy?  Each service and fee structure is different, so it will depend on what you’re after.
  • This may sound silly, but where the parcel forwarder is based will be important.  This is because each US state has a different sales tax rate, and different exemptions for certain types of products.  One of the reasons I chose Parcel It On is because it’s based in New Jersey, and there is no sales tax on clothes or shoes (there is a 7% tax on bags, jewellery and cosmetics though).  Oregon apparently has no sales tax at all, but I’m still on the look-out for a mail forwarder based there.  If you know of one, drop me a line.
  • Do your research!  I can’t stress how important it is to read reviews and other people’s experiences on the mail forwarder you are thinking of using.  Of course, still be wary of those rave reviews from 5 different people who all suspiciously make the same spelling mistake.  I find that a great way of testing the waters is to email or call and ask some general questions, and then you can judge from their response (or non-response) whether or not it seems reliable.

Why there is no Big Box of November 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that there would be a Big Box of November, the follow-up to the Big Box of January.  To explain why this hasn’t happened, we need to go back… back to the summer of 2011…

So, Australia has an imports threshold of $1,000, which means if you order more than $1,000 worth of goods from overseas and have it sent to you in one package, then you’ll have to pay an extra 15% or so in GST and customs duty.  Strictly speaking, the $1,000 should include international shipping costs, but sometimes… well, things slip through.

Anyway, so I had ordered a Big Box.  It was this Big:

Shop Items Value (USD)
Madewell 5 $157.45
Anthropologie 4 $198.84
J.Crew 6 $237.60
Loft 6 $201.71
Macy’s 6 $195.00
Total 27 $990.60

Thinking back, it was ridiculously big, seeing as it was only 1 month after I’d come back from the US with a Big Suitcase.  (And a Little Suitcase.)

But, you know, inertia and all, so once I started I couldn’t help myself and just kept going, one order after another.  Luckily, many online stores do ship to Australia nowadays, so a couple of packages became Supplementary Boxes:

ASOS 9 $110.70
Urban Outfitters 6 $141.94

This time around?  I tried to make the Big Box happen, I really did.  I was so ready to show my support for the worldwide economy.  Unfortunately, my Supplementary Box got so big, that it completely took over the Big Box.

Game changer, I tell you.*

Ah well, Black Friday Sales are coming up (November 25, put it in your diaries).  I’ll try again then.

* Am I using that term correctly?  I hear it all the time on TV, and have always wanted to use it…

Edited on 18/09/12:  I’ve been getting a few emails from a mail forwarder called Ship2Me, which is apparently now based in the tax-free state of Oregan!!  No personal experience on this one yet, but I’ll get onto that soon and keep you posted. 🙂

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