Matthew Ferguson channels his inner GI Joe and comes to the rescue again, armed with advice on the best way to ship eBay orders overseas.
I wonder if you can help me!
I’ve been selling rare action figures and collectibles domestically on eBay for three years and have just started offering my products on some of eBay’s global marketplaces.
I’ve recently tried using the Global Shipping Program for my overseas orders, and I quite like it. So far it seems easy to use, and I’ve had no hassle shipping my goods abroad.
I’m not totally sold on using it long-term though, as I have a feeling that I could make more money if I shipped the orders myself directly.
So, my question is this: What are the main advantages and disadvantages of using the Global Shipping Program and is there a better alternative that I should be using?
– George, Atlanta
I’m still in possession of my old childhood toys, and recently had fun hearing feedback (well, ridicule) from my five year old son: “But Daddy, those are boy barbies. Isn’t that for girls?”
Mid-way through trying to educate him on the differences between Ken, a dude with great teeth, and GI Joe’s righteous position as a defender of freedom and equal to Chuck Norris, I realized he was right – I loved boy barbies. One has a pair of matching slacks while the other a laser sub machine gun… But yeah, whatever.
That has utterly nothing to do with your question, I’m just sharing. I would love to believe that my firecracker-stained, burnt, broken boy barbies had some value, other than the childhood memories of throwing them down hills and trying to make their falls as action-packed as possible. Somewhere in the backwaters of a Floridian swamp, buried beneath mud, alligator eggs and rocks, the remains of a GI Joe can be found, lost from a boy’s childhood toy box forever… maybe they could even be worth something by now, if I hadn’t destroyed them so majestically.
This subject is dear to my heart, so let’s see what I can do to help you.
The eBay Global Shipping Program
eBay’s GSP is the perfect short-term plan for expanding internationally without the risks or setup work.
The key perks:
- You ship to a local address, which means no international rates, duties, tracking or border issues. For you, a GSP order is as easy as shipping the Bounty Hunter J-type spring-shooting rocket figurine to your neighbor, who just mortgaged his house so he could afford it.
- You don’t lose sleep. If the Skeletor figurine is lost in transit, or damaged along the way, no worries… Well I say no worries for you. The buyer might not agree. But anyways, eBay is in charge of transit and therefore in charge of solving problems with international shipping. No account performance issues either – you get 5-star ratings and protection for shipping.
You still have to manage any return requests. I mean, if you shipped that Sherwood Forest set without the tree house ladder, and your buyer really wanted that tree house as a kid, you might need to offer a refund. eBay thankfully will handle the international shipping aspects.
The Global Shipping Program has limitations however. They don’t allow all product types, but your items should be covered. It also doesn’t offer the best rates in all circumstances. For example, shipping the GI Joe seven-foot toy aircraft carrier from the 80’s to the mountains of Peru is likely to carry a hefty shipping charge – although it is for the buyer to pay directly to eBay, not you.
And, eBay’s GSP does not provide a gateway to all countries. While many are on the list these days, you aren’t open for business to the entire world. That may not be too big a deal for you however, as I doubt the average Tibetan monk is interested in a mint condition Bruce Lee action figure.
Shipping overseas “directly”
If you decide to do this directly, you likely can save the buyer some money, if you ship in sufficient volume. You can then reduce your prices, and give your listings an advantage over competitors. For people who sell new products, that can make a big difference and put them at an advantage over sellers who rely on the Global Shipping Program.
But being a seller of collectibles, I suspect volume isn’t your business model. Margin is more likely where your focus lies.
Shipping directly requires setting up accounts with international couriers. This is extra work and haggling which, for low volumes, won’t help you make a great saving, if any at all. For higher volume sellers it’s worth a look.
To get the best rates, you tend to want a courier aggregation service like ShipStation. These systems allow you to connect with shipping companies in real time based on each order’s specific details. That’s going to allow you to find the best rates for each and every order. But again, it’s more setup and cost that might not be worth it for low order volumes. Also look at Shipping Consolidators like Globegistics, who combine their own international shipping with domestic postal services to offer discounted prices.
Couriers offer good rates based on volume. But as we identified above, you likely aren’t in the volume business. How many mint condition She-Ra Master of the Universe adult size galactic skirts do you have? If you have loads, no judgment, she did rock the outfit with that 1980’s hair…
Anyways, guess what the best way to get your regional account metrics downgraded on eBay is? That’s right – shipping without tracking overseas! Shipping overseas is expensive with tracking services, so you either roll the dice with every overseas order, or price yourself above local sellers who can offer better rates.
I’ve seen sellers get suspended or downgraded to “below standard” for months because the local postal service for the country they were shipping to decided to engage in a three week strike. This is fairly rare, but you are liable for ensuring that each item makes it to the buyer’s door. If the local mailman had a bad day, then I wish you good luck trying to make your case with eBay’s support agents.
The Global Shipping Program sidesteps the tracking issue completely, because under GSP the overseas leg of shipping is eBay’s problem, not yours.
You could skip the need to set up direct shipping and partner with local third-party logistics companies (3PLs) instead. There are of course local providers in each territory which you can use to ship products to their domestic regions.
And, Amazon FBA is still an option for third-party channels like eBay. Unlike North America, where eBay and Walmart will suspend or penalize you for using Amazon FBA, Europe is more accommodating and Amazon FBA is still treated as a separate service provider, at least for now. So you could, theoretically, use Amazon European FBA to fulfill overseas orders.
But, this is more cost and investment. The advantage is faster, cheaper shipping to buyers, potentially without any additional duties or taxes for them to pay. It can offer a big competitive advantage to those who sell new product lines with high order volumes.
But that’s not your business, is it? For sellers of collectables, using a regional 3PL would be a supremely dumb idea both from a cost and setup perspective, but also operationally. You can’t warehouse your unique, mint condition, limited edition Chewbacca figurine in Germany, because a Japanese buyer may want it. Theoretically, yes, it’s an option. But so is using a fleet of space air balloons to deliver your product. Or a giant catapult.
Where and what?
I think, George, given your business model and industry, you likely want to stick it out with the Global Shipping Program.
The collectible figurine market is largest in the U.S. There’s Comic-Con, NerdaCon, CollectiCon, and many other collectable events I’ve just made up, all predominantly with the biggest buyer base and most marketing PR in the USA. That’s your biggest market.
To move product to overseas territories would be pointless, costly and damaging to your biggest market. Localizing stock is only a good idea if you expect to sell large volumes in that country, or perhaps build a brand reputation for fast and affordable shipping.
eBay remains the best marketplace for selling collectibles, so moving everything to Amazon and FBA doesn’t really help you beyond just being a pick, pack and ship service. For business who have something to gain from selling on Amazon, as opposed to just using FBA to fulfill orders from other channels, moving stock into FBA gives them a big advantage over sellers who do their own shipping (unless they have qualified for Seller-Fulfilled Prime, but that’s another story).
You could set up your shipping software, negotiate rates, then package and ship international orders directly. After shipping fees, customs issues and international tracking services, however, I doubt you’ll save much in time, effort, tears or actual money. In fact, as you won’t produce the consistent volume to get great courier rates, you will most likely spend more over the course of a year, while not really offering the buyer any real savings.
Being a seller of collectibles, do you even need to worry about competitive shipping rates? If you own the limited edition GI Joe flushable army toilet, complete with rugged male air freshener, your ideal buyer will want it, whatever the cost. They can’t exactly “shop around” and find it elsewhere, can they?
Given the uniqueness of your product and the type of buyer you attract, a buyer with singular focus, is it not all about simply having the right product with the right accessories, in the right condition?
I think in your case, George, being in collectibles in North America, eBay’s Global Shipping Program is the best place to be.
Totally unrelated, but do you have any She-Ra adult mini skirts? Asking for a friend!