4 Things to Consider When Shipping Internationally

blog image Intl Ship.png



Tracking of packages has always been one of the most important parts to providing customers with the best possible customer service, and it seems to be even more important with the advancement of the “Free Shipping” movement.  This is still true when it comes to international shipments.  International services range in terms of the amount of tracking they provide.  Some international services claim to offer full visibility while only providing a single scan once entering the destination country, which can lead to both the shipper and the recipient being in the dark in regards to the location of the package once it enters the destination country. 

The tracking capabilities can impact the price of a service quite significantly, so for companies looking to save some money, the single scan at the point of entry to the destination country might be a fantastic option.  For companies that are trying to provide customers with full visibility of their order, make sure to verify how many scans are included with the tracking that is provided with the given service level.


The amount of movement on an international shipment is drastically higher than domestic shipments.  Just due to this fact, the likelihood of something happening to the package in transit is increased quite a bit.  Because of this, clients should always look at insuring shipments to avoid any issues beyond a damaged package.  While this is true for goods of all values, this is especially true for clients that sell high end merchandise.

Transit Times

Transit times vary significantly for international shipments.  Just like with the difference in tracking and visibility between services, there are numerous levels of service providing transit times from a matter of days to a couple weeks.  Picking the one that is most relevant to your business and customers is a key choice to make.

If customers are in need of delivery within a matter of a couple days, the best bet is to look at some of the larger providers like UPS and FedEx to see if they offer overnight shipping, as not all countries are covered with an overnight service.  On the other end of the spectrum, some companies like to make use of package consolidation in which a carrier will pick up on a less frequent basis (typically 1-2 times per week) and ship the group of packages together.  Then, most commonly, there are quite a few services in between that ship daily but take anywhere from 5-15 business days to reach their destination.  The costs for these services vary greatly from quite expensive for the express/overnight services to quite economical for the package consolidation methods.


Probably the most important part of the whole international shipping equation would be the customs.  Every shipment that is going to another country will be processed by the customs department of the receiving country.  To facilitate shipments clearing customs efficiently, there are a few pieces of paperwork that need to be filled out.  Typically, this can be done with your shipping carrier to make for less manual intervention.

It is also important to take note of the fees and tariffs that can come from clearing customs as well.  The fees associated with customs come straight from the value of the product that is being shipped.  Some countries have higher customs fees than others, but you can be sure that there will be a customs fee for any shipment going internationally.  The higher the value of the product, the higher the fees will be.

Key questions to ask prospective fulfillment partners

Sheneeta White, associate professor of operations and supply chain management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and contributor to the Minneapolis StarTribune was asked a very simple question about outsourcing order fulfillment.

Q: What questions should I ask of a fulfillment partner and what should I be looking for in terms of service?
— Mark Aselstine, founder Uncorked Ventures

Ms. White's response echoes our findings here at SP Express, with decades of experience providing fulfillment service, competing to be the best. She responded: 

A: When thinking about selecting a fulfillment partner, you should start by setting measurable objectives and standards. You want to ensure that you are holding your partners to specific performance standards as it relates to your fulfillment process. As with any outsourcing project, you should strive to document the improvements due to third-party use.

Here are five questions you should ask a fulfillment partner:

"What is the company’s business experience?

You will want to consider how long the company has been in the order fulfillment business, the depth of management experience, the strength of the operating management, the quality of the workforce and the state of labor/management relations.

What evidence does the company have of its service quality?

You should look for a formal and documented quality process. In addition, you will want to make sure that the process is actually being implemented.

What is the company’s order fulfillment cycle time?

Time is always a critical factor in choosing an outsourcing partner, so look for short cycle times. In terms of service times to expect, Garcia et al. (2012) performed a benchmarking study of the wine industry’s supply chain and found that the logistics cycle time, which includes order processing cycle time, purchase order cycle time, bottling cycle time and delivery cycle time is 28 days on average (best in class, 11 days; worst in class 40 days).

What is the company’s price?

Great service has become a baseline, not a differentiator. The differentiation comes from competitive rates. Make sure the company has streamlined processes so that you do not pay for waste.

What is the company’s commitment to developing a long-term relationship?

You will find that most major outsourcing efforts carry the presumption of a relatively long-term relationship. Contracting out a significant logistics function involves a steep learning curve for both parties as well as start-up and transition costs."

The Corrugate Market & Box Prices

sp express order fulfillment boxes

Lumi knows a lot about packaging. Their success in branded boxes, and how best to get your money's worth out of a corrugate order, are just a couple of the reasons that keep us listening to their insights. In a recent blog post, Lumi shares some details about the market's rollercoaster effects on pricing your boxes. 

When you buy boxes, you’re dealing with a product that is very close to a raw resource — paper pulp. That’s why box prices can behave similarly to other products like gasoline which are close to the raw material...Most corrugated boxes are made out of recycled material. In fact, 47% of the average corrugate box is recycled material. In 2015, an impressive 92.9% of corrugated cardboard produced was recovered for recycling.

The paper industry calls these collected boxes Old Corrugated Containers, or OCC for short. OCC are broken down and turned into linerboard — the paper used to make corrugated board, which is then turned into boxes. The downside of such a sustainable process is that each piece is wholly dependent on the others. When something throws off the status quo, everything shifts.

Come back to our blog for more on how best to serve your clients with top-tier order fulfillment and eCommerce experiences.

cardboard shipping containers

8 Checks On a New Fulfillment Provider

pins in a map

If you’re considering a move to a new order fulfillment provider, it may be tempting to choose exclusively on location, under the assumption that all distribution facilities are more or less equal. This can be an expensive mistake. Here are the eight factors you can’t afford to overlook.


Strategically Located Distribution Centers

The physical location of your distribution centers will impact everything from the cost of shipping to speed of delivery. Select a provider with at least one center near your primary markets, plus a large geographic footprint that can continue to serve as you grow. A provider with access to international facilities will greatly enhance your ability to expand.

Aggressively Negotiated Shipping Rates

The right fulfillment provider will provide access to economies of scale and aggressively negotiated shipping rates with all of the major providers (Fed Ex, UPS, and USPS, plus any niche or international carriers you will need access to).

Extraordinary Customer Service If you can’t count on your fulfillment partner to take good care of you and your customers, you’re headed for trouble. Expect your provider to give you direct access to individuals inside the company who can help you when you have questions and when problems arise, and to be highly responsive to requests for information.

Demonstrably Greater than 95% Order Accuracy

Nothing creates friction for a customer more than receiving the wrong order. When order volume peaks around the holidays, so can mistakes and frustration. Ask prospective providers to show you quality control statistics from the most recent holiday season, and expect them to be well in excess of 95%.

Long-term, Qualified Warehouse Staff

Theft, carelessness, and lack of understanding for the intricacies of your business are what happens when staff turn-over inside the warehouse is high. A long-term, dedicated and qualified staff will treat your business with greater care and respect.


During the holidays and other peak times, you want your provider to be able to scale their work force and operations up and down to meet your needs. Ask them how they handled the increased volume during the most recent peak volume period, and expect them to have a great history of managing these peaks with minimal disruption and maximum efficiency and accuracy.

Flawless Returns Processing

An easy, well-handled returns process can convert a one-time customer into a loyal fan. Additionally, how returned product is processed in the system, how it is assessed and sorted, whether the facility can perform refurbishments, and how product is returned to inventory or disposed of all impact your bottom line.

The WOW Factor

In the end, your fulfillment partner delivers the final customer touch with every transaction. A wrong order or poor quality package reflect badly on your brand, even if it’s not your fault. Look for a fulfillment partner that cares about your brand like you do, and will give your customers the WOW experience they crave—every single time.


Check these boxes.
All fulfillment providers are not equal.

The Perfect Customer Order?

 Sales channels are everywhere.

Sales channels are everywhere.

Allison Manetakis of Oracle, writing about optimizing merchant cost and efficiency for MultichannelMerchant.com:

Where does the perfect order begin? With a single, centralized order management solution that holds all information from the order management process, including order, sourcing, payments and fulfillment. A centralized solution also spans all channels of sales operations so it doesn’t matter where an order originates.

The premise here is solid—it stands to reason that a single touch point for data can make order flow and order responsiveness smoother for both customer and operator. What shores up this idea, though, is the following statement that demands well-trained human teams on the ground in service of the larger commercial infrastructure.

 Warehouse and fulfillment team needed.

Warehouse and fulfillment team needed.

All fulfillment channels have access to all information so the organization can appropriately allocate inventory based on stock levels, demand requirements and timing. For the customer, it’s the seamless experience they’ve come to expect.

Search for a "Perfect" order can also include a search for effective time-to-ship, and time-in-transit. Software and integration technologies are making the world of commerce faster, and better from the inside out, but any merchants, or service providers to the retail industry also should demand this effectiveness from their physical infrastructure. The fastest growing retailers have implemented multiple distributions centers to accommodate speedier delivery times, and automation and product tracking technologies are being built into fulfillment centers more every day.

So, it's not just the software, gathering big data, that merchants need to survive. It's a holistic order fulfillment approach which will separate them from their competition.

Infographic: A Profile of eCommerce Store Owners

Our friends at eCommerceFuel released a fascinating collection of data and insights on the modern eCommerce store owner and his/her tendencies. Their "State of the Merchant Report" was driven by a survey that led them to the following conclusions:

Customize Your Poly Mailers...it works.

Lumi continues to impress with their approach to eCommerce fulfillment accessorizing.  We read their latest blog post about poly mailers, and we like what we see. Check out how many different methods can be used to build your brand during the shipping process...

For shipping high volumes of soft goods, custom poly mailers are the go-to because they’re durable, light, and really cost effective in high volumes. But they aren't just economical — they look good too.

See more examples from Lumi, below. 

How will you customize your shipping materials this year?


Four Things American Retailers Need to Know about European Customers

arbuckles coffees wooden crate on grass

One of the biggest mistakes American brands make when launching in Europe, is assuming that European consumers will behave the same way American consumers behave. This mistake can lead to the heartache of low sales numbers and/or poor customer satisfaction. We talked to European order fulfillment experts at our partner facility in the Netherlands to identify the four most important things retailers need to know about European customers.

1. Each country’s residents have their own preferred ecommerce platforms

Where American consumers generally stick to Amazon, eBay, and a handful of niche marketplaces depending on the type of product they’re looking for, European consumers are much more diverse in their use of ecommerce platforms. Each country and region of Europe has its preferred marketplaces. Retailers who fail to offer products on the target country’s preferred platforms will see disappointing sales results.



  1. Magento
  2. PrestaShop
  3. Drupal Commerce
  4. OXID EShop
  5. RBS Change
  6. WooCommerce
  7. OpenCart
  8. Shopify


2. Consumers Care Which Carrier Delivers Their Package

Pallet packing Pallet packing

American consumers generally don’t mind whether their package comes by USPS, UPS, or Fed Ex—so long as it comes when they expect it. European consumers, however, care a great deal which carrier brings the package, and their preference is probably not UPS or Fed Ex. Europeans do not, as a general rule, receive packages at home. Instead, they will usually rent a drop box near their home or work, where packages can be signed for and then picked up at their convenience. Because these drop boxes are specific to their local carrier or some other carrier of choice, they expect to be able to choose which one brings their package.

3. They Won’t Buy It Just Because It’s “American”

Once upon a time, the myth goes, American goods were all the rage. You could pack blue jeans and brownie mix in a suitcase and sell them for ten times their normal retail value in Europe. Whether that was ever true or not, the fact is that today’s Europeans are not star-struck at the idea of goods coming out of America. Unless you’re marketing to a niche audience (such as ex pats, for instance), labeling your product as “American” (and marketing it in English) won’t give you as much mileage as you might hope.

4. They Expect to Receive Service in a Language They Understand

Okay, in this regard they’re not so different from American consumers. If you want to irritate Americans, a surefire method is to outsource customer service to an Indian call center with non-native speakers who accent is so pronounced they have to repeat themselves three times to be heard. Europeans feel the same way—about American call centers. It’s true that some consumers for whom English is a first, or strong second, language, an English-speaking customer service department may be quite adequate. Others, however, whose English skills may not be as strong or who may not speak English at all, will expect to receive customer care in a language that makes sense for them.

Finding your market in Europe is no easy task, but once you achieve the audience you need, do what is best for your customers. Provide each buyer the confidence and support they need to become a lifelong ambassador for your brand.


Email us at info@spexpress.com for more.


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As Yet Unfulfilled: What 2017 Looks Like for the 3PF Industry

man scans package ready for shipment

By many accounts, 2016 was a real pain. An ugly political scene, sadness over the loss of legendary entertainers, violence abroad—you name it, we had it. But, 2016 is over. 

The future looks bright, at least within the 3PF industry, where we see rapid growth, category expansion, and considerable amounts of consolidation among service providers. Just in the past 2 years, there have been at least 5 mergers among prominent order fulfillment providers. This trend may continue, as Amazon continues to remove under-performers from its marketplace, sending sellers to the open markets of Shopify and Bigcommerce.

It's the overall performance of fulfillment providers that will continue to be tested in 2017. Meeting the growing demands of brands and sellers (and their consumers), is where 3PF's must prove their worth. Specific areas include On-Time Delivery, Time-in-transit, Pick Accuracy, and Value-added Services.

On-time Performance

Performance rates among order fulfillment providers, especially during the peak holiday season, were up. According to Kurt Salmon's 2016 Holiday Shipping Study, 

The majority of retailers were able to keep their shipping promises this season as 97% successfully processed and delivered orders on their last guaranteed shipping date before Christmas, according to Kurt Salmon’s annual holiday shipping study. This was up from 95% in 2015 and 87% in 2014.
— MultichannelMerchant.com

RF inventory scanner is aimed at a shipping label


Showing the ability to pick orders with high levels of accuracy is of as much importance as showing high speed. The challenge for fulfillment providers in 2017 and beyond will be to improve accuracy for the fast paced world of e-retail. This has been a challenge for many fulfillment companies. According to InternetRetailer.com: 

One out of every 20 orders shipped by e-retailers is either late, incomplete or both, research and advisory firm Aberdeen Group says in a new study. It also notes that 20% of retailers surveyed experience picking errors in one out of every 10 orders.
— InternetRetailer.com

Value-added Services

hands on cardboard boxes in assembly line

Handling raw product, assembling kits for easy picking, and applying branded labels, stickers, stamps or other creative touches to outbound shipments are all valuable additions to a basic pick-and-pack offering. 

Fulfillment providers are going to be expected to deliver on KPI's with consistency, but the ones who thrive will also be offering these value-added services, like kitting, product assembly and subscription models. In the last 18 months, alone, Google searches for value-added services among order fulfillment providers have increased 24%.

Online retailers are consolidating their product preparation efforts with fulfillment providers, whose warehousing infrastructure and labor management prowess offer savings and efficiency compared to alternatives.


Reducing Time-in-transit

blue digital map of world

Brands that are conscious of their audience's expectations for delivery speed may consider order fulfillment providers with multiple locations within their audience's delivery area. For a national audience with order volumes approaching 5,000 orders per month, it may be cost effective for brands to warehouse and ship from bi-coastal distribution centers. A networked warehouse management system will automatically determine which facility will fulfill the order, based on the proximity of the distribution center to the end recipient when cross-checked against inventory availability and shipping method selected.

3PF's with bi-coastal, or multiple fulfillment centers will be well-positioned to achieve quicker delivery speeds while maintaining accurate inventory automatically. Consumers whose expectations are built upon an Amazon-like response time will appreciate the consideration.

The Year to Come

For brands and online sellers interested in scaling up, third-party fulfillment is likely to become part of your business strategy. If the 3PF industry is to support those needs, the coming year will be a true test, as more businesses than ever are seeking online buyers for their products, and it will be up to service providers to achieve the goals of their clients' expanding eCommerce sales.

The 3PF industry has to manage these expectations well, and continue to adjust to the changing business needs of the online seller. At SP Express, we aim to protect the success our clients have achieved, and support growth with continued increases in our service quality, and infrastructure. Look for more activity and news from this provider. We expect 2017 to be our best year yet.

Delivery Speed: A Special Report on Omnichannel Fulfillment for 2016

Delivery Speed: A Special Report on Omnichannel Fulfillment for 2016

Kurt Salmon’s Omnichannel Fulfillment Study acts as an instant replay on retailers’ peak-season fulfillment to help identify how to train for the rest of 2016. After all, the race to please consumers is a marathon, not a sprint.