Monday, October 18, 2010

shipito: your web package warehouse

as i just received my new ipod touch 8g - the cheapest way to get free videoconferencing in my pocket - into my shipito account, it feels like a good time to gather some usage statistics.

For those of you who do not know, (which is a trade name for Nevada-based Easbiz Corp - a confusion source for you when reviewing your credit card statement) is a virtual mailbox service - a huge warehouse in Los Angeles suburb with a (slightly old-looking) website.

They give you physical address - something to ship goods to - and show your received packages online with their weight (albeit in pounds), size (again, in inches - not so much useful for European-minded folks like me) and allow to remail them to your address, typically outside of U.S. (although you can ship to U.S. too - i did a return this way once.)

Who is the audience of such a service? Primarily folks like myself - expats (or double expats) living, say, in Europe but ordering stuff from U.S. (see ipod above) You can subscribe to your favourite magazine and have it re-mailed to you automatically ($1 plus postage.) Or even a letter (although I would not recommend forwarding your entire U.S. mailbox to them - there are separate, cheaper and more specialized services for that.)

Speaking of prices, apart from mentioned magazine forwarding, your basic shipito account would cost you nothing to open - but you are stuck with high $20 labor charge per each package (Update: this is now changed to same $8.50 as virtual mailbox; the storage time is a week).

If you are remaining once or twice a month it makes sense to invest $50 for annual "medium-sized" account, called virtual mailbox, with $8.50 labor charge per remailing, which has longer storage term (45 days) and option of consolidating several packages to one. This is what I use.

There is also a $25-a-month "premium" account plan but I would only recommend it to professional shippers (or high spenders.)

After the labor charge, you pay actual mail (or courier) service cost. Shipito offers USPS and Fedex only. I typically use USPS - they are cheaper and there is insurance offered (actually, recent change on shipito website made insurance obligatory for some types of mail service and unavailable for others -- a change i personally hate, as $13.50 flat small package service, enough to remail that ipod with insurance, was way cheaper than $25 i paid now for full-blown priority mail shipment.) They also have their own "Shipito airmail" which looks like combination of airmail to intermediary address in Europe and then surface mail to final destination - my packages arrive in nearly three weeks this way, but it also cheaper ($2 or so is minimal rate, good for that special Apple adapter that costs $5 on ebay and $50 in local apple reseller store.)

Fedex rates are higher, and i suppose people use them for speed - but as I now reside in far corner of Europe it does not make any difference for me. Plus, post office is way closer to my flat than Fedex office.

There is also an exotic parcel service called Polonez (founded by Poles living in U.S. to ship gifts back home I suppose) - a container goes on a ship by sea and it takes over two months.
Probably good for shipping a lot of junk on ebay all at once, with very low prices per weight.

Now, as I have promised in the beginning, some statitstics -- since opening my account around Christmas last year, I have sent 20 packages (excluding one I have returned - otherwise, 21),
for a total sum of $510 - this makes it about $25 per package on average, with lowest charge at $10 and highest at $55.

There are unusual things they do, for example, opening a box and taking three photos, then posting to your account (costs $2 only, takes a day), fill out customs declaration for you (if you forgot what you bought and how much it costs - this would be a $8 job), and, most useful - consolidation. This works like a charm for used books or DVDs - you select packages you want to consolidate, confirm that you want just the goods themselves (without boxes they came in), and in a day, at $2 a original package, you now have a single box in your account to ship.

XXX For example, i got a book, an ipod cable, and kindle case all consolidated for $6, and resulting package cost about $10 (plus $8 labor charge) to ship - a savings of almost 50%.

The service is pretty fast - most things are done within a day. If you have a balance in your account (it is all done on prepaid basis, by credit card or paypal), and you have set a preference for automatic mail out, your packages can be sent same day they were received.

Usually you have everything shipped to one address, but should you want to send a gift to a friend, you can change address on a per-package basis (requires manual processing.)

Overall, I highly recommend the service - but it may be improved somewhat, especially in web site interface. The fee structure is fair, but the 4% bank charge is inappropriate way to distribute costs among all subscribers - I would prefer to have discount for paypal or credit card payments and let wire transfer users pay costs of receiving money themselves.

I prepared this post about three weeks ago, and want to add couple of bits changed since:

First, new full-service warehouse just opened in Hong Kong. Before, theere were couple of other locations (Memphis, Oregon, and Nevada) to ship to, but they had limited service (no consolidation, slower processing time) and existed mostly to get around merchants which
do not ship to known commercial remailers (shame on them!)

Second, shipito interface is now translated to multiple languages (incl. Russian), so for people not quite familiar with English it is a nice feature. Also, the forums seem to be frequented by business owner who is quite often answering questions himself.

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