Week 42 – Thoughts on International Shipping

Week 42 – One of my (long) overdue tasks is setting up a post-Covid strategy for international shipping. Not an easy feat seeing that it can be quite frightening to ship artwork. If everything goes well, and your lovely customers send you proud pictures of their purchases on top, the woes are all soon forgotten, but what if things go wrong? Here are five things to keep in mind. 

1 – Packaging – Usually, the available boxes are either too small or too big, so the artwork is either crushed or can move about too much. There is also the balance to be struck between sustainability, nicely branded packaging, and keeping the cost and time at a manageable level while making the best first impression possible.

My advice – make sure to expect up to one hour per shipment and to factor both costs and time into your pricing. 

Thoughts on international shipping for artwork
Thoughts on international shipping for artwork

2 – Your little critic – It is going to tell you that your customer can’t possibly like what they get – even though that has never happened, thank the forest spirits! – that everything will break in transit, or never arrive, or be too late, or stuck in customs for weeks, or go to the wrong address, or, or, or …

My advice – tell your little critic to go away. 

3 – Forms galore – At your local corner shop (post offices are a thing of the past), you have to find words to describe the contents of your box as anything else but original artwork (which most carriers won’t ship), have to fill in large forms nobody can decipher with things you can’t possibly know (then you have to do it again because you got the wrong form). All this is happening while you get evil glances because why on earth can’t you do this online? (Have you ever tried to understand NZPost’s online courier order system for smaller than small businesses?)

My advice – make sure to have all forms at home and to fill them in together with the shipping labels and packing slips. Don’t forget to add an invoice to the outside of your box. If you ship a few orders every week, agree to one shipping day and fight your way through the NZ Post online courier order system.  

Thoughts on international shipping for artwork
Thoughts on international shipping for artwork

4 – Costs – Your friendly dairy owner will tell you what it will cost, and – for international orders – you realise for the millionth time that your customers will never be able to pay this amount of money for a tracked service and that you have no other choice than to subsidise NZ Post because in these times you can’t send anything untracked (well, unless to Australia if your item is not too expensive).

My advice – balance the shipping cost with your retail price, and don’t forget that the alternative is to pay 40% to 60% commission to a gallery. Rather than risking to put off customers with outrageous shipping costs, I try to factor the additional costs for tracking into the product price, and I aim to ship to New Zealand for free and to offer coupons or sales that include free shipping to Australia in the future. 

I have no solution for cases where the tracked shipping is higher than the retail price, and I don’t think there is any … 

5 – Legal frameworks around returns – You can expect that most shipping destinations will allow your customers to return your artwork up to three weeks after it arrived, and some will force you to cover the shipping in both directions if the contents are damaged. In New Zealand, it is pointless to try to get your money back for non-delivery or damage on any untracked services – NZ Post is going to drag you through an endless process, knowing that most people will give up and cut their losses. Paypal and other payment gateways will also allow your customers to withdraw their payments without any mitigation process. All in all, the possibility to not only lose your artwork but money at anytime in the process is real. 

My advice – manage your risks by setting up your own insurance scheme by factoring a risk percentage into your retail price. For example, if you raise your price 10%, you can lose every 20th or so delivery. Smooth this over for your most trusted and returning customers by consistently offering them a voucher for their next purchase.  

Be realistic about the risk – I have shipped over 500 items with etsy.com and felt.co.nz (which is not much at all!). I can remember one quite ugly dispute with a customer around a ‘non-delivery’, and I had reports of maybe a dozen non-deliveries more that I could replace without hassle – original prints are much easier to replace than unique artworks. 

Last but not least – don’t forget why you are doing this. If you are in this for money, you might not be happy with what you are doing, but if your aim is to add a smile to your customer’s lives and add something special to their house with an emotional connection, you might be able to get your 1000 true fans and scratch out a living. 

Art(work): Better but not on target.

Promotion and social media: My new strategy shows some results :). 

Editing and rewrites: 5867 words – The best quota to date. Yay!

Renovations: Ah, well … some progress has been made … one could say … 

Garden: More planting for Section 3b, research for Section 4 …