Shop Talk: Best Practices for Shipping to Canada
Q: “What are some best practices around shipping orders to Canada? What practices ensure optimal customer service, and what shipping services, methods or providers do you use or recommend? Thanks!”
— Nicholas Cole, vice president of e-commerce, Trinity Road
A: You’d think shipping to a country right next door would be as easy as crossing the border. That’s not the case however, as many U.S. merchants shipping to Canada run into a lot of problems. Even big merchants like Zappos.com have discontinued their offerings in Canada after numerous unhappy Canadian customer complaints. Here are the top complaints from merchants about shipping to our neighbors to the north:
1. Brokerage fees. Carriers issue them, especially UPS, sometimes very erratically. They also drive up costs.
2. Lost shipments, lack of tracking. Once packages reach customs, it’s very difficult to get a shipment update.
3. Shipments blocked by customers when levied GST charges. Canadian customers often refuse to pay additional “hidden” fees to receive their package, not realizing that the fees are really the Canadian government’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) charges.
4. Returns are a source of frustration. Returned international shipments … ouch. Many merchants just choose to abandon the product (or gift it) to save time, money and headaches.
5. Unpredictable delivery times. Limited tracking ability and customs delays, especially during peak holiday seasons, can lead to unpredictable delivery times.
Brokerage fees, GST charges and shipping times are all difficult to estimate and they create a disconnect within the buying experience. This adds up to a less-than-optimal online experience. Many Candian consumers understand this. That said, some retailers do a better job with this than others, so the bar is getting set higher. Other Canadian consumers are more than willing to reject packages and charge back the seller if the experience isn’t what they expect.
There are multiple ways to solve these problems. The U.S. Postal Service and Canada Post handoff generates less problems than other carrier services, for example. Some merchants like consolidated shipping solutions, but others find them too slow as they need to aggregate multiple orders into one freight shipment.
The most foolproof way of solving these problems is to place some inventory in Canada. It’s not hard to outsource your Canadian order fulfillment, and the benefits are clear: you ship like a Canadian merchant and returns are handled by your Canadian warehouse.