Store: USPS Shipping Rate Increase, Jan 2013

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Author: 
Radha

I have to be honest. I’m looking towards the end of this month with dread. The US Post has announced a rate increase, and it looks like it’s going to be a big one. If only we were up there with the likes of Amazon.com, it wouldn’t matter so much. But we’re just Krishna.com.

We’re always stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to shipping. Our customers don’t like to pay higher rates, obviously. But then something goes wrong and we get to deal with a missing or damaged package, and an upset customer. And it turns out in hindsight that the package should have been shipped using a more secure method.

USPS logoThe two things about shipping are 1) you get what you pay for, and 2) we only charge our customers what we pay. The real problem is that big companies like Amazon.com ship a LOT of packages and have lots of weight to negotiate very good prices for standard and premium shipping service. We don’t ship a lot of packages and have to take the usual shipping rates that everyone else has to pay.

But because companies like Amazon have spoiled online shoppers with cheap or free shipping, we get a lot of complaints about our shipping rates. That’s not to say we can’t ship packages at cheaper rates. We have had a lot of experience doing this. Bad experience. Like the rate called ‘Media Mail’ that everyone loves because it’s so inexpensive. The stories I could tell about how bad that service is. Yikes!

So we’ve historically made the unpopular decision to offer only the shipping services levels that we feel are going to ensure a package arrived at its destination intact, undamaged, and on time. Yes, this usually means it’s a little more expensive than the economy levels of shipping. But we would rather your packages arrive in good condition and in a reasonable time frames, and that the shippers can tell us where the package is in case it doesn’t arrive on time. And if it’s lost or damaged, we want the shippers to accept responsibility for their error.

Don’t get me wrong, if you, the customer, place an order and tell us you want it shipped by a cheaper method, we will do that for you. We will also clearly tell you that once it leaves our warehouse, we’re not responsible for it. That’s just the cold, hard reality. From our experience with some of these shipping options, we know what’s unreliable, and we don’t like to risk your packages like that.

Okay, but why is shipping so high? We still get that question a lot. Your package shipping is based on weight and destination. And of course, shipping method. That’s the short version.

That fact is, we’re still not Amazon.com. They have really fantastic shopping software that they have people on staff constantly working with to improve. We have a total staff of two full-time employees and five part-time employees. For everything in the store. We can’t afford advanced software so we lease some basic software that is backed by an excellent security system. Which means that when you order from Amazon, their software can tell that a book and a t-shirt and a poster cannot all ship in the same package, and it can calculate what kinds of packages and shipping for each package is required.

Well, our software can’t do that. So we have to make adjustments once we process your order. We do the best we can to give you a realistic shipping quote online, and once we process your order, we try to find a way to save you on the shipping if we can. For example, sometimes we can carefully squeeze all of your items in a flat-rate box and save you a few dollars. Or sometimes we can switch your package from UPS (our default for US destinations) to a US Post shipping method and save some money without putting your package at risk. Not always, but we try. If we can do this, we adjust your shipping fee and let you know about the savings.

Oh gosh, and don’t even get me started about shipping to international destinations. For years we’ve been trying to figure out how to NOT ship outside the US, but we just have too many people that rely on Krishna.com. So we accept the challenge of shipping to as many countries as we can. Every country has different shipping fees and rules. Some countries you cannot ship anything gold or silver. Others you cannot ship silk. Others have rules about the size of the box. Other countries are notorious for loosing packages or opening packages and removing items. And even more trouble is the customs fees and taxes which we cannot possibly estimate or pre-pay. Often customers have to pick up their orders at their local post offices and pay tax or a custom fee that they weren’t expecting. And guess who usually gets an angry email or phone call about that?

I don’t know if you know it but there are still countries that we cannot ship directly to. And there are a surprising number of countries that censor incoming shipments, and will reject things like the Bhagavad-gita. Yes, many of us are used to a blanket of freedom to read what we like, but there are still places in the world that think by banning books, they can ban spiritual freedom.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with the shipping issues we deal with. Prisons for instance. A lot of prisons require that books are shipped ONLY from the publisher. Since Krishna.com is the retail arm for the BBT here in North America, we qualify as ‘the publisher’. Friends, family, well-wishers, and prisoners themselves come to us so they can receive Srila Prabhupada’s books while in jail. But each prison has different rules. Some require books arrive in their original packaging and shrink-wrap. Others require all hardbound covers be cut off before arriving. And there are some lovely prisons with active ministers that like to make sure japa beads and spiritual books are available in their prison shop for prisoners to buy as they like, and they arrange for us to stock their shops.

If you had any idea how much information our customer service ladies had to store in their heads, your own brain might explode. Every order is different. Every package that leaves our warehouse is an adventure. Our warehouse manager is an encyclopedia of shipping options, weights, rules and regulations, countries and requirements, shipping tables, time tables, and customs forms. We don’t have fancy software, but we do have some pretty spectacular team members here!

Anyhow the long story has been told (there’s more actually, but you don’t need to hear all of our problems), but the short story is that shipping rates are about to go up. We have absorbed all of the shipping increases for the past four years. This one we just can’t absorb.

We’re bracing ourselves for the complaints. Most of which we don’t deserve because this is something far beyond our control. Our customer service ladies are preparing themselves for the many, many, many times they’ll have to explain about the rate increase. I am prepared to sit for a week with the multitudes of shipping rate charts we use to overhaul our existing shipping tables. Our warehouse is prepared for the drop in orders placed because of the rate increase. All we can do is what we’ve always done. Stand firm on our commitment to offer the best quality service to our customers as we can. I refuse to step down and rely on ‘economy shipping’ because of the truly horrendous quality of service.

Maybe one day we’ll be a big power like Amazon.com, and will be able to afford advanced shopping software, and be able to negotiate ridiculously low shipping rates with shippers. But until then, we’re just Krishna.com.

Radha
Store Manager, Krishna.com

P.S. I haven’t even touched on how this will affect Back to Godhead magazine. While I don’t think the rate increase impacts the individual subscribers, it will affect all of our bulk orders, which is the majority of the magazine printed. Every temple around the world that orders magazines for their congregation and book distribution projects will be hit with the added expense.