Operations and Fulfillment: Mailing It Over There

Somebody in your marketing department made the brilliant decision to begin mailing your catalog overseas. Now it’s your job to get the books into the hands of international customers.

How you deliver your catalogs to overseas shores depends on several factors, including your mail quantity, the weight of the piece, where the books are going, and how quickly they need to get there.

You must also consider how you want your catalog to be perceived by overseas recipients. For instance, some U.S. mailers prefer to downplay their foreign status so that overseas customers are more comfortable ordering with them. But you may lose some of your cache as an American marketer if your catalog has a local postage indicia.

Also, the U.S. Postal Service requires all international mail to be enclosed in an envelope, polybagged, or tabbed on three sides. You have to weigh your presentation against your budget. Envelopes may look more polished, but polybagging tends to be more cost-effective.

The DIY option

Catalogers that sort their mail, either manually or using software, and place it in designated bags or trays before sending it abroad can cut their international postage costs by up to 50%. What’s more, because mail received in this manner can skip many steps in the sortation process, it generally reaches the recipient several days quicker than it might otherwise.

The downside of doing it yourself is that if you’re not working with someone who knows the local postal system, your catalogs could get held up on foreign soil, or you could be charged an incorrect rate.

USPS does extend discounts on international mailings, but they’re based on a commitment to spending an annual dollar amount that few catalogers just starting to mail overseas would meet. The minimum expenditure to qualify for a USPS discount is $2 million, which would bring a 5% discount off published international rates. If you spend $5 million, you get 10% discount off published rates. If you commit to a $25 million annual commitment, you receive a 16% discount off published rates.

The USPS has two international services, International Priority Airlift (IPA), which delivers U.S. catalogs in 3-5 days, or International Surface Airlift (ISAL), which can take 7-14 days for delivery.

Most U.S. catalogers use ISAL to send catalogs overseas, says Susan Adams, director of international services for Chicago-based R.R. Donnelley Logistics. “Depending on what country you’re mailing to, if you add another week to your catalog’s delivery, ISAL could cut down on your mailing costs dramatically,” she says.

Making the decision more complex: When mailing to some countries, such as the U.K., direct entry can be cheaper than using a domestic service to process your catalogs. Direct entry entails using air freight to transport your mail to the foreign country and then drop it into the local mail stream. The Reims Agreement of 1997 formed a large single market for postal services within the European Union, allowing for competition among countries. So if you’re a U.S. mailer planning a drop in Ireland, for instance, it may be cheaper to mail your books to the U.K. and have the British postal service, Royal Mail, deliver them to the Irish postal system. This is called an ABC Remail, which means the catalogs are produced in Country A, deposited in the mail stream of Country B, and distributed in Country C.

The cost-effectiveness of direct entry vs. USPS’s ISAL depends on the destination country, the weight, and the quantity. Using the U.K. as an example, if you’re mailing 100,000 copies of a lightweight piece, such as a direct mail one-page flier, ISAL with a discount would make more sense economically. “But if your catalog weighs two to three ounces, direct entry makes a lot more sense,” Adams says.

But in some countries, such as Japan and Germany, local postal rates are so expensive that direct entry wouldn’t be the best option, says Adams. For mailing catalogs from the U.S. to Germany, Adams suggests ISAL with a USPS discount.

Using a mail consolidator

Most mail consolidators can leverage the collective might of all their clients and thus ease the costs of mailing into a foreign country; using a consolidator, then, might help you alleviate some of the cost of preparing catalogs to mail. And several service providers, such as R.R. Donnelley Logistics and Fala International Mailing Services, have contracts with the USPS.

According to Melville, NY-based Fala International Mailing Services, mailing a 1-lb. piece to Canada via the USPS would cost $3.68, whereas sending the same piece to Canada with a consolidator (via the IPA service) costs you $2.88. The consolidator preprocesses the mail piece and is able to drop-ship into the postal stream and eliminate trucking.

Generally, a mail consolidator prepares your mail pieces, following the regulations of the destination countries. A consolidator may also print the indicia on the mail piece (your printer may do this as well), polybag your catalogs, bundle the catalogs, and put the bundles in a mail sack for transit.

Cleveland-based cataloger World Almanac Education has used Windsor, Ontario-based service provider Arrow Canadian Mailing Services since it began mailing into Canada in 1997. World Almanac Education mails into Canada three times a year; each drop contains 16,000 catalogs. “As a U.S. mailer, we wanted to have a local presence in the Canadian market,” says Jodie Yuhas, vice president of marketing.

As a registered Canadian customs broker, Arrow can drive its trucks over the U.S.-Canada border to pick up World Almanac Education’s catalogs from its printer in Detroit and bring them to the Arrow plant in Ontario, explains Arrow vice president Jeff Williams. “It’s like zone-skipping, only you’re jumping into another country,” he says. Arrow then prepares the books to be mailed via the Canadian postal system.

And World Almanac need not put its catalogs in an envelope as required for U.S. mailers because it’s technically mailing the books from Ontario via Arrow. The consolidator also provides World Almanac with a Canadian return address, so customers think the cataloger has a physical presence in Canada.

Electronic components cataloger Pasternack Enterprises began mailing catalogs overseas in the late 1980s using the USPS’s ISAL option. The Irvine, CA-based company today mails about 500,000-750,000 catalogs a year overseas, primarily in the U.K., Germany, and France.

President/owner Larry Pasternack wasn’t satisfied with ISAL, however. He says the service was expensive and the delivery was often less than reliable. So in the first quarter of 2001, Pasternack began using Edgewood, NY-based consolidator Omnisort International. He estimates that using Omnisort has cut his international mailing costs by 20%.

Overseas deliverability has also improved, Pasternack says. The cataloger gauges deliverability by the volume of orders that come in following the catalog drops and via European contacts who act as seed names.

Overseas Mailing Service Vendors

Looking to mail your catalog overseas? Many companies specialize in international mailing logistics. Here are just a few resources:

American Package Express, 949-851-2510, www.shipapx.com
Arrow Canadian Mailing Services, 313-961-8334, www.mailingcanada.com
Canada Post, 800-260-7678, www.canadapost.ca
Deutsch Post, 410-729-1948, www.deutschepost.com
Direct Link (formerly Scandavian Post Office) North American Division, 908-289-0703, www.directlink.com
Fala International Mailing Services, 800-700-Fala, www.fala.com
Omnisort International, 631-254-6406, www.omnisort.com
Royal Mail, 646-742-555, www.royalmail.com
R.R. Donnelley Logistics, 800-800-Ship, www.donnelleylogistics.com

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