How do you calculate rates?
Turns out calculating international rates is not as easy as one would think. USPS/FedEx/UPS automated solutions are half-baked and quite unreliable from what I heard/seen.
What do you use to provide international quotes for your shopping cart system?
Custom built? Other plug-n-play services?
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We provide a link to USPS's online international shipping calculator for reference, since they consistently (in our experience) provide the cheapest reasonable method for shipping our goods internationally...
But we do not actually calculate any international shipping automatically. There are too many variables, from the wide range of sizes and weights of our products to the wide range of international fees, tariffs, etc., that may apply. We actually call or email each international customer, and determine shipping charges manually on an order-by-order basis.
That said, we don't have a tremendously busy online store, and many of our international orders are quite large and completed over the phone rather than through our shopping cart in the first place.
Another solution you might consider is to set fixed rates for each country. I've seen this working with used books: set three fixed rates for each country, dependent on weight or size.
This way you will sometimes charge more than necessary, sometimes less.
But clear and reliable fixed prices are important in international online shopping.
That's definitely the way to go for retailers with fairly uniformly sized products.
Unfortunately, in my employer's particular case, we have everything from products often bought by the dozen that weight a fraction of an ounce apiece, to products that weight over 100 pounds for one item. Not to mention oversize package charges on some items, and hazardous shipping restrictions on others...
With my own business that I'm planning, a fixed shipping scale like you suggest would work perfectly though, as all the products would be small enough (individually) to hold in one's hand, and be in the same general weight range.
fixed rates for each country
I happen to ship book sized items, and that's exactly what I do. I basically converted the UPS price list for that size of packet into a text file, and the order script will pick the right value from there depending on the target country. Any customs charges will be paid by the recipient on delivery (to UPS, who manage those things internally), so that I don't have to worry about that either. The same procedure will work with FedEx or any other shipping agent.
Having to ship items as mivox describes them would give me nightmares. In such a case you're either big enough so you can afford a custom built automatic system, or you'll have to do it manually.
I ship products internationally but also have to calculate shipping based on each individual product based on size/weight. To date - I haven't seen anything that automates this process that would be reliable enough to calculate shipping if you have a variety of sizes/weights. Sure would like to find one :)