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Forecasters say online shopping in the United States will continue to surge this holiday season as shoppers forgo crowds and find more variety at the click of a button.

Shopping online is a boon for those stationed overseas with an APO or FPO mailbox. But as military shoppers navigate the virtual aisles they may have a few surprises ahead: surcharges and restrictions on shipping to military post boxes.

Many retailers ship to military addresses abroad. There are plenty of exceptions: goods that can’t be shipped for safety reasons, such as perfumes or pressurized contents; goods including software and video games that violate licensing agreements and regulations; and goods that violate host nation or military rules such as pornography.

Some companies won’t ship to post office boxes of any kind and others don’t use the U.S. Postal Service, the only company that delivers to APO and FPO addresses.

Other companies will ship but impose an extra fee. Last month the company tacked on a surcharge to APO/FPO customers, to get merchandise to them “up to three times faster,” according to a spokesman. The service — using priority rather than first class mail — will cost military shoppers $4.99 per order, added at the final checkout.

J.C. Penney Co. features special services for APO/FPO customers including a telephone ordering system for some overseas locations. But the company also charges $1 more in standard shipping for APO/FPO customers than their stateside counterparts.

J.C. Penney company representatives did not respond to queries from Stars and Stripes about the added costs by press time.

For companies that use the U.S. Postal Service, there is no added charge for shipping to APOs and FPOs, according to postal guidelines. It’s the same rate as to San Francisco, New York or Miami. Companies do have to fill out customs forms, which could require more work and therefore potentially a handling fee.

Licensing and tariff restrictions cause much of the hassles for military buyers overseas., the largest online retailer, will ship most merchandise, except apparel, camera and photo items, cell phones and service, computers, most electronics items, hardware, housewares, kitchen items, magazines, outdoor living items, software (including games), and tools, according to the company.

Electronics seller Best Buy will ship movies, music and most games, but only some software and accessories.

Computer maker Dell — the second-largest Web seller, according to retail analysts — is building a Web ordering system specifically for APO/FPO customers that will comply with customs restrictions and weight allowances for each host country. The company states on its Web site that some items, including large monitors, simply weigh too much. In other cases, licensing restricts particular software.

Apple computer apologizes on its Web site for its inability to ship to military addresses but refers customers to military exchanges for Apple merchandise.

With so many variations, when trying out a new company online, shoppers should check shipping rules about military post offices before browsing. Services in the States exist to assist APO and FPO shoppers by collecting packages for companies that don’t ship to military addresses and forwarding them to customers, all for a fee.

Other companies have been created by former servicemembers to help list companies in one place that will ship to military addresses.

However, some companies make special arrangements for military shoppers. Although the Old Time Candy Company ships by UPS, they will make a special trip to the post office for APO and FPO addresses, according to the company Web site. Shipping to those addresses is free.

The company states, however, that once a package hits the military system, the company can’t track or be responsible for it. The company notes one other caveat for those serving abroad:

“Realize that there is no way to protect chocolate and meltable candy if shipped to a climate above 75 degrees. It will melt.”


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