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STUTTGART, Germany

As the holiday season nears, overseas shoppers used to the convenience of ordering online may encounter an irritating roadblock: Some retailers don’t ship to military post offices overseas.

Even with major vendors such as Amazon.com, it’s hit or miss. The company will ship some electronic products to Army and Fleet post offices, but not others. Best Buy and Target have similar policies. And some companies don’t ship to military mailboxes at all.

Santa’s helpers10 companies with a significant presence in the APO/FPO market:

Wal-MartBestBuy.comJC PenneyKmart.com800HighTech.comTargetSearsOverstock.comMacy'sD&M AutoA shipping alternative:www.apobox.com

Europe: For packages up to 40 pounds, APO Box charges a flat rate of $14.95 for delivery. For packages up to 70 pounds, the rate is $24.95. The company’s flat rate discount is limited to addresses with AE ZIP codes because the high volume of deliveries enables APO Box to negotiate lower rates with the U.S. Postal Service.

Pacific: Customers must pay a handling fee of between $6 and $8 based on the weight of the package plus the U.S. Postal Service’s regular postage cost and an insurance fee. APO Box hopes to offer a flat rate similar to that given to customers in Europe in 2010.

Customers may go as far as plugging in their credit card and address information before being stopped by this message: “Currently the item can only be shipped within the U.S.”

But don’t give up on that gift. There are ways around the problem.

For starters, there is Apobox.com, a small, family business launched by former servicemembers to give current servicemembers more access to products online.

“We’re all veterans and we’ve all been overseas. We know how hard it is to get things we take for granted living in the States,” said company sales and marketing director Glenn Hauptmann, a former airman who was stationed in Europe.

In 2006, Hauptmann, along with his wife and brother-in-law, started Apobox.com, which serves as a middleman for overseas shoppers blocked from accessing products from certain companies.

The reason some companies don’t ship outside the continental U.S. is that many large online retailers have exclusive bulk shipping contracts with UPS, FedEx or DHL to lower costs. However, only the U.S. Postal Service delivers to APO and FPO addresses.

Apobox.com gets around the roadblock by giving their clients a stateside mailing address to use during online shopping checkouts. When a servicemember makes a purchase, that item then goes to one of Apobox.com’s distribution centers. From there, the company forwards the packages via the U.S. Postal Service to customers in Europe, the Pacific and the Mideast.

According to its Web site, most packages are processed and shipped out within 24 hours of arriving at the APO warehouse.

“We’re basically allowing the customers to go online and shop like everyone else,” Hauptmann said.

The list of retailers who see value in the military market is growing, however.

Online company Oconus.com has a database of more than 700 companies that ship to APOs and users regularly make contributions to update that list, said company founder Dan Latvala, who left the military in 1999.

“When I was in the military, it was something we found so frustrating,” he said. “But things are definitely on the upswing.”

In recent years, shopping online has become easier as more companies target military members, who with their steady jobs and benefits, are dependable consumers.

According to a survey this year by Alloy Media and Marketing, the nation’s active-duty military households represent $71 billion in consumer spending power. The military community also is Internet savvy, with 84 percent of its members going to store Web sites and 73 percent shopping at online-only retailers, according to the survey, released in July.

“I think the down economy has made [retailers] take a second look at the military market,” Latvala said.

author picture
John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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