Finding ways around overseas shipping hassles
July 17, 2006
Rebecca Eusey couldn’t wait to use her new 30 gigabyte video iPod, which she bought just before Christmas. But her excitement was short-lived because the MP3 player did not work.
Apart from her frustrations with the equipment, Eusey soon became even more angry with the shipping system that delayed sending the iPod back for repairs. She ran into a common problem that affects many U.S. servicemembers living overseas: Apple did not recognize her Army Post Office address.
“I had to send it back to my in-laws in Florida, and then they had to send it to Apple,” said Eusey, a military spouse in Naples, Italy. When the iPod was fixed, her in-laws had to send it through the U.S. Postal Service back to her APO. With insurance, Eusey said she spent about $40 to send it back and forth. “It has been a huge headache,” she said.
Some companies like Apple send their products using private shipping agencies, such as UPS, which do not ship to military post offices. This and other hassles make navigating online shopping sites exceedingly difficult for military members and their families based abroad.
Department of Defense has had an agreement since 1980 with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail to servicemembers overseas. However, the DOD announced in June that it is accepting proposals on how to improve the system through outsourcing to private companies.
“The [current] agreement does not prohibit private companies like UPS or FedEx from delivering to military post offices,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman for Military Postal Service Agency in Alexandria, Va.
However, UPS, DHL and FedEx use door to door delivery and do not ship to P.O. boxes, including those at Army post offices and Fleet post offices.
Other companies, even those that use the U.S. Postal Service, have confusing and at times nonsensical regulations when it comes to shipping to military addresses.
Take, for example, Amazon.com. Although Amazon advertises on its Web site that “most items can be shipped to APO/FPO addresses,” it also includes a long list of exceptions.
No cell phones, computers, furniture, outdoor living items and some apparel, camera and photo, electronics, health and personal care, housewares, jewelry, software, sports, tools and hardware, or Target@amazon.com items can be shipped to APO/FPOs.
In other words, soldiers can have DVDs delivered to their APO addresses, but not cell phones; they can order an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica, but not a set of bath towels.
When asked to explain the reason for this shipping discrepancy, Amazon spokeswoman Patricia Smith replied, “because of differences in electronic currents/voltage (products won’t work with non-U.S. voltage), and warranty issues (manufacturers won’t cover the warranty if it’s outside the U.S.), we aren’t able to ship these products overseas.”
But as most soldiers living abroad know, voltage converters and adapters are sold in every PX and bath towels work the same around the globe. Repeated phone calls and e-mails to Amazon asking for further clarification went unanswered.
“I don’t understand it,” said Eusey, a frequent online shopper. She said she has had problems with shipping to APOs before, especially around Christmas. “These companies are losing business,” she said.
Eusey may be right. A survey conducted by oconus.com — an online consolidation of APO/FPO friendly businesses — found “70% of oconus.com shoppers have abandoned their shopping carts when they could not find their APO or FPO ‘state’ in the state dropdown box.”
While some companies are losing business by not shipping to APO/FPOs, others are stepping in to fill the gap.
At least three online companies have sprouted up in recent years to help military families shop online: oconus.com, fpoapo.com, and shipitapo.com. All three were founded by military or ex-military members who were fed up with APO/FPO shipping hassles.
ShipitAPO gets around the problem by providing military members with a valid stateside address. ShipitAPO then receives the package and sends it on through the Military Postal Service.
Customers can register with shipitapo.com for free, but must pay a handling fee for each package. A package under 25 lbs., for example, costs $7.95 in addition to the regular shipping charges.
The other two sites, fpoapo.com and oconus.com, both provide a consolidated list of businesses that ship to military addresses.
Dan Latvala came up with the idea for the oconus-shopper website while living in Ansbach, Germany, where he served as an Army captain. “I got tired of getting to the point of checkout and then finding the merchant couldn’t ship to me,” he said.
Having trouble with shipping? Try these Web sites:
www.fpoapo.com, an online shopping site that features only companies that ship to APO/FPOs.
www.Oconus.com, similar to fpoapo.com, is a compilation of APO/FPO friendly companies.
www.shipitapo.com allows customers to bypass the APO loophole by giving them a U.S. street address. Items ordered online are shipped to that address, and then ShipitAPO sends it on using U.S. Postal Service to the military address.