Some retailers inflate costs to ship to APO addresses

By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2009

WIESBADEN, Germany — Overseas military customers ordering gifts online from certain retailers might get an unpleasant surprise when shipping and handling fees are tacked on at the end of the purchase.

Those same customers might be most surprised to find that retail giant Walmart had the biggest markup.

On a $120 purchase, Walmart.com charged $10.35 to ship to an APO address, compared with $2.10 to a stateside address. For most items, Amazon.com charged the same to ship to an APO address as a stateside address. And Target offered shipping on a $120 purchase to an APO address for less than to a stateside address.

Wal-Mart Inc. officials did not return calls requesting an interview. However, in an e-mailed response, spokesman Ravi Jariwala said: “In your shopping cart during the checkout process, we show an estimated shipping cost, based on our lowest-price shipping method and assuming all items in your cart are going to a single address within the contiguous United States. If you select a different shipping method, a military APO/FPO address or an address outside the contiguous United States, your actual shipping cost may be higher. We continue to work with carriers to negotiate favorable shipping rates.”

But Earl Small, the postmaster at Wiesbaden Army Airfield, said that the shipping and handling charges have nothing to do with the military postal system or the U.S. Postal Service.

“A company can charge whatever they want,” said Small, who explained that items up to 108 inches are normally shipped at normal cost, but larger items often fall under a more expensive “balloon charge.”

According to Small, when companies ship to APO addresses in Europe, the order is shipped to New York, after which the Department of Defense picks up the tab to get the package to an APO address.

On Walmart.com, the company says shipping costs will be higher to APO addresses due to higher transportation costs.

“There is no higher transportation costs,” Small said. “Companies are abusing the system and making a killing.”