Going Global: Postage

image by: who has a great set of Israeli stamps.

You’d think it would be pretty simple to create an interaction, a decision making process and flow around postage / shipping. It’s not. It’s quite hard and I thought I’d share some of the thinking we’ve done in opening up International Sales to UK sellers and particularly the shipping bit.

International Sales depend on you being able to ship internationally. There are some factors to consider here:

  1. There are approximately 195 countries in the world. Allowing you to choose from that many is “non-trivial”: do you group them?; how do you group them?
  2. There are a number of means to send things abroad. You have the Royal Mail of course, but then ParcelForce for bigger stuff and then UPS, FedEx and a plethora of others. Each has there own cost structure.
  3. Crafters tend not to sell one size of thing. Shops generally stock a range of things, each of which will (probably) cost different amounts to post to the same place
  4. Some countries may not allow you to export to them. The ongoing issue around the CPSIA and ‘toys’ is a case-in-point.

How do others manage it?

Well, sites like Amazon and eBay have country specific sites (.co.uk for example) each of which has specific shipping options. That’s a major effort, not just technically but legally and logistically. But in doing it this way you can create shipping interactions that work for that country.


    From UK

  1. Domestic only [UK]
  2. Domestic and within Europe
  3. Domestic, within Europe and the United States
  4. Domestic, European, US and international

    From US

  1. Domestic only (plus the following 2 checkboxes)
  2. International Shipping
  3. Expedited Shipping

    From Canada (3 checkboxes)

  1. Will ship to Canada
  2. Will ship to the United States
  3. International Shipping

    From France

  1. France only
  2. Europe
  3. Europe and the DOM-TOM [Overseas departments ie. islands in Carribbean and elsewhere]
  4. Europe, the DOM-TOM and North America
  5. Worldwide


    FROM UK (Dropdown with 3 options)

  1. UK
  2. European Union
  3. Worldwide


  1. 1. US
  2. US + the following (checkboxes)
  3. North & South America
  4. Canada
  5. Mexico
  6. Europe
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Germany
  9. Asia
  10. Australia
  11. Japan

I think this is quite fascinating. Some countries (e.g. France) have ‘territories’ (DOM TOM) that are part of their ‘Empire’ and are part of a ‘mental map’ of the world which is useful for services to model to. Interestingly The Commonwealth wasn’t used by any of the online services for their UK sites, so it’s clearly not as strong a ‘mental map’ in the UK or, we just don’t like to think of our ‘Empire’ (do you know of any services that do use that ‘geography to model shipping to?).

So, what options are there when considering how to allow people to send stuff to other countries and for a service to be “international”?

Option 1: The regional model. Country listings for services that are country specific can be simplified and the interactions made quite simple. We like simple but we need one platform for all sellers. Regions in this model would require a lot of work for us. We’d have to know where you are (we do via your shop) and then create bespoke regional listings depending on which country you come from, a bit like the eBay and Amazon examples, above. But we know you sellers like control. Our regions would always be imperfect, constantly needing tweaking, constantly requiring maintenance. And we don’t like to build-in design overheads like that :) Issue: High administrative cost; possible lost sales from imperfect market pricing

Option 2: The “leave it up to the buyer and seller to sort out” model. We’re working from the premise that the buyer needs to know the cost of an order (item + postage) to make a buying decision but on eBay, larger items are often priced up after the sale or worked out in an ad-hoc fashion with the seller. We *could* just leave it up to the buyer to contact the seller and figure out a price. But ebay is (generally) a more involved buying experience because most interactions are through an auction process. Issue: High transactional cost (it involves people making decisions together).

Option 3: The “give the user all the countries and let them choose” model. Why not give all sellers the choice of where they sell to? Well, there are 195 (approx.) countries, as stated above. That’s a lot of interactions, a lot of decisions. Etsy are similar in that they provide a platform for artists, designers and crafters from all over the world to sell to anyone else all over the world – a truly global marketplace. Their interaction is to assume it’s going to be a pain in the ass to administer shipping options for each item and so they have the concept of a “shipping profile” so you can set places you sell to for specific prices. From our user research this is an awkward process (though their interaction designers have done the best of a hard job). Many sellers do make the exact same things again and again and so a shipping “profile” can just be re-used. But many don’t sell the same things and *crucially* the interaction is not particularly frequent. Sellers are not listing a lot of items with great frequency – it’s an irregular job. We like this model of allowing people to choose from all countries but we don’t believe profiles are particularly good as a solution. Issue: Pushes the admin overhead onto sellers.

So, our first stab at this – and what we’ll be launching International sales (or UK sellers) after we’ve finished testing it this weekend, is this:

We’ve gone with option 3 but opted not to include shipping profiles, instead we’ve tried to make the interaction around choosing which countries to sell to really really simple. Country listings in the dropdown will be prioritised for key markets and then by region. It’s simple, just two buttons! What do you think?

What we don’t have at this stage is a “gift wrap” option. A few people has asked for this and it is something we’d like to do, but it’s a devil to build.

We’re re-designing many of the interactions on the site and this is the start of it. The listing process in its entirety will be redesigned (with a one page ‘edit’) next. Before then I’m going to share with you the Information Architecture work on the site and our view of categories, a contentious subject which turns even the most mild-mannered maker into a monster. Bring it on! :)



  • February 26, 2009


    Wow, what a mindblowing lot of info. to have to crunch & technify… I’m not totally clear about the option Folksy is going with, it looks simple enough, but does not having the profile option mean that if you are shipping to UK, you can only have 1 set postage cost (ie. can’t adjust for lighter, smaller packages vs. heavier items in same shop)?
    I’ve gotten used to the shipping process over at Etsy, I use several profiles so I can just pick the right one for the weight of the goods… my main gripe over there is no “Europe” choice, so everyone gets lumped together in “EVERYWHERE ELSE”.
    Just want to say a huge thanks for all your hard work on this :o)

  • February 26, 2009


    Wow, indeed! So many permutations. Obviously as shop holders we’d like it to be as simple as possible while allowing flexibility for different items. Appreciate it’s a tricky job, and you can guarantee it won’t please everyone!

  • February 26, 2009


    wow, you’ve thought long and hard about this!! My only comment is about including a Europe option, my other sites are attracting a fair few due to the Euro price at the moment.

    Well done guys… now we just need to find these overseas buyers….

  • February 26, 2009

    Rowan | KitschenSink

    I’m excited about selling internationally! Excellent. Glad you are considering a gift wrap option too. At the minute I am selling it as an extra product!

  • February 26, 2009


    Great work guys! Looking forward to selling internationally!!!

  • February 26, 2009


    well done guys!!! Hopefully we’ll be more successful with your stage than the Eurovision.

  • February 26, 2009


    well done guys!!! Hopefully we’ll be more successful with your stage than the Eurovision.

  • February 26, 2009


    Looking good so far! The only thing is, I like shipping profiles – at the moment every time I list a new item I have to go back and check my own p+p list instead of just pulling up a profile called ‘card’ or ‘flower’ or whatever. And if postage costs should change, every item has to be changed individually :(

  • February 26, 2009


    Looks pretty good so far. I agree with a couple of others that having shipping profiles saved would be great but I understand that this is not a simple task for you and really appreciate what you’ve done so far. Really looking forward to testing it and hopefully getting some international sales.

  • February 26, 2009


    wow, you have all been working hard! I agree that having a Europe option would be good, I also think that an ‘everywhere else’ option would be useful so that after you’ve added in your main markets you could put that and know that everyone is covered and you haven’t stopped anyone from being able to purchase from you. Looking good so far!
    : )

  • February 26, 2009


    I would like to see a kind of UK/ Europe/ World 1/World 2 scenario, like at the post office. Listing each country individually takes a long time to set up.

    I can’t use the combined shipping tool because of the different weights of my items but if I get an order for more than one item of the same type that can be packed together, I always refund some shipping via paypal. Dawanda have a great set up where you can adjust the shipping rate after the initial order. When you’ve done that, the order is complete and the buyer can pay.

  • February 26, 2009

    Dolly Knits

    If we could have a “Europe” option then that would be brilliant! I’m pretty sure it costs the same amount to send to anywhere in Europe with Royal Mail.

    Exciting stuff!