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Listing: Postal Zones

by James


We’re completing some work on improving the listing process and making it easier for sellers to comply with the Distance Selling Regulations. As part of this work we’re changing the way we manage postal zones.

Currently you choose from a long list of individual countries. It allows you to be specific about where you want to post to.  But is a laborious process for those wanting to post to a selection of different countries and a barrier to people posting abroad. Consequently, it is also frustrating for people browsing on Folksy from outside the UK as they can’t easily see if  they could receive items they like.

The data behind the decision

Approximately 26% of all our non-seller visitors are from outside the UK. The United States of America accounts for 12% of that traffic and European countries account for around another 10%. It’s a lot of potential buyers that sellers may be missing out on.

The solution

We want more people to opt into posting their items abroad and to do that we’ve chosen the simplest solution, which we believe is also the best: postal zones. Rather than choose a list of individual countries we will be splitting the world into four zones:

  1. UK
  2. The European Union
  3. USA and Canada
  4. Rest of World

Each zone is additional:

  • If you add the EU Folksy includes P&P for the UK and the EU but nowhere else.
  • If you add the EU and then the Rest of World it gives one price for the EU and then  a price for everywhere else apart from the UK and the EU.
  • If you add Rest of World but don’t include the EU or USA and Canada Folksy provides a P&P price for the UK and then one for everywhere else in the world including the EU and the USA and Canada.

I want to explain our rationale for doing this.

Zones not profiles

Having researched different ways to make choosing postal areas simpler we settled on two options: zones and profiles. Profiles are essentially settings that allow you to specify countries and prices for individual items. The pros are that they allow you to be specific but the cons are that they take time to set up for each product or item and you need to edit them if any details become outdated.

We also discovered during our research that (for the purpose of selling) most sellers in the UK carve up the world into four areas.  There are four distinct areas: UK, Europe, the USA and Canada and then “everywhere else”. Not everyone thought this (some people who have family or friends abroad – for example in South Africa and Australia – specified those places) but the overwhelming majority did. This is our dominant world view: people don’t tend to specify individual countries. So “zones” are already an established concept and if we can keep to a few zones the process of choosing to post abroad should be simple.

We have four zones and we believe the overhead of choosing from four zones for each individual listing is lower than creating and maintaining profiles, especially as listings are now persistant, meaning that most people create new listings less frequently (and just re-list).

The EU not Europe

The one difficulty we faced was how to define ‘Europe’ as there are various definitions of the continent Europe. Wikipedia has a good overview of how Europe is defined:

Europe is now generally defined by geographers as the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, with its boundaries marked by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe’s limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the south-east, including the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.[16] Because of sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe’s boundary. For example, Cyprus is approximate to Anatolia (or Asia Minor), but is usually considered part of Europe and currently is a member state of the EU. In addition, Malta was considered an island of North Africa for centuries,[17] while Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (North America), is also generally included in Europe.

Sometimes, the word ‘Europe’ is used in a geopolitically limiting way[18] to refer only to the European Union or, even more exclusively, a culturally defined core. On the other hand, the Council of Europe has 47 member countries, and only 27 member states are in the EU.[19] In addition, people living in insular areas such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, the North Atlantic and Mediterranean islands and also in Scandinavia may routinely refer to “continental” or “mainland” Europe simply as Europe or “the Continent”.[20]

(source: wikipedia)

So, what should our postal zone of Europe map to? In researching this a few things to help us:

  1. The broader definition of Europe was not consistent with the popular conception of Europe. Most people saw Europe as “Mainland Europe” and in particular most those countries in the EU (although some people thought Norway, Switzerland and Iceland were in the EU and they’re not).
  2. Some people don’t feel comfortable selling to countries outside of their notion of “Mainland Europe”.
  3. PayPal doesn’t support many countries in the broader definition anyway (e.g. Turkmenistan), so if we used a broad definition we’d be being inconsistent in excluding them.

So even though the Royal Mail ships to a broad definition of Europe we feel that we should have a geographically limited definition and the most commonly understood “area” is that of the EU. The EU has 27 member states and includes:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • The United Kingdom

It doesn’t include a couple of countries that people ordinarily think of when they define mainland Europe: Switzerland and Norway. However, we feel that this is a compromise that is “good enough”.

When will this go live?

The postal zones will go live on the 10th September. We’re giving one month’s notice of this change. Once the change goes live people will be able to bulk edit their listings to change their listings to match the new zones.

We’ll update sellers nearer the time to remind them of the change and to edit listings to include postal zones.

What happens if you don’t edit your listings?

If you do not edit your listings after the 10th September then all your items will revert to posting to the UK only until you do edit your listings.

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littlewrenpottery August 10, 2012 - 4:16 pm

Great addition, I’ll definitely be adding European postage to my listings!

James August 13, 2012 - 3:02 pm

Thanks littlewrenpottery :)

Rachel August 10, 2012 - 5:39 pm

A good start but it is rather a shame that we will still be overcharging customers from the 18 or so countries who have Paypal, fall within the Royal Mail’s Europe zones but not within Folksy’s definition of Europe. It will be a bit embarrassing if a customer from Norway say messages us to ask why they are being charged the “rest of world” postage rate.

I realise that probably many of these countries have never had a Folksy customer yet, but still, you say you want to encourage international customers…

Since a large part of this is all about charging correctly for postage, I don’t see why you didn’t just go with Royal Mail’s definitions (excluding countries without Paypal)? Or have “EU” and “Europe, Non-EU”. There’s also the airmail World zone 1 and 2 issue which you’ve skipped over; but since the difference in cost between these is generally not too large I guess not many sellers will mind too much. Again though with surely most sellers using RM to post it just seems odd to ignore their pre-existing distinctions.

Also did you poll sellers about this?

James August 10, 2012 - 8:51 pm

Good points. We did poll a sample of sellers, yes, as the post states that was how we came to the solution we did.
There are two reasons for not choosing the Royal Mail definition:
1. The Royal Mail’s definition (here: http://www.royalmail.com/delivery/delivery-options-international/airmail/airmail-zones#europe) includes some places that people don’t want to send to e.g. Turkmenistan and also countries not supported by PayPal – we thought it would be far too complex to explain a new definition of Europe that had *some* Royal Mail countries but not all.
2. The RM definition isn’t used by other carriers and – whilst the RM is a significant postal service – other carriers tend to map their tarifs to a definition of Mainland Europe that is closer to the EU countries than other definitions of Europe.
As ever, it’s a trade off but we feel we’ve got the best compromise solution. We will review feedback on and use of the postal zones in the 3 months after release and if we believe they could be improved by changing the definitions we will do that.

Laura August 11, 2012 - 10:33 am

This is a good improvement (thankyou!) but it’s still very frustrating that your postal zones still won’t match up with Royal Mail’s idea of what “Europe” is! (& that it ignores the difference between World Zones 1&2, although that’s a much smaller issue as the difference isn’t too high for sending small items). I’m sure that the majority of sellers here on Folksy use the Royal Mail for sending their orders.

Would it not be possible to have two Europe categories, with “Europe: EU” and “Europe: Non-EU” with the latter category including all the non-EU countries which Royal Mail includes in its Europe pricing zone? That way sellers can easily choose if they just want to post to EU countries, or if they want to use both Europe zones and send to everywhere that Royal Mail does.

James August 11, 2012 - 6:04 pm

Hi Laura, we’ve gone for simplicity. Of the non-EU countries in the RM definition of Europe sales are almost negligible. However, we’ll review it and take on feedback and if it it’s worthwhile introducing the added complexity (for sales purposes) we will.

Laura August 11, 2012 - 7:58 pm

Thanks for your reply James :) I hope you will consider it as an option.

I’ve found on the other venues I sell that when I’ve been able to offer European rate postage (vs just having a UK rate and an “everywhere else” rate) my sales have increased to those countries as a result & I now regularly sell to customers across the whole of Europe. And with the RM price increases this spring, there’s a big difference between the European + World Zone 1&2 rates!

It’s great we’ll be able to easily offer cheaper postage to customers from the EU but it definitely seems like shame to be potentially missing out on a whole region of customers by not being able to offer them the more affordable / accurate postage costs.

James August 13, 2012 - 2:58 pm

That’s good to know. By far the biggest markets are those in the EU (and I mean by far – 99.5% of all our European sales are in the EU) so by offering a specific zone for that region it should help with improved sales to those countries.

Melanie August 11, 2012 - 8:22 pm

Great news that you are moving forward with better shipping options Folksy ….

I do think it would be a simpler idea to stick to Royal Mail’s definitions of the postal zones though. While a few sellers use other carriers the majority would use Royal Mail (who provide a great service at a reasonable cost) surely?

All EU countries cost the same to post to from the UK so it would be easier to have them all under the same grouping.

With regard to shipping internationally outside the EU/Non-EU countries, Royal Mail’s World Zone 1 covers basically all countries I would ever expect to ship to with the exception of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore which are in World zone 2.

For many lighter items the cost difference between World Zone 1 and 2 is not too much but for heavier items (which many of my products are) the cost difference between the two zones gets quite a lot larger. I would prefer not to overcharge my international customers for postage just because they don’t happen to live in the USA or Canada!

The idea that the new system will just be ‘good enough’ is a little disappointing. While it will undoubtedly be better for some countries, I can see that I will still have to have a statement in my profile/shipping information sections to let customers from certain countries know that they will be overcharged shipping and I will have to refund them the difference …. what a shame.

We should be encouraging all shoppers to buy from sellers on Folksy, no matter where they live! If international customers can clearly see how much it will cost to ship to them, before they buy, then they will be far more likely to click that ‘Add to Basket’ button!

James August 13, 2012 - 3:02 pm

Hi Melanie,
We’ve mapped to the key markets and that, coupled with the simplicity of the proposition to buyers and sellers, is why we believe this design will be effective. If people were selling more to Singapore or to Australia then we’d have to have more complex mailing options. As regards the refund, that itself isn’t necessary – you charge a postal rate and people will either choose to pay that or not.

Carol August 11, 2012 - 9:36 pm

Personally i don’t feel happy overcharging a customer from Europe (Non EU) when the price should be the same as EU. I can see negative feedback being left for sellers complaining p&p is too high. Either that, or the Non EU Europeans will simply shop elsewhere loosing business for sellers and Folksy. I have sold eslewehere for 2 1/2 yrs, using paypal and using postal zones UK, Europe, Rest with no problems what so ever.

Deborah August 13, 2012 - 9:52 am

Although Folksy is definitely going in the right direction adding this facility I do agree with the other posts that sticking to Royal Mail definitions would have been much simpler for sellers and buyers.

Rachel August 13, 2012 - 10:32 am

Folksy I do wonder how large your “sample” of sellers was that you polled. I think with things like this where it would be relatively easy to design a suitable survey you should be canvassing a large proportion of sellers before making decisions. At least to find out what postal company we all use – I mean if 95% of orders go out by Royal Mail, surely that’s what you should use to guide your profiles. If it’s much less than this, then fair enough but at least you’d have a weight of evidence to show us.

Ideally I would stick with the UK vs Rest of World postage options I currently have as I don’t want to risk negative feedback from European customers who feel they’ve been overcharged; I also have better things to do than sort out small paypal postage refunds to appease them. However I’m not sure this is an option as it looks like we’ll have to set all 4 zones otherwise customers from Europe and US/Canada will not be able to buy at all…

James August 13, 2012 - 2:55 pm

Hi, we polled a sample of 20 sellers and the feedback we got is included in the post. Most did use Royal Mail but actually many didn’t know what their definition of Europe was and didn’t feel comfortable posting to many of those places included. That, together with the fact that PayPal doesn’t include many of the places in their definition of Europe menas that this was not a simple “RM or not” design issue to resolve. Other sites use a variety of different definitions for “Europe” (for e.g. Amazon uses a different set of countries to the RM). Communication for buyers and sellers needs to be very clear and EU, in our opinion, is the clearest definition to use. However, we’ll review this, as we’ve said, and see how this could be improved going forward.

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