Warning: rant ahead.
I love this worldwide community of stationery that we live in. WordPress tells me that this blog is read in more than 150 countries (shout out to Vatican City), and I’m just as excited to discover an inspiring new maker, whether they live here in the UK or in some farflung part of the globe.
And it’s never been easier to get in touch with those makers and place an order. Time zones melt away now that we don’t need to pick up the phone. I can find out about a new maker via a local-language Facebook group, Instagram profile or forum, without them even having to have a website and online store. Google will translate well enough into any language. I can PayPal anyone in their home currency without faffing about with SWIFT codes. I can even buy from domestic Japanese retailers using a freight-forwarding service that adds practically zero friction to the transaction.
And it’s the same with selling. I can list a pen for sale and half the people that contact me — via Instagram, Facebook, email, blog comment — are from the US or Europe.
It’s a shame it all goes downhill after that.
On the buying side, the transaction normally goes like this. The seller ships the item wonderfully quickly (say it’s from the US). The tracking numbers are next to useless, but generally it hits the UK in about a week, languishes at customs for at least another week, then I get a grey card through my door adding £30 in fees and taxes before they release the parcel to me. Boy, do these add up.
(For those of you reading this outside the UK: when an item is imported into the UK, it gets evaluated for Value Added Tax (VAT) and import duties, based on its declared value and the nature of the goods. You then also pay a handling charge of about £8 for the privilege of being taxed.)
And if/when Brexit goes through, all those packages from Germany, Spain and the Netherlands that I receive will get the same punitive treatment.
Sending is even worse. I can ship any pen up to £2.5k in the UK for less than a tenner thanks to Special Delivery. But if I want to ship something vaguely valuable to the US? Not only has Royal Mail stopped my local post office from offering insured services to the US, so I need to go further afield, but the cost of shipping and insurance via any carrier is £50+, often closer to £80. I’ve lost count of the number of buyers from the US who have enquired about a pen only to be put off by this extra cost, which amounts to 10% of the total pen value.
Which is why I am sadly finished with selling internationally. It’s a shame, and if I was setting myself up as a business these logistics costs would kill my competitiveness in the global market. As a private seller? I’ll just have to live with selling to the domestic market. The pain of selling internationally simply isn’t worth it.
But what about buying? There are so many amazing products that you simply can’t get within the borders of the UK. Conid. Franklin-Christoph. Nock. Oldwin and Clavijo. Eureka. Troublemaker and Anderillium. I want to support these makers and enjoy their products. I also want to continue to benefit from the concierge service from foreign retailers like Sakura and the keen prices from foreign retailers like Iguanasell.
So I’m furious but ultimately powerless to do anything about those interminable delays and little grey cards landing on my doormat.