Many sellers are scared away from the whole importing from China process because they think that shipping costs are too expensive. I recently had a blog comment from Michael, which perfectly illustrates this common frustration:
I just got a quick online quote from FedEx for collecting these 5 boxes from the factory address and delivering at my home address and it was $1880 USD! Yikes.
If I look on AliExpress for the same item, I can order 1pc for $125 delivered from a reseller.
I know this is all part of the learning curve, but why is shipping 5 boxes so expensive? Is it because they are relatively large, but light in weight?
Is the only way to make this cost-effective simply to order more units? Enough for a few pallets? Advice is greatly appreciated.
I get comments and questions like this one all the time, so let’s try to debunk the expensive shipping myth and find out exactly why Michael’s shipping quote was so high.
First of all, in the case of courier shipping, you shouldn’t be organising it at your end! Don’t call your local FedEx, DHL, TNT (or whatever courier company you plan on using) and try to get a good price from them. It won’t happen. Courier quotes in the UK and the USA will be very high. I don’t know the exact reason behind this, but that’s how it is. You can ask for a DHL quote in the UK and be offered $1000, while the exact same package will cost you $300 if the shipping is organised by someone in China.
If you plan on using courier shipping, always ask your supplier in China to get a quote for you from the same courier company in China. It will always be cheaper.
If you’re happy with the price, the supplier will simply add the shipping cost to your invoice, so you pay it together with your cost of goods.
If the courier price is still too high, it’s most likely because:
- The items you’re trying to buy are not suitable for courier delivery.
- Your order is too small.
The first scenario is the most common one. People often think that they can import 30 shoe-box-sized items that retail for £20 and ship them from China using courier companies. This approach simply won’t work. You can, of course, do this for testing purposes, but it won’t be cheap. In fact, far from it! You will often pay more in shipping than the actual product costs.
The whole business model of Amazon FBA private label products relies on the fact that you are buying and shipping goods in bulk. This means 300, 500 and 1000 items at a time.
Sometimes even more. And when you source your goods in such quantities, you will typically use sea freight, so your shipping cost per item will be very low.
Usually, sea freight becomes cost-effective when you import at least one cubic meter of goods, which is basically half of a pallet. If you can order one full pallet (two cubic meters), then, without a doubt, sea freight will give you the best possible savings on your shipping costs.
It all comes down to the volumetric weight, which is a calculation shipping companies use instead of just the weight or size of the shipment. The bulkier your items are, the more space they take up and the more expensive the shipping costs will be, so keep in mind that it’s not just about the weight of the shipment.
For example, with some products that are super bulky but lightweight at the same time (think products made of foam or similar), sellers often realise that they actually have to import a full container load to make the shipping costs viable and to be able to compete with other sellers. That’s just how it works. The more you can buy and ship at the same time, the lower your costs will be. With bigger orders, you will obviously get a better product price, too, which even further multiplies the cost savings.
There are some scenarios where courier shipping can work—for example, if you are ordering small and lightweight items. Say you buy 300 sets of specialised pens. They cost you $1500, but they all fit in three boxes with an overall weight of just 30kg. For an order like this, courier shipping can work! If you’re paying $5 per set of pens and the shipping costs just $1 per item, that’s a very good deal—especially since you’ll get your shipment so much faster!
On the other hand, if you order 300 sets of pens at $3 per set and the shipping costs are $3 or $5 per set, it’s a clear indication that you have selected the wrong shipping method as way too much of your margin is going to shipping costs. The only time I would personally do this is if I know that I’m testing out a new product, so I’m happy to take a small loss on the first order. If everything is good, I’ll place a much larger second order and have it delivered via sea freight.
Lastly, Michael mentions AliExpress. You can only compare these prices if you know that AliExpress’s shipping service is the same or similar to what you’re trying to get. It could be that you want a three- to five-day courier delivery service, while the shipping service offered on AliExpress is China Post or something similar, which can take 30 to 40 days to arrive. So, make sure you double-check this information before making any decisions.
In conclusion, courier shipping is very rarely cost-effective when you’re importing goods from China in bulk for the lowest possible price. With most items, it’s simply too expensive.
Courier shipping will only work when you’re buying super-small items OR high-value items that are small in size, like mobile phones, for example. For most everyday goods, you will simply have to use sea freight and make sure that your order is big enough to justify the cost.