Monday, November 19, 2012

Tourists and International shoppers... (additional info)

For the tourist, whether domestic or international, no matter where you are coming from, the garment district can be a really exciting place to shop in person.  The best places to go are often hidden from street-level view, but some shops/vendors really go above and beyond to be helpful and welcoming. The lovely Australian mentioned in the previous post, wants to share her praise of those vendors here:

"My special “shout out” and thanks would go to Eugenia at Elliot Berman, who is one of the nicest people in the whole garment district, George and Michael at Mood, for whom nothing is too hard, who have a great fabrics knowledge and who are genuinely interested in the customer’s interests, and to Michael, Lucy and Marceau at Paron…I remember Michael from Paron the first time I went into the store back in about 2000.  All at Paron are always so nice and so helpful."

The comments on my last post have inspired a lot of digging into why the fabric stores find maintaining websites and online order fulfillment so cumbersome, and the information I've gathered is both enlightening, and sobering.

Following the quote below, let me share some of my own professional history, so that you know that I strive not to venture into naive complaining about things that should be so "simple", without putting some tangible facts behind my statements.  The lovely Australian I referred to in that post, shared some of her thoughts and frustrations so eloquently, that I do want to add to what she has to say about shipping frustrations here:

"The shipping issue is not whether the ship fee costs more or less than the fabric being purchased. The issue is whether you are being asked to pay a reasonable ship price having regard to the available options. I tried to buy from a large online retailer that has a strong presence in the garment district (already referred to in a different context in these comments) and was asked to pay $230 for delivery of a package using UPS when the same package would have cost around $30 using USPS --- I know as I looked the cost up, emailed back and asked if it was a possibility to have the package sent USPS and there was a total lack of interest. It was pretty off-putting…and I cancelled the order. A $300 cancelled order was no biggie for them I suppose, but the larger issue is whether the right business model is in place for online retailing. The domestic US market is so big that perhaps it is not of much interest to cultivate an international market…but I think it is truly the way of the future…and for goodness sake, wouldn’t every NYC garment fabric store that pays shocking rents and frets about their business future in the declining district want to think about additional revenue streams? Even though Australia is a small country (population wise) we punch above our weight. Australians are fanatical online shoppers. One international clothing retailer lands 2 cargo planes of packages in Sydney EVERY DAY…EVERY DAY!! Australians were fast on the uptake with online shopping, and continue to be fast on every new internet, mobile thingy that comes along, so it’s the perfect market destination. (And for the time being too, there are no import taxes for packages under $1,000)."

In my own life, I began my professional career in banking, managing letters of credit and bills for collection for an enormous Japanese company.  I learned a great deal about the complexities of international shipping, documentation, and the financial end of things.  I moved from that position into export documentation for a three different textile companies, and from there, went into fashion jobs.  Since the companies I worked for had customers all over the world, we often had to send samples, swatches, and small amounts of yardage for testing, sample making, color approvals, etc.  In those days (the 90's),  many NY fabric companies used regular commercial services, like DHL, UPS, TNT and others, marking the package as "sample", and stuffing them into document envelopes or soft-sided envelopes, paying only the document rate, exploiting a shipping loophole.  This is no longer possible, as the couriers will now only allow documents to be shipped in document packages, and there is a maximum weight for documents.  That explains why I remember it being so cheap affordable.

Nowadays, the most doable and cost-effective option, as mentioned by Liz, above, is the US Postal Service.  The only less expensive method of delivery is if you happen to be a soldier on a US military base abroad.  Now, I'm not suggesting that any of you start hanging out at bars, revealing bare shoulders, winking at people in uniform, but hey... to score a great piece of silk.... no, no, no... I'm just kidding!

The best thing, by FAR to do, is to come here on vacation, or even on your way elsewhere, since NY is a crossroad to so many other destinations... do your shopping in person, and bring an extra bag, suitcase, or ship it back to yourself at the post office. If you want to be really efficient about it, come along on one of my shopping tours!

I have spoken in depth with a shipping expert, who has confirmed the following information for me:

Depending on your location, as far as shipping is concerned, the price for getting your package shipped from New York can really be outrageous, due to documentation requirements, the cost of transport, taxes, duties and fees. Many countries simply have governmental layers preventing the economical transport of goods to individuals.  This is just a fact of life.

Some carriers offer outrageously preferential rates to select businesses, due to the volume of shipping they do.  A company that sells in significant volume at the wholesale and retail levels could be in a position to negotiate with a large shipping company for great rates.

When it comes to websites, running a website requires CONSTANT updating, and keeping track of inventory of the goods offered on the site is a huge task.  And if the site is popular, and business is booming, it really requires EVEN MORE upkeep and personal customer service.  More than many people are willing or able to maintain.  It is no small affair.  At all.

I'd like to offer a list of websites of reader-recommended garment district web merchants who do a great job selling online.  In your experience, which ones do you like?

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