Dealing with PayPal, Customs, and Shipping, Revisited

POSTED Sun Feb.26.2012 by Dave Seah UNDER Activity Log

So having written the post on “Low Threshold of Inconvenience”, I’m putting some steps into practice. I made this list:

  • entering the bubble
  • don’t take inconvenience personally
  • maintain a neutral, observing, experimental mindset
  • put other thoughts out of my mind
  • commit to 15 minutes to start
  • as troubles and inconveniences pop up, note them down

I attempt to apply this to a big hairy inconvenient mess: setting up PayPal for a smooth selling experience.


The task of the moment is figuring out PayPal for Canadian and European purchasers of the soon-to-be-available StickyPad Emergent Task Timers. I’m not sure what this means, and I felt myself locking up. Remembering that I think better when I’m writing, I started this entry in the SOC journal. I am noting that I set SOC up months ago just for this reason, wanting a place to write. And the blog is the most convenient place for me to write these days, as it’s accessible as the home page of every computing device I use, and I like sharing my thoughts in the event that someone finds them useful.

ANYWAY, I digress. Let’s run through the INTENT, MOTIVATION, and EXPECTATIONS I have from using PayPal (making annotation about my feelings toward PayPal).

WHAT – I want to set up PayPal so I can accept orders. That means creating some kind of button that allows people to order StickyPad ETPs.

MOTIVATION – I can’t fulfill outside the USA using Amazon unless I set up companies and banks in other countries. This seems like a pain in the ass to do, so PayPal + Post Office seems like the most cost effective way.

EXPECTATION – By having the ability to fulfill orders from home again, I’ll gain some flexibility in fulfilling overseas. I may even be able to set up local fulfillment.

So that’s what I’m thinking. The HOW to do it is the next phase of thinking. First let’s look at PayPal.

Probably the simplest thing I can do is use my Website Payments Standard account with the buttons. It’s been about three years since I last looked at PayPal for this, and I’m happy to see that they finally have inventory control; this is one reason I went to Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), which works great for exposure and order taking, but also charges me costs me about 25% of revenue on each sale.

So if I use this PayPal button thing, where am I going to put it? For now, I guess it makes sense to try it out on the USA Marketplace Blog, which I actually forgot I had. I’ll need to go through the steps of setting it up to work with PayPal.

PayPal Setup

I’m looking at the Merchant Services for the “Buy It Now” button. I also see a donation button too, which I should set up somewhere. I need to make some decisions.

name of product: The 4×6″ Emergent Task Planner StickyPad (100 sheets) is the product listing on Amazon (currently stuck in Amazon receiving limbo for over a week). PCEO-ETP-4X6-SP-C1 is the model number, PCEO-ETP-4X6-SP-C1-2PAK is the part number/variation. Had to look it up. Inconvenience! Not dwelling on it.

price: 16.00 USD

button options: can add some dropdowns with multiple pricing options, variations, and text customization.

shipping: there are settings I can set, or I can set a specific amount. Ideally I should set up some shipping rates (sigh, I hate this stuff). But let’s go look! I have to set up rates for each country to ship to. Ugh. But I’ll just pick a handful. Let me look at my Google Analytics country demographics…top 20 are US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, India, France, Spain, Italy, Russian, Netherlands, Phillippines, Japan, Singapore, Poland, Malaysia, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, and Sweden. For ease of use, I’m going to just go with the USPS. Using their calculator, it looks like the “Priority MailĀ® International Small Flat Rate Envelope” will suit my needs for up to 4 pounds. Just need to jot down prices. However, there’s the issue of CUSTOMS FORMS.

I have a massive headache now, surfing the various websites for USPS, UPS, FedEX, and related sites on how to dal with customs and taxes. All I really want to know is this:

  • Is it cheaper to go with postage on a per-package basis? It’s 5oz. This might be something I do on a trial basis. The cost to ship to Canada is $12.95 and to everywhere else $16.95 using flat rate priority mail shipping. I’d like to get the cost down.

  • Can I just fill out one custom declaration form here, or is it by country? I think the confusion is that the USPS has an “official” customs form, but is this different for every shipping service? And will I have to do this for every single person? This is a data entry conundrum. I’d prefer to avoid it.

  • How does PayPal actually handle the international sale? There’s no way to really see a demo, unless I order from someone who’s already using it.

I should talk to the people at the local commercial mailbox service I use. I need to pick up some packages from them anyway. Another option I stumbled across is Endicia, which purports to handle the customs stuff + postage. This is available for $15.95/month, which is about $10 more a month that I want to pay. Something to think about.

In the meantime, I’m going to set up some default prices for the 20 countries I listed. And during the search for information on software that automatically filled out custom forms, I came across Joel Spolsky’s How to Ship Anything article from 2005. At least I’m not alone in thinking there must be a better way. It took him 3 days to set up a shipping system he was happy with. Inspiring, and an indicator that I’m not crazy. Several good tips in there too.

It turns out that I can just create two shipping profiles: one for Mexico/Canada, and one for everyone else. This matches the two rates that are available for the USPS internation priority mail.

The paypal website is aggravating. It lost all my previous work when it timed out. I just created a button, and am noticing that the paypal page is allowing every country to be picked, not just the ones I’ve provided zones for. What’s up with that? I guess it’s really just for the payment option. As another example of dumb behaviors, the inability to restrict shipping to only the countries you’ve specified is another PayPal goof. Someone on a forum suggested just using WP-Ecommerce to do the filtering for you. I should look at it again.

And so…I am a little closer to finding a solution, but am again put-off by the sheer lameness of e-commerce tools like PayPal. The way to get around it is to start paying for a real service, but that’s a whole ‘nother learning curve.

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