Does eBay’s GSP Make International E-commerce Better for Buyers?

After publishing an article entitled Using eBay’s Global Shipping Program – a guide for new sellers I was very interested to read so many comments left by our readers. There were comments both praising and critical of eBay’s new Global Shipping Program (GSP). Those critical of the program were very strongly opposed to the new offering from the e-commerce giant.

The eBay community has always been outspoken, especially when new features get introduced. With eBayers either loving or hating the GSP, I was finding it hard to determine if it was in-fact any good for buyers or sellers.

What’s wrong with buying internationally?

Buying items internationally isn’t a great experience for buyers and on eBay, and if buyers aren’t happy then neither are the sellers. Traditionally, buying an item from an eBay seller in another country meant:

  • You pay more – international shipping will be more expensive than buying from your own country due to the extra distance
  • Get ready to wait – it will take longer for your item to arrive as it has further to travel
  • More opportunity for things to go wrong – the longer the journey your item takes, the more chance of it getting lost, damaged in transit or held up at customs
  • Less peace of mind – international orders are often untrackable as few international couriers offer the option and if they do it comes at a high price, so many sellers don’t offer the service
  • You might get stung with import costs – international orders may be subject to import charges, which in theory are knowable but in practice are rather difficult to accurately calculate at time of purchase. Not knowing the total cost of an order means you can’t be sure how much the item will cost you when all is said and done

All of these factors mean that buying from an international seller isn’t an appealing option for buyers.

How eBay are trying to solve this problem

eBay is trying to make international shopping more appealing to buyers, to do this they have created a new international shipping network called the Global Shipping Program.

The GSP aims to simplify international eBay orders for buyers and sellers by streamlining the shipping process, offering international tracking and making import charges knowable up-front.

At it’s most basic, eBay’s GSP aims to improve the buyer experience by:

  • Calculating import charges at checkout so buyers know exactly how much their order will cost
  • Offering peace of mind through end-to-end international tracking on all items

For buyers to see the benefits, eBay needed sellers to start offering it as an option. So once a seller has signed up for the GSP, eBay will enable that as the default shipping service for eligible items at the time of listing.

So did they succeed?

Reading through comments both on our blog post and elsewhere online, the main criticisms from those having tried the GSP are that:

  • It’s more expensive for buyers – many sellers claim that eBay’s shipping and import charges taken at time of checkout mean the buyer ends up paying more when compared to traditional shipping
  • Buyers wait longer – I have read claims of items taking longer to arrive, presumably because the item is essentially shipped twice (once to eBay’s GSP centre and then again to the buyer), compared to just once for traditional shipping
  • Claims of unreliability – sellers have complained that GSP orders are just as prone to having issues in transit
  • Enabled by default – many sellers have complained about the GSP option being set by default (which can be easily missed) and would prefer to make up their own minds about shipping options

Sellers claim that these drawbacks are costing them sales, due to buyer reluctance to use the service. It seems then that most complaints about the GSP are related to a poor buyer experience, which in-turn impacts sales. I can’t help but notice that a lot of these issues echo the traditional problems with international e-commerce that eBay set out to improve.

It’s hard not to wonder though if the people shouting the loudest about the GSP are the ones who have had bad experiences and want to vent their frustration. These loud, disgruntled users might be disproportionate to the number of quietly happy GSP users out there, some of who publicly praise the program.

I also noticed that most people discussing the GSP were sellers, I wondered what it was like to use the GSP as a buyer.

A quick experiment

I decided to map out a little experiment to try to find out what the GSP is like for buyers and how it compares to traditional international delivery.

Disclaimer: this is by no means a scientific experiment. This only aims to be a quick and dirty way to compare the GSP to traditional international shipping options from a buyer perspective. The shipping costs involved on these low-cost items mean that these are items unlikely to be bought internationally. With the number of variables involved, to really test the GSP a much more comprehensive experiment would be required.

The aim

I wanted to see whether eBay’s GSP makes shopping internationally a better experience for the buyer compared to the traditional shipping options offered by sellers.

The method

I decided to pick multiple items and purchase two sets of them from the same international eBay site, one from a seller offering the GSP and one from a seller offering other international shipping options. By buying near identical items I hope to more accurately compare the shipping services as size, weight and value would not differ very much between purchases.

To do this, I had to find items that were:

  • Eligible for the GSP and offered using the service
  • Widely available, so near identical items could be purchased
  • Listed at a similar price (not including shipping costs)
  • Not prohibitively expensive (to purchase or ship)

The results

A note from the author: finding and purchasing suitable items which fitted the above criteria was harder than you might think and required a lot of scrolling through listings. Paying for six items from three international eBay sites all with different currencies also made for an interesting checkout procedure.

I ended up purchasing three sets of items – two from the United Kingdom and one from the United States. All items would be shipped to Canada.

Toothbrush heads

an-gsp-exp-tb-no-gsp

an-gsp-exp-tb-gsp

Traditional Global Shipping Program
Shipping cost
(Canadian dollars)
 $7.43  $27.15
Import charges
(Canadian dollars)
 $0.00  $0.00
Total shipping and import charges
(Canadian dollars)
$7.43 $27.15
Estimated shipping time
(business days)
 6-12  8-11
Actual shipping time
(business days)
 20  6
Tracking available  No  Yes

The GSP shipping cost for this item was nearly fours times higher when compared to traditional delivery, however the GSP fulfilled item arrived in just 6 days compared to 20 days for the standard ‘air mail’ service. The GSP item was also fully trackable, which was not offered by the other service.

Flip flops

an-gsp-exp-ff-no-gsp

an-gsp-exp-ff-gsp

Traditional Global Shipping Program
Shipping cost
(Canadian dollars)
$18.61 $26.59
Import charges
(Canadian dollars)
 $0.00 $9.74
Total shipping and import charges
(Canadian dollars)
$18.61 $36.33
Estimated shipping time
(business days)
4-8 9-12
Actual shipping time
(business days)
11 7
Tracking available Yes
(only within UK)
Yes

The difference in shipping cost for these items was only $8, but as eBay charged import duties up-front and no duties where paid using the traditional service, the end cost of the GSP item was twice as much. This is a reality of import charges, where international couriers often neglect to charge the appropriate duties on an item. The GSP item arrived four business days before the “international tracked” service, which did offer tracking, but only up to the point it left the UK.

Batteries

an-gsp-exp-b-no-gsp

an-gsp-exp-b-gsp

Traditional Global Shipping Program
Shipping cost
(Canadian dollars)
 $23.11  $16.98
Import charges
(Canadian dollars)
 $0.00  $0.00
Total shipping and import charges
(Canadian dollars)
$23.11 $16.98
Estimated shipping time
(business days)
8-14 8-20
Actual shipping time
(business days)
14 9
Tracking available  Yes
(only within the US)
 Yes

For this item the GSP shipping cost was actually cheaper, with no import charges applied by either service. The GSP item arrived five working days earlier than the USPS package and and offered tracking all the way.

Summary

So does the GSP improve international e-commerce for buyers? Setting aside the cost for a moment, I have to say that during my (very limited) experiment the GSP provided a streamlined and reliable service. At time of purchase I knew the total price of my order, including import charges. Once dispatched the items arrived quickly and I was able to track them at every step of the way. This took away the unknowns and anxiety from the online shopping process, which are especially common with international orders. All in all I think eBay achieved what they set out to do – improve the buyer experience. However this peace of mind comes at a cost and forking out more cash will undoubtably put off buyers from purchasing in the first place.

Item tracking through My eBay

Item tracking through My eBay

The low-cost of items in this experiment almost certainly makes the GSP prohibitively expensive, where speed and tracking is arguably less important. I can see the benefits offered by the GSP becoming increasingly worthwhile as the cost of the item increases, where peace of mind will undoubtably be more important to potential customers. When making bigger purchases the additional cost of the GSP may well be worth the it.

Using the GSP buyers can make an informed decision about the total cost of their items due to the fact that eBay charges import costs up-front. However as with the flip flop example, items often slip through the net when being delivered by traditional shipping services and import charges aren’t applied. So buyers can end up paying more as there is no chance of their item ‘slipping through the net’. For those expecting import charges, this can be a nice surprise.

For each order the GSP either arrived sooner than, or met the quickest estimated shipping time, whereas each item sent using traditional shipping methods either took longer or met the maximum estimated time. This is remarkable when you realise that the GSP items have actually been shipped twice: once to the GSP centre and then once again to the buyer. In the toothbrush heads example the GSP fulfilled order arrived a full 14 working days before the ones sent directly by the seller. A big hitter like eBay could obviously negotiate rates on expedited international shipments that are simply out of reach to most eBay sellers. This point should not be overlooked, shipping via GSP could may well be more expensive compared to traditional shipping services, but the shipping service eBay use would normally be too expensive to even consider. The GSP at the very least gives sellers the option of offering these premium shipping services, which they can decide to offer or not.

Things can always go wrong when buying online and shipping internationally as problems can be harder to resolve and seek compensation for. This means that when something does go wrong it happens on a grander scale, leaving buyers and sellers frustrated and more often than not the seller out of pocket. Without trying to trivialise sellers concerns (because I’ve been there) I believe this may be the reason that those who have had problems with the GSP are so vocal, because they need somewhere to vent their frustration when things turn sour. Sellers must run the numbers themselves and decide whether GSP mishaps are just another cost of doing business, with a system that could potentially bring them many more customers.

While no system is perfect, I think eBay’s GSP is a step in the right direction to making international e-commerce a better experience for buyers. However the only way for an eBay sellers to determine if the GSP is right for them is to try it for themselves and decide which items (if any) it is worthwhile offering the service for, or to opt-out entirely.

Notes

  • The experiment outlined in this article is nowhere near comprehensive enough to effectively evaluate such a large and complicated system such as the GSP, where there are many variables at play. It is instead meant to be a top level overview of how the GSP works for buyers.
  • Both the US and Canada are large countries, so items shipped from different states/provinces will have to travel different distances and so can’t be compared apples to apples. While this is true, trying to also find sets of items from the same state/province just wasn’t practical.