Miscellaneous Ramblings

Hosed by UPS - Again

Charles Moore - 2003.06.23 - Tip Jar

Several years ago I vowed to myself that I would never order any more merchandise from the US to be delivered to me in Canada via UPS - the reason being that UPS insists on shafting its Canadian customers with a so-called "brokerage fee," ostensibly for clearing shipments through Canadian customs.

"What's wrong with that?" you ask. Well, it's that the amount they charge for this service is outrageous, excessive, and highway robbery.

I have kept my promise to myself. Whenever I order something from the US, I always ask who the carrier will be. If it is UPS and there are no alternative carriers that the merchant is willing to use, I say thanks - but no thanks. It is a matter of principle.

Nevertheless, UPS managed to nail me again a couple of weeks ago. When I order anything from stateside, I always implore the vendor to ship by any means other than UPS, but I was sent a piece of computer hardware for review, and that's the carrier the shipper chose. I got hosed for a $25 "brokerage fee" for having UPS rubber stamp the package through customs.

UPS phoned me from Montreal, asking if I had a customs broker. I do not. Did I want them to clear the shipment through customs? Well, what was I going to say?

Send it back? At this point you're between a rock and hard place. If you refuse to pay UPS's absurd brokerage charge, they will not deliver the parcel, and it will be shipped back to the sender at his expense. Like thousands of other Canadians whom UPS hits with this extortion every day, I gritted my teeth and told them to clear it.

Did that brokerage fee amount register? The actual cost of the merchandise was US$40, although in this instance, no monetary transaction was involved, since the item was a press sample.

This is a rip-off! Did I say that loudly enough? UPS must rake in millions this way every year.

Canada Post Corporation charges a flat rate $5 customs clearance fee, and I'm sure even they make money on it, since with the NAFTA agreement there are rarely any duties to calculate and process, so it's basically just a matter of collecting the GST and rubber-stamping it through. I'm not the only one who's fed up with UPS's treatment of Canadian customers.

A reader named Carl in British Columbia replied:

"It is nice to know that I am not the only one who has been hosed by UPS. I have had computer hardware and software shipped in a variety of ways. . . . I have had great success with FedEx in particular. I have taken an oath to go to any extreme in order to avoid business with UPS."

Another reader named Anthony commented:

"I must say I've had bad experiences myself with UPS shipments of software from the US.

"I've been charged absolutely outrageous brokerage fees by UPS, as well. On a couple of occasions those fees were higher than the software itself.

"Every other delivery service has charged much lower fees.

"At one point I made an enquiry to UPS's customer service about this and was treated in a rude and arrogant manner by both the person who initially answered my call and that person's manager.

"Since that customer service experience I absolutely refuse to have anything coming from the US delivered to me via UPS."

Garth wrote:

"I, too, have been stiffed by the UPS crowd and I go out of my way to pick any other form of shipment as a personal boycott."

Martin Step wrote:

"Reading the comments about UPS' outrageous cross-border charges, I wanted to make you aware of another bad actor. If a US vendor to ships to Canada via US Express Post, the shipment is automatically transferred (sold?) to Purolator Courier, and their shipments are handled by PBB Global Logistics (PBB stands for Peace Bridge Brokers), and they then tack on all these charges. Purolator also has made frequent stupid errors in delivering packages to me, including losing my package, sending it to the wrong depot, and so on. I wouldn't use them again by choice in any case.

"The rub here is that you don't see the extra charges at all when you receive your package. That bill comes separately in the mail two to three weeks later. If you try to dispute the charges, you'll find yourself dealing with a faceless bureaucracy - it's a royal pain in the "you-know-where'!

"So, avoid Express Post from the US and Purolator.

"Perhaps, we could get people to write in about courier services that have not ripped them off, so that we'll know who we can use."

I've been hosed by Peace Bridge Brokers (once) as well. In my opinion, this "customs brokerage" bit for small parcels, especially on items like computer equipment for which no duty applies, is a lucrative racket. If, as noted, Canada Post (which owns Purolator - go figure) can do it for a flat $5, then these $20, $30, and $40 charges by UPS and outfits like PBB are pure profiteering.

For the record, I've found FedEx about the best of a bad lot. At least they are up front about the charges.

For fellow Canadians ordering merchandise from the States, if you're not in a big rush I suggest making a point of specifying insured short parcel post or one of the parcel services that does not impose an astronomical brokerage fee at the receiver end.

For US merchants wishing to keep their Canadian customers happy, I suggest shipping via a carrier that does not charge a brokerage fee at the receiver end, even if UPS quotes a nominally cheaper rate.

And to UPS I say: at least bring your policies on this matter in line with your competitors. Building a reputation for ripping customers off is surely counterproductive in the long run.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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