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?


  1. Interesting about Australia, especially now since super-affluent Americans such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak are considering moving there with take hikes looming. I'm also thinking the economy is stronger in Oz. But who knew that Aussies were such great online shoppers?

    1. I know that the bosses at one of the companies I used to work for would almost LITERALLY fight over who got to do the Australia trips. Sydney and Perth were the favorites. I've never been, but would love to go one day.

  2. As an online store-owner and manager, I have to say the Australians (& New Zealanders) are a pleasure to deal with and are very, very savvy online shoppers. We ship to Oz at least once a week consistently. While our store caters to a very specific hobby market, customers appreciate our efforts in packing and shipping, and good communication. Very time intensive, but doable, and eventually worth the investment.

  3. In my experience, using the U.S.P.S. is much more of a hassle than UPS, although now that the Post Office is struggling, I have noticed that the staff at my local P.O. are much more helpful -- they'll actually tell you if you're in the wrong line. But I'm not surprised that businesses don't want to bother with it.

    I wonder if it would be worthwhile to look into a service like "Task Rabbit." You create a profile, describe a project, and people bid on it. If you like the price, you accept the bid. I've read that people use it for things like waiting in line for tickets or iPods or grocery shopping.

    Asking someone to go to the store, pack up the fabric and then take it to the USPS won't be cheap, but it wouldn't be $230.

    I know someone who used them for handy work and was happy. I put in a bid for some organizing help, but thought people wanted too much money.

    New York Sewer

    1. That is probably a great option (taskrabbit), especially if someone wants to order from more than one store! Just one package that way! Businesses can use USPS's Click n' Ship, and handle the whole thing online, without leaving the office, and the postal service will pick it up. They don't have to actually go wait in line, since fabric stores can generally weigh their shipment with their own scale, and measure with their own tools.

  4. My best ordering/shipping experiences have been with City Quilter and Purl Soho. They aren't in The GD but they have fabrics & supplies & are on my go-to list most NYC trips. Both have good websites & address international shipping. Manhattan Wardrobe Supply sent my order to someone else by mistake and didn't notify me of the problem while they worked to find it and reship. I hope that was a one-time glitch, because they have great merchandise and I like their store. I will place orders with them again sometime.

    Over the years, I've run into websites with everything shown marked Out of Stock, with a cart but no way to fill it, with entire categories perpetually empty (but you know the store sells those things), or with merchandise listed that in reality, the store didn't carry (my entire order would have been cancelled). Those are the kinds of things that have left me wondering about the purpose of the website, and if retail customers were even wanted there.

    So you have a store and warehouse full of stuff to move, plus bills to pay. I have a credit card. I may be hundreds of miles away, but I'm willing to go steady if you're willing to make the right moves.

    1. "So you have a store and warehouse full of stuff to move, plus bills to pay. I have a credit card. I may be hundreds of miles away, but I'm willing to go steady if you're willing to make the right moves."

      My favorite quote of the day! Haha!

      Your comments are very useful to vendors, who I assure you are reading these posts and comments. Thank you!

    2. What can I say? I'm such a flirt. That's how I got a husband...who was a sailor when we got married, LOL! What was that you said about getting a military guy?! :D Now he pays for my shopping trips to NYC. :)

      Seriously, some stores have mastered the art of selling and some still have tweaking to do. In a unique setting such as NYC, with a large number visitors, serving out-of-town customers should be second nature. If you do it right, they'll be back (with their friends). They'll think about you between trips and drool over your website. They won't be able to resist! There's a vortex in TGD that draws us've got us mesmerized by your shining simply charm us into unzipping our wallets. Score!

  5. I'm a light packer and never come close to my international luggage weight limits. Do you think I can subsidize my international vacations by operating as a fabric mule from LA to far-flung locales? How about running a electronic board for people willing to ferry fabrics for other sewists? From, To, Weight.

    1. People do it for friends, to be sure! I love the term "fabric mule"... still giggling at that one! The obstacle there is that you've given yourself a job to do, and stuff to carry for other people while you're on vacation!

    2. Vacation? Going to NYC is a vacation? It's serious business for me. Along with my list, which I've made up to a year in advance, I get lists from my friends & my sewing club members. Then I arm myself with padded shoes & an official Metropolitan Museum of Art tote bag & march thru TGD til I can declare victory!

      I like the idea of a having fabric-moving "network," the way some canine breed rescue groups have a network of people who ferry shelter dogs across the country to new owners. We could "rescue" fabric and give it loving homes that way. So who's going to NYC first? :)

  6. Got a personal note from a sewing friend in Hawaii who says we can't neglect them in this conversation! After all, they've got money, and are still in the United States, but have to BEG to have goods shipped USPS Priority mail. Why is that?

  7. I operate a "niche" online sewing supply retailer not located in the city, but we are a NY state business. We cater to our International shoppers by actually *discounting* the standard USPS shipping fees they pay.

    And from the perspective of a merchant, USPS is by far the most economical way to ship internationally...and to Hawaii...where we have many customers. I don't understand the problem with shipping to another of the United Sates of America...the USA. Not shipping to Hawaii? That's outrageous! Someone needs a geography lesson.

  8. I am an Australian who lives in the remote central highlands of Tasmania. I am also a hand embroidery artist and a kick-arse online shopper. I buy everything online. My silk fabrics come from China, my silk threads from India and China. I buy my dyeing supplies from a manufacturer in Melbourne. Everything I buy (virtually) is done online - I even bought my washing machine online (after much online research, of course). Ironically, I have come upon this post after researching the Garment District from my holiday apartment in Chelsea. About to head of shopping for fabric, yay!


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