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The International Shipping Mess

International package shipments through the US Post Office have seen major disruptions in the past months thanks to COVID-19. It’s slower than a sad mule hauling a sack of letters. The delays have caused lots of headaches for BMOW customers and for me. To be candid, it’s a mess. It’s hard to understand, because some packages still get delivered quickly, but others are delayed for months with no updates to their tracking info.

The problem seems to be that the post office uses cargo space on commercial airlines, but since COVID-19 hit, international commercial airline traffic has been reduced to almost nothing. Huge stockpiles of outbound mail are piling up in warehouses, waiting for space on an outbound flight. The US Post Office has started shipping some packages by sea again, returning to the methods used decades ago. Even after the packages reach the destination country, they face additional delays due to lack of staff and extra safety precautions.

As of today, June 23, I estimate that at least half my international shipments are still experiencing major delays, and many shipments from 2+ months ago still haven’t been delivered yet. Most people have been patient in the face of these delays, but I’m approaching a decision point regarding how to handle severely delayed orders. It’s not my fault that COVID-19 has upended the international shipping landscape, but it’s not the customers’ fault either, and I can’t expect them to wait forever. Soon I may have to look at offering tens of thousands of dollars in refunds for missing shipments, which would be disastrous. My method of self-insurance anticipates that packages will occasionally get lost and need to be refunded, but it’s based on an expected loss rate about 1%, not 50% or more. Sending replacement shipments to everybody isn’t really an option, and the replacements would likely experience similar delays.

In the face of this shipping environment, I’ve considered temporarily halting sales outside the USA. I’m very reluctant to do that, because international sales are almost half my total order volume. And many international shipments continue to arrive as quickly as before, typically in a week or two. I haven’t been able to find a pattern that explains which shipments will be delayed, except that shipments going east (mostly Europe) and south (central and South America) are more likely to be delayed than shipments to Canada and shipments going west (Asia and Australia).

Another alternative might be to require customers outside the USA to pay for a premium shipping service like FedEx or DHL. Those services are slower than before, but should still be much faster than the regular post office. But the cost would be very high, perhaps $50 shipping fee for a typical package to Europe. For many orders, that would make the cost of shipping higher than the cost of the goods themselves. The complexity and hassle for me would also increase. My current custom-made shipping solution is tightly integrated with the US Postal Service and relies on living close by a local post office. I’ve done a few experimental shipments with DHL, and the time and care needed to send a single package is much greater than with the post office. Still, this may be the best option from among the unappealing options that are available.

If you’re one of the customers who’s been impacted by this, I’m very sorry for the delay, and thank you for your continued patience.

Read 12 comments and join the conversation 

12 Comments so far

  1. Joe Seeley June 23rd, 2020 5:48 pm


    It wrenches my heart to hear this as your products are awesome and widely beloved among vintage computer enthusiasts. They’ve brought untold joy to many.

    I had no idea how bad dire the situation was with international shipping, that’s a nightmare. Hang in there, here’s hoping you can weather this storm and thrive even more so than before!

  2. Leith June 23rd, 2020 7:59 pm

    I haven’t noticed too much delay in shipments from the US to Canada with USPS, but anything from overseas takes a dogs age. Things have been disappearing into “in transit” for months. Most items arrived eventually. I’ve stopped ordering anything from overseas for now, but still order from the states. Oddly, getting things shipped from British Columbia to Ontario is also very slow… much slower than from the states for some reason. I think most people will be patient and understanding given the current circumstances.

  3. Steve June 24th, 2020 9:25 am

    Some good news maybe. Six months ago I purchased a general business insurance policy, which I then promptly forgot about. My brain must be failing if I can forget about something like that, but after finishing the paperwork and making the annual payment, there’s been no further contact with the insurance company. And with the events of the past few months, there have been plenty of other things on my mind. I’ll have to review the policy, but I think lost shipments is one of the losses that it covers, after the deductible of course.

  4. Keith June 27th, 2020 11:11 am

    Items have been hiding in transit at regional shipping areas. I have had items stuck inCalifornia for a couple of months, stalled and waiting to be transferred to the next leg. One item was here in ten days. Another stuck for almost three months.
    Since items ordered, originated I’m China. The slow shipment, benefit I could think of. Is no virus is going to survive long enough. But when it’s protection gear. I ended up ordering new heavie duty gear. To be safe.
    I hope there is a vaccine soon. To bring some relief to shipping worries.

  5. groinksan June 27th, 2020 8:19 pm

    I think that mule is faster than the slow boat from China. Just saying…

  6. Andeddu July 3rd, 2020 6:01 am

    I am from the UK and I received my FloppyEMU with surprising haste – 10 days is all it took!

  7. Nebular July 7th, 2020 4:17 pm

    Items to Canada won’t have much delay because they’re mostly delivered by truck if Air is not available. I’m surprised at the ease of going west, but it could be that there is just more air traffic over the pacific and even with a reduction of service there is still ample cargo space available going in that direction.

    The big issue is getting shipments from China. Ebay China has stopped shipping to Canada altogether, blaming it on Canada Post, but Canada Post is accepting mail from everywhere.

    China is playing political games with the mail right now using Covid-19 as an excuse.

  8. Kurt July 9th, 2020 10:19 am

    My package just arrived in Ottawa, Ontario from BMOW! Took less then two weeks from the shipping notification. I finally upgraded from the Model A FloppyEmu. The new screen is nice.

  9. vkoskiv July 16th, 2020 5:04 am

    Just another datapoint for you:

    I ordered my Floppy Emu on 04/07/2020, and it just appeared as ready to pick up here in Jyväskylä, Finland today on 16/7/2020.
    So the shipping went much faster than anticipated, considering the circumstances. This is with the customs holding it up for about a day as well.

  10. Jason July 20th, 2020 12:34 pm

    I just ordered mine yesterday, and I’m really excited to get it. I’ve been looking at Floppy Emu for a few years and finally have to spare change to get one. I’m US not International, so hopefully everything ships fine. I’ve got lots of computers to test! 😀

  11. Bob July 22nd, 2020 10:02 am

    My order was dispatched on the 16th and arrived today, 22nd of July, im in the UK, ive had items sent from the same city im in take 6 weeks so this was amazing!

  12. Luis July 28th, 2020 9:02 am


    I got my package quick and was thankful, but even if I hadn’t, this is one product absolutely worth waiting for! You are the best best bestest ever!! – Luis and Scottie.

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