Spoiler alert: It sucks.

Often I purchase stock for Beauty Bliss from suppliers that use a local postal service. Once entering New Zealand, these parcels are passed on to New Zealand Post and then sometimes, depending on the service selected, onto Courier Post. The process from ordering the items to holding them in my hands takes a long time and often a lot of effort on my part. There are many points of failure along the way – so many of which could be avoided if New Zealand Post improved their processes and communications with customers.

To outline all of the issues, I’ll first explain how the entire process currently works.

Step 1) I order items from an overseas supplier. I’m a small business so it’s not a container load I’m ordering, just a couple of large boxes a month.

Step 2) My supplier posts the goods and emails me the tracking number. This is an international number that I can view on the postal service’s website (e.g. US Mail).

Step 3) I enter this tracking number into the New Zealand Post website. This is saved to my account. I select ‘Subscribe to updates’ right away – if I forget and do this later down the track, I get spammed by the service as it’s not smart enough to only send me updates that occur after I have signed up. No, it sends me the entire backlog of emails – one at a time.

Step 4) Once the parcel has arrived in New Zealand it is assigned a local track and trace number. I receive an email telling me the parcel has been ‘Held for clearance’. This is where it starts to get tricky.

Before I learnt the process I had to sit and wait for a snail mail letter to show up at my house. This unhelpful letter states that the parcel has been held for clearance which means that I need to pay GST and any applicable duties (most cosmetics incur 5% duty on import into New Zealand) and that I need to either contact New Zealand Post’s International team (phone only) or find a customs broker in my local yellow pages.

Now that I know the process, I call New Zealand Post as soon as I get the ‘Held for Clearance’ alert email. They give me the New Zealand track and trace number and the Parcel Number which is required for me to process my own Customs Clearance.

Step 5) I submit my customs clearance entry and wait for NZ Customs to approve it.

Step 6) I keep checking back on the customs website because they don’t contact me to let me know when the entry is approved or declined.

Step 7) I make the payment to NZ Customs.

Step 8) NZ Customs send a ‘Delivery Order’ to NZ Post telling them that payment has been received and that they can release the parcel. Every single time I get to this step in the process, something different happens. Some Customs Officers send the DO directly to NZ Post and don’t tell me. Others just email it directly to me. One guy even sent it to an nzpost.govt.nz email address which I’m pretty sure isn’t, and has never been, valid.

Step 9) New Zealand post release the parcel.

Step 10) If the parcel has been released to Courier Post, I have now lost the ability to track it using the New Zealand Post website. I have to find the New Zealand track and trace number (that I received in Step 4) and plug it into the Courier Post website.

Step 11) The parcel is delivered.

The process above is what happens when a parcel actually makes it through without too much hassle – there have been plenty that have involved many more phone calls.

Getting to this stage was difficult and there is not a lot of published information for a person trying to learn about importing. The system is designed for Customs Brokers and New Zealand Post to make money and not for small business or private citizens to be able to do their own importing.

As more and more goods are ordered online this is going to become more of a problem – particularly for private purchases that exceed the $1000 threshold. New Zealand Post charge $75 to process an import through customs and I feel that their communications are deliberately unhelpful so that they can clip this ticket for as many customers as possible.

Small changes that can improve this process

Stop sending unnecessary snail mail
As soon as it’s available, show the New Zealand track and trace number on the website. And the parcel number.

Update: I’ve been informed in the comments that there may be legal issues with stopping the Snail Mail. I understand this but don’t see why the parcel number can’t be made available online, as well as in a physical letter?

Communicate that parcels have been passed to Courier Post
The New Zealand Post track and trace page should, at the very least, show a status of ‘Passed to Courier Post’. Integrated tracking with Courier Post would be ever better.

Stop making a profit on people paying their taxes
The $75 fee to have your items processed through customs is outrageous. DHL do it for $11 – and it’s faster and usually more accurate.


Saving yourself from that $75 fee

I decided after paying one too many NZ Post $75 fees that it was time to figure out a way to save some money on this. I investigated working with a Customs Broker but decided the cheapest way would be for me to get access to the CusWeb web interface and process my own imports. I knew this would require a lot of learning (tariffs and processes etc) but thought that it would be worth it.

The process started with me filling in a form asking to have access to the system. I was contacted by a lovely Customs Officer who gave me all the information I needed and then booked me in for an hour long test at the Wellington NZ Customs Headquarters. Once I passed this, I was snail-mail posted a letter with my username and password to log in to the system.

Now I can’t post photos of what the system looks like internally but I can tell you that it looks like it was designed and built in 1995. It’s ugly, dated, and feels like a cheap scam website. The biggest issue is that unless you know about all the bugs, it’s really really hard to use. But that’s ok, they only give you a mini lecture when you’re sitting your test about how you’ll go to prison if you process your imports incorrectly :|

Screw it all

Basically, importing goods through New Zealand Post sucks. I now request DHL with all of my overseas suppliers – or any other service that has a base in New Zealand.