Alaska is a tough place to navigate physically. Many villages are only accessible by plane and/or boat. There are not even any roads into or out of the capital city of Juneau. You can actually drive to Alaska (unlike Hawaii), but it takes days, and only a handful of places are on the road system. Shipping stuff to Alaska can cost a lot of money and it’s annoying to do so. I get it. I lived outside Alaska once. But here are a few tips for U.S. based businesses to navigate the shipping to Alaska conundrum (I’m assuming these apply to Hawaii as well, but have no personal experience there):
- Know the difference between “Contiguous” and “Domestic” – Some of you readers (especially if you live in Alaska or Hawaii) just shouted “YES!” to your computer screens. This is one of the biggest pet peeves for us Alaskans. We’ll use dictionary.com here just to make sure there are no disputations among you. Domestic is defined as “relating to one’s own or a particular country apart from other countries; not foreign.” Contiguous means “touching; in contact.” Based on those definitions, if your company has a policy of “free domestic shipping,” that better mean Alaska or Hawaii as well. Those states are definitely “domestic.” While they may seem like foreign places, Alaska and Hawaii are part of the United States of America. We each have our own star on that flag. We are not, however, part of the contiguous United States. You can use this term in your policies instead if you are trying to get out of offering free shipping to Alaska and Hawaii.
- Use the United States Postal Service – One of the benefits of being part of the United States of America (domestic!) is that we have a government-subsidized entity that will ship stuff for reasonable rates to even the most outlying of the 50 states. If your stuff can fit in a flat rate priority mail box, that’s the way to do it to Alaska and Hawaii. If not, price it out at USPS as well as the other guys. It may still end up being cheaper.
- Know that “Ground Transportation” often means a barge – If you actually choose to send something by the cheapest way possible, it can literally take a month to get here. Sometimes it’s driven in trucks, but most of the time, it is put on a two week barge from Seattle after driving in trucks to get to the port in Seattle. Just be aware that “ground transportation” takes much longer to Alaska than it does anywhere else. Also, if you choose to send half of an order Fed-Ex air and the other half of the same order UPS ground, there can be a three week lag time between receiving the first and second package (this has happened to us multiple times).
- Rural Alaska means more transportation – If you’re sending something outside of Alaskan hubs like Anchorage, Juneau and (maybe) Fairbanks, your stuff will board a tiny bush plane after reaching those hubs. There can be weather delays of days or weeks for these deliveries.
- Consider Free Shipping – This way may be a long shot considering what I’ve already mentioned about Alaska shipping. I also don’t have access to a cost breakdown of what this would mean. I do know, based purely on a collection of anecdotes, that Alaskans probably impulse purchase more on Amazon per capita than most states. Amazon honors the same $35 minimum free shipping up here, and while it doesn’t offer free 2-day shipping on Amazon prime, it does provide free shipping on anything. Free shipping to Alaska is a big deal up here. People go nuts because Amazon gives them access to actual competitive pricing on things that can cost a lot more up here. If you offered free shipping, you might end up with some really loyal fans.
Accountability Friday: Last Friday through yesterday:
F(es)-Yes, M(ex)-Yes, T(Cam)-Yes, W(Ex)-Yes, Th(Cam)-Nope. Traveling. I’m cool with it. 🙂