Isle retailers like convenience
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Hira Pyun used to have to scrounge up a box whenever a customer wanted some crack seed or a gift basket sent to the Mainland — then drive over and stand in line at the post office to get the package into the mail.
Now the boxes, postage and even the postal carrier come to Pyun's Rainbow Crackseed store in the Windward City Shopping Center.
Pyun just laughed last week when asked whether she's savvy enough on the computer to easily navigate the U.S. Postal Service's Web site.
"I'm not good at the computer," she said. "But I tell people that's it's pretty simple, pretty easy to set up."
Eighteen months ago, the Islands became the site of a pilot project by the U.S. Postal Services to encourage businesses to offer "in-store" shipping, which is designed to increase sales while eliminating the need for workers and business owners to go to the post office to mail merchandise.
"A lot of small businesses don't have the time to go to the post office because they're the only ones in the shop," said Duke Gonzales, of the U.S. Postal Service in Honolulu. "It allows you to print out mailing labels and your postage from your business or your home. You do need a scale, but some people just throw their orders on a bathroom scale and maybe overestimate a little on the postage."
The U.S. Postal Service competes for small business customers with FedEx and UPS.
FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey said the new Postal Service program "sounds very much comparable to the customer service model that we have in place and have had in place for a very long time. When you talk about the access, meaning in-house shipping, the pickup notification, all of those types and services — FedEx has provided them to its customer base for years."
FedEx also provides free boxes and free pickup to customers who set up accounts at fedex .com, McCluskey said.
UPS charges a weekly service fee for daily pickups but customers who use UPS premium air services receive free envelopes and packing, said spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg. UPS does not provide free packaging for its ground system, she said, but does have packaging experts as well as materials and supplies in its Honolulu stores.
"In this day and age, people are mobile," she said. "A lot of times it's more convenient to them to process the label on the Internet at home and if they're going out, drop it off at the UPS store."
Aaron Oya, small business specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, says that when a shop offers to mail merchandise for customers it can boost sales.
"It gives them an edge over their competitors," Oya said. "Especially in Hawai'i, which has so many tourists, you sell them what you can and you never see them again. Now they not only buy more in the store because they don't have to pack it into their suitcases for the plane ride back, but they also come back through the Internet because of the shipping. A lot of businesses are realizing there's a market out there they can tap into."
"It's wonderful," said Mary Phillips, owner of Flags Flying in Ward Warehouse, one of 14 businesses using the Postal Service's program. "I no longer have to go to the post office anymore."
Phillips also has discovered that shipping online gets her merchandise out the same day, rather than a day later when she used to stand in line at the post office.
Phillips bought a $20 scale to determine how much postage to buy online, but re-uses the boxes from the shipments she receives at her store. She has also found that some tourists will buy more if they realize Phillips will ship it for them.
"That's definitely made the difference on a couple of sales," she said. "Then if they bought something they liked and their friend liked it when they got back home, they'll want to order another."
Rosaline Wang, the owner of Island Soap & Candleworks, now uses the Postal Service program in her Ward Warehouse store and has seen similar increased sales — especially from tourists.
"They'll say, if I purchase more I'll need to go buy another suitcase," Wang said. "Then we say, 'We can ship. You don't have to worry about it.' When you give them the opportunity, they'll definitely buy more."
But the main benefit for Wang comes from not losing an employee to visit the post office.
"I get more production and get more and better results," she said. "That's how I see the benefit."
Six months after Rainbow Crack Seed started shipping merchandise from the store, Oya visited Pyun and was pleased at how busy she was.
"She said, 'Look at what you did?' " Oya said. " 'I had to order all of this merchandise for all of the orders I have to ship.' She scolded me in a good way because I created a problem for her — more business."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.