The challenge with shipping marketing material and why it’s better to leapfrog customs altogether

I had a chance to sit down with Predrag Predin, Gelato’s Head of Logistics to find out about the challenges with shipping and exporting prints across borders and why it’s better to print locally instead.


  • Exporting marketing material inevitably results in delays and risks encouraging over ordering/excess printing to avoid the cumbersome process
  • Each market is different, which add to the complexity. It is easy to confuse market specific process and documentation, which risks the material getting stuck in customs
  • With software that connects local printing companies, integrated with the world's best logistics partners, Gelato helps companies avoid all the pain points associated with shipping marketing collateral across the globe

What challenges do businesses face when importing prints?

Predrag Predin: Importing goods can be slow and costly. I recently spoke to a company that had shipped prints from Germany to Mexico. The prints had been held at customs for two weeks because the company did not have a local legal entity and it had caused complications. On top of the disruption, the customs cost amounted to 20% of the production value. Excess cost and excess time!

This is certainly not unique to this company. For large global enterprises that print centrally and ship goods to offices around the world, the challenges are multiplied many times over. The admin time alone required to manage the process can be huge.

Inefficiency tends to lead to greater inefficiency and, to mitigate against risk of delays, companies commonly over-order print material ‘just in case’. It would simply take too long to arrive should they only order materials when they’re actually needed. This commonly leads to wastage of up to 50%, and only burdens the business further.

Read more: Why printing is a waste your time

What causes the problems?

Predrag Predin: With each new market, further complexities are added. There can be a myriad of regulation and paperwork just to get prints into a country. Errors and non-compliance not only cause delays but can result in penalties too.

In terms of the most common problems; misclassification of materials is a big contributor. So too are labelling issues and failure to meet packaging regulations. Inadequate documentation from the exporter can see goods held up for weeks or even months.

If custom officers invoke health, sanitary or safety issues, then goods may not make it through customs at all. Most frustratingly, sometimes officers simply chose not to clear the shipment to the buyer for mysterious reasons.

Duties can also often be higher than anticipated. Of course that’s not to say goods have to be delayed for just one reason; add multiple barriers and the process can be a real headache!

Why is it so hard?

Predrag Predin: Some countries are just very strict and want to keep goods in customs for a certain period of time, regardless of circumstance. However, issues are normally down to regulation complexities and subtleties in different countries and markets.

That duties and taxes are typically not included in the price of the goods purchased online, does not help the buyer either. This is important because when goods are shipped internationally (outside of a country or within a single customs union) it is the customer that is liable to pay any inbound duties that the local customs authority deems appropriate.

To overcome this problem and speed up delivery, some courier services can pay the customs authority for any duties and taxes that are due on the goods on behalf of the customer in what is called ‘delivered duty paid’ (DDP). This is only available in certain countries. Where it is available, only when the courier is fully repaid do they deliver the goods. As what is payable depends on where the goods are sent from, the type of goods and their transactional value and weight, costs can vary and cause surprises that lead to further delays. DDP is something that we will be offering soon. However, together with the shipping provider, we will take the customs cost so that the customer does not have to worry and no further delays are caused. We believe it will be simplifying for a lot for our customers.

How is Gelato helping?

Predrag Predin: Gelato focuses on local production and avoiding customs altogether. Customer simply upload print files, which are then intelligently allocated to a local Gelato Network print house close to the final delivery address. Thanks to the close proximity (and not needing to clear customs) the prints are delivered quickly and customers are able to order on demand which also cuts over order and wastage.

Read more: Could the last mile become the only mile

Currently, we print in 25 countries and leverage trade agreements and ship from local regional hubs to avoid customs in 27 more countries. We deal with customs in 16 countries.

Gelato makes a complicated process actually very simple!