Beginners Guide to Profiting from Crowdsourced Delivery

mailing babies

In the early 1900s people tried to save on train travel by mailing their babies until the USPS explicitly forbid this practice

I’ve had a few frequent travelers ask me about how they can take advantage of peer-to-peer delivery to make money so I decided it was time to write a guide to crowdsourced delivery. If you travel a lot, and especially if you have status with the airlines and get extra luggage checked for free, you may be able to carry stuff for other people and make a little money on the side.

Warning: This is a really new thing and there are two problems that currently make this a less than ideal money-making opportunity:

  1. Not enough people know about it: there aren’t that many users so unless you are flying one of the routes that a company has really nailed down, it’s not that likely you’ll find a match for your trip.
  2. The legal requirements for importing items to another country are different for every country and you should either make sure the delivery service you are using has thoroughly investigated this, or do the research yourself.

What is Crowdsourced Delivery?

Think of ridesharing, but for delivery of things instead of people. A number of companies have built tools to connect travelers with folks who want to buy stuff from other places. You’re going to Argentina from New York City? Maybe you can deliver someone that iPhone they really want to buy. It’s much cheaper for them to buy it in the U.S., even if they pay a delivery fee.

carThere are two types of peer-to-peer delivery services: overland and by air. The overland ones focus on people with space in their cars. There are a lot of these in the United States. For instance, Roadie, a relative newcomer that launched in 2015, has a lot of financial backing and has partnered with the Waffle House and Ludacrious to make a big publicity push. I don’t do much driving so I don’t have any experience with these companies but if you do, consider signing up and using your trunk to make some cash. There are no import-related legal concerns for within-country deliveries. And there are a lot of these companies in the U.S. (In my spreadsheet select the “Transportation” category and the “Delivery” sub-category. )

suitcase1The between country delivery services are more suited to my travel style. And so I tend to use these sites when I have a trip planned. Some focus on a specific route between two countries (for instance, Entrusters focuses on U.S. –> Argentina, Parcelio does the U.S. –> China, Hong Kong and Taiwan route, and Zaagel is all about deliveries to Egypt). While others are generalists, facilitating deliveries anywhere in the world.

How do you get started?

First, book your travel. Don’t think about crowdsourced delivery while making your plans, just decide where to go and when you’re going. Once you have that arranged you’re ready to search for delivery opportunities.

Unfortunately there aren’t any big companies with tons of people looking for deliveries. Instead the market is filled with lots of tiny crowdsourced delivery businesses. This means you probably should sign up for accounts with any of them that have people with requests either from the place you are originating or to the place you’re traveling. If you’re lucky there will be one focused on the destination you are visiting (i.e. Egypt, Hong Kong, Argentina as I mentioned above) and you can focus on that one site. Use my list of all peer-to-peer delivery companies to find the ones relevant to your trip (in my spreadsheet select the “Transportation” category and the “Delivery” sub-category).

Once you have an account with a relevant site, you should list your trip. I recommend listing your trips on as many sites as possible (obviously only the ones that are relevant: don’t bother to list on Zaagel if you aren’t traveling to Egypt), and doing this as far in advance as you can. This will maximize the chances that someone will notice your trip fits with something they want. Don’t forget to list your return trip if you’re willing to carry stuff back home as well. You should also browse through the listings requesting deliveries to see if anything matches your trip and contact those that you can fulfill in case they aren’t paying attention to notifications from the site.

Posting a trip with PiggyBee

Posting a trip with PiggyBee

Keep in mind that if you can get something to the country of interest, it’s generally very cheap to mail domestically. So if you’re going to Spain you don’t need to be visiting Madrid to deliver something there, you can always mail it from Barcelona. But if you are planning to visit multiple cities always list them all as destinations, to ensure people know about all the options you are offering.

Is it risky?

There are a few areas of risk here:

You pay for the item and never get reimbursed

Many delivery websites now offer insurance or a third party hold on the money, pretty much eliminating this risk. For instance, the buyer can pay the website and they will let you know when they have the money, then you buy the item required with your own money. Once you deliver the item the buyer’s money is released to you to reimburse the cost and pay for the delivery. There are some variations on this theme but where available I think they mostly remove concern about this risk (assuming you trust the website). Before you accept a delivery request make sure you understand the payment system used by any site you select.

Import regulations

If you show up with a suitcase full of new ipads, it’s possible the authorities in your destination country are going to be a bit suspicious. They also might require you to pay import taxes. Suspicion is not a problem if you carry the receipt for purchase and have a plan for these computers that is legal. But you should always research the laws to make sure you know what is and is not allowed. If the country you are visiting charges import taxes, just make sure these costs are passed on to your buyer, then you can declare the items and pay the tax without any concerns. If you’re lucky, the website you are using will already have done the legal research, but this is only true for those that focus on one or two countries. I haven’t seen serious legal research from the websites that facilitate deliveries to/from anywhere in the world.customs

Obviously importing one iphone or one pair of new shoes is unlikely to raise questions. And in general these crowdsourced delivery sites are unlikely to net you more than one request per trip, so you probably don’t have to worry about this. But if peer-to-peer delivery grows and you aspire to actually make significant money on these deliveries, my warning about legal regulations will become important.

Will you find a delivery for your trip?

Maybe.

I found one for my trip to Spain and my trip to Colombia, but nothing for my trips to Iceland or Malaysia.  And I didn’t write about it but I also failed to find a delivery for my trip last summer to Sweden, Denmark and Ireland (I listed all three destinations on a number of websites).

Odds aren’t great for any one trip, but by participating you’re helping peer-to-peer delivery to grow. And it doesn’t take much time to make the listings. Let me know if it works out for you.

How much can you make?

Realistically, right now you’re not going to make a ton of money traveling to most places. However, the destination specific offers, like U.S. to Argentina using Entrusters looks like they could net you some significant cash if you fill up your suitcase with high priced items.

dollar signsSome sites like Piggybee allow people to offer non-monetary rewards like transportation, a meal, or help planning your trip. To me, a ride from the airport could be worth the trouble of carrying something in my suitcase. That’s saving me money and hassle. Plus I get to meet a local who might give me some fun tips for my trip.

This isn’t standard, or even necessarily used on their site, but here’s one proposed guide to pricing from PiggyBee. In general I have found that the monetary compensation for transporting small things is not significant, but if you’re bringing electronics or other high cost items you can expect significantly more compensation. I’m being vague here because each site is different. You’ll need to a look at what is offered for the deliveries you can make and decide for yourself if it’s worth the hassle of purchasing and delivering the items.

 

2 Comments

  1. Dawn, you’ve got a lot of knowledge of this area and it’s an intriguing potential market. Here are my concerns and questions with the market (and related products/companies):

    1) Value to the “carrier/courier/transporter” — Getting paid $20–50 seems low to coordinate a pickup, pack that item, and take on the physical and legal risks of carrying someone else’s item with you. In what cases (e.g. specific items/products) does being a “carrier/transporter” make financial sense? What items pay the most while keeping inconvenience and risk low?

    2) Financial benefit to the “sender/shipper” — The costs for sending items through crowdsourced shipping platforms seem to be equal to, or more expense than, shipping through traditional shipping companies. In what cases does using a crowdsourced shipping platform make financial sense to the “sender/shipper”? What items cost significantly less to send via crowdsourced methods compared to traditional shipping methods?

    3) Demand — The demand for shipping small and/or one-time items/packages with someone else seems low (most shipments are large and/or have regular frequency). What proof is there to show that significant demand exists for this service/product?

    • dawnzerly

      February 24, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Good points about the market Luke. I don’t know if this will pan out as profitable and beneficial to both the carrier and the receiver. Right now this is mostly a novelty for people who will value meeting locals and getting a little extra cash. If you are traveling anyway, and it’s easy enough to order the item requested with low risk, small profit is ok for some people.

      I don’t know what it will take to make this a more broadly adopted system of delivery. Either on the demand or the delivery side. Like many other sharing economy businesses, lots of companies are popping up in this space, which indicates at least some of them have done some research to suggest there’s potential. But I don’t pretend to know the answer to this. I do, however, see the potential value to me so as long as they’re around I’ll keep using the social shipping sites for my trips.

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