I've tested virtual address providers, so you don't have to

Introduction

The sad fact about online shopping in Ireland is, that many sellers will ship to UK only. It often makes very little sense as they'll happily ship the parcel across Europe to northern Ireland just fine, but that's the status for now.

Personally, I'm trying to avoid such sellers to sort of vote with my wallet, but sometimes UK-only seller is the only option or the price difference is just way too big. Fortunately we now have couple services available that can give us "virtual" address in UK and then forward any received packages to Ireland.

I've been trying them out over the years and here's some comparison of Parcel Motel, Parcel Wizard and AddressPal.

Pricing

First things first. Here's the comparison of pricing (as of 27th July 2018):

Service Pickup delivery Delivery to address Oversized items
AddressPal €3.75 €5.99 - €12.99 (depending on weight) €25
Parcel Motel €3.95 €7.95 Under 55kg €7 collection in depot, €14.95 delivery
Parcel Wizard €3.85 €13.85 + 74c for each kg over 20kg

The above table has couple gotchas and I encourage you to check out pricing before using the service. For example, you can top-up your Parcel Motel account by €35 and you'll receive extra €4.50 credit which drops the overall price of pickup delivery to €3.50. I've tried to capture the most common case where the package isn't unusually big or heavy. The oversized column is rough overview only, there are too many details to capture in a table.

Overall the pickup prices are quite similar, AddressPal being the cheapest option, but the two other options less than 10% price difference.

The delivery to address is quite a different story. Parcel Wizard has the same price for pickup and delivery, so their delivery price is actually cheapest - depending on the parcel weight it might be substantial difference actually.

Pickup delivery

This might be the most commonly used delivery method, but the providers aren't equal in this aspect and depending where you live, the experience might be quite different. (especially outside Dublin or other bigger city)

AddressPal

This is service provided by An Post, so naturally any post office can be set as your pickup point.

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This means that your pickup location is probably going to be very conveniently near your work or home. The disadvantage is, that many of those offices have very limited opening hours. So the office might be near home, but might be already closed before you get there.

Picking up the package is reasonably easy, you just provide your AddressPal card and any ID, pay for delivery and get the package. If you want someone else to pick up your package, the process is a bit more involved though as you need to print and sign authorization form.

Parcel Motel

This is kind of mixed bag. On one hand it's super convenient as you're not limited by any opening hours. You receive a code, enter that at the locker anytime next 48 hours. There's no need to authorize someone else to pick up your package, you can just give them the one time unlock code and your phone number.

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The problem is if you live in more rural area. While there is quite a lot of lockers around Ireland, it's nowhere near the amount of post offices. If you're unlucky, the nearest locker might be quite a long drive away from you. Having said that, the amount of lockers is rising each month, so even if it's not an option for you now, you might want to check out nearest lockers every now and then.

Parcel Wizard

Pickup locations are basically shops that have some sort of contract with DPD to handle package pickups and can also accept deliveries etc. In terms of available locations, it's somewhere between AdressPal and Parcel Motel. You'd have to live in very rural area to not have one of the pickup points nearby. Opening hours can be a mixed bag. Some shops are open till late, other are not. Generally speaking in bigger cities you can always find a pickup point that is open til 9pm or longer and most of the other are probably going to be open up to 6 or 7pm.

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Picking up the item is easy, just have your parcel number and PIN ready - you'll receive both via text and email. The staff in the shop often appears a bit confused, it feels like they don't handle these often, but then it also takes a while before they find the package. (from my experience anyways) So it does take couple minutes - definitely not as fast as the Parcel Motel locker, but I honestly never had an issue getting the package eventually and two minutes extra aren't really a factor for me. I'd say the convenience is on par with AdressPal except it's easier to "nominate" a person - again just share the tracking number and PIN.

Pickup - Summary

Overall I think Parcel Motel is the most convenient option if you have a locker nearby. Parcel Wizard usually has slightly better opening hours, so I'd put it ahead of AddressPal there. AddressPal is also least convenient option if you want to have somebody else picking up your parcel.

Delivery to specific address

Parcel Motel is delivered by Nightline, AddressPal by An Post and Parcel Wizard by DPD - if you're shopping online a bit, you probably had a delivery from most of them already, so you get the idea.

Generally speaking in terms of convenience, all three options are about equal. Your experience sometimes depends on the driver, but at the end of the day someone is going to knock on your door, you sign the package and you're done.

The biggest difference here is the price. For most packages Parcel Wizard is going to be the cheapest option. Depending on weight, either AddressPal or Parcel Motel is going to be second, likely about 200% the price of Parcel Wizard.

Another small difference is convenience and flexibility. Here Parcel Wizard again has some edge over the competition with detailed notification about your delivery and with an option to select a pickup point if you realize at the last minute, that you're not gonna be at home at the time. Not only that, you can actually set up delivery calendar in your dashboards, so you can have parcels delivered to a specific address on some days and to pickup points on others. This can be one time exception or a recurring schedule. Very convenient indeed.

As a side note DPD seems to handle your usual DPD packages the same way as Parcel Wizard, they even show under your Parcel Wizard account. (as free deliveries obviously)

Overall between price and convenience Parcel Wizard is a clear winner here - again talking from my experience, your mileage might vary.

Virtual address and shipping to Ireland

AddressPal is the only company that provides virtual address in the UK mainland. Parcel Wizard and Parcel Motel give you virtual address in Northern Ireland. Practically there's almost no difference as most sellers do ship UK-wide, usually with the same shipping price. Some do only ship to mainland, for those Address Pal could be your only option.

In terms of shipping speed of getting your item to you, in theory AddressPal could be the best option as the mainland address will very likely receive the package day or two before it would arrive to Northern Ireland. In practice it's actually quite the opposite. The reason is that AddressPal is very slow to ship your package between UK and Ireland. On their page they say 5 to 6 working days. From my experience it's more like 9 to 10 working days. (so about two weeks) Parcel Wizard and Parcel Motel will have your package ready for collection within 2 to 3 days since it arrives to NI, which is quite a lot faster even if there's day or two extra spent on the shipping from the seller.

AddressPal really doesn't make the situation any better by their absolute lack of information about your package. There is no notification when the package arrives at your UK address (unless seller provides tracking on their side), there is also no information that they are indeed handling your package and no ETA. You're left completely in dark, sometimes for weeks. The only notification you'll ever get is once the package is ready to be picked up. This is in a stark contrast with Parcel Motel that informs you when they receive the package - even with a small photo of the package to give you some idea what it might be. Parcel Wizard does similar and even allows you extra flexibility to actually schedule your package delivery. In both cases there's a lot of communication and you have pretty good idea about the ETA.

Another minor issue with AddressPal is the actual address. It's suuuuper long. Your identifier is 16 characters long and the address itself is quite long as well. It might sound like nitpicking, but it really is a problem and some sellers don't provide enough space to enter the full address. The identifier alone makes no sense, there's only so many customers they might have in Ireland, there's no point having 16 characters long code. (to put it in perspective, this would allow for about 10 000 unique accounts for every human that ever lived on this planet if you just use numbers) Parcel Wizard's 8 digit and Parcel Motel's 7 digit number are much more appropriate and - what's important - short enough to put besides your name in case there's no extra field available.

To sum it up, The lack of information and long shipping times really do make me avoid AdressPal unless there's no other option. The inconvenient address is just small annoyance on top. For sellers shipping only to UK mainland this is your only option though. Parcel Wizard and Parcel Motel are generally equally good, with Parcel Motel having slightly faster shipping, which sometimes takes a day less. Parcel Wizard has a slight edge with the extra flexibility.

Thoughts and conclusion

I'd say the best option is to support sellers that do ship to Ireland directly. If they provide DPD as their delivery partner you can even avail some of the Parcel Wizard convenience. Consider voting with your wallet even if it means you're going to pay few euro extra.

Depending where you live or on the seller, one of the companies might be your only option. In a bigger city you're usually free to use any of the services.

From my experience (living in Dublin) Parcel Wizard provides the best value for the money - especially if you'd like the items delivered home or to your workplace. If you want to receive the package a little bit faster or you want the convenience of picking up the package anytime, Parcel Motel might be worth the extra 10c. AddressPal is your only option if the seller only ships to UK mainland address or if there are no other pickup points nearby (and you don't want to get the package delivered), but brace yourself and expect quite a long delivery times with little to no information on your package whereabouts.

Disclaimer: All of the above is from my experience over the years, situation might change anytime and your specific situation might affect your experience.