This site is unconventional, but it’s awesome, and it’s definitely gutsy: Mulepool is an online exchange for goods from another country that you can’t just order online. So what do you do? You arrange to have them hand-delivered by a traveler (or “mule”) — for a fee.
Mulepool’s users are divided into two categories: mules (delivery people) and buyers. Both parties need to register, for free, in order to use the site. Buyers post items they want and the commission they’re willing to pay to get them delivered. Mules use the site to, well, make money by delivering those items. Sound sketchy? The site takes all the right steps to make sure it isn’t.
Upon making a delivery deal with a mule, buyers put the money for their item, plus the commission, into an escrow account through Mulepool. When the deliverer arrives with the goods, the two parties are encouraged to meet for the hand-off somewhere with easy internet access — this way they can go online and confirm the transaction, using pre-arranged codes that only they know. The buyer’s money is refunded unless the goods are correct and functioning (and given the number of requests for Blackberries, cameras, and iPads, this second detail makes a lot of sense).
As long as the transaction is completed and both parties are happy, Mulepool takes the funds out of escrow and pays them to the mule via PayPal. The site makes money by taking an undisclosed fee, also paid by the buyer, for completed deals.
Mulepool was founded by two Americans living in Buenos Aires (they claimed they wanted, among other things, Bacardi 151 for themselves and Victoria’s Secret underthings for their girlfriends, and they couldn’t buy either item online or in Argentina stores). At the moment, most of the potential buyer listings are looking to get U.S. goods down to Argentina. However, the site is hoping to expand, particularly to Brazil, South Africa, and Russia. Given some of the posted commissions for current requests ($624.75 for delivery of a Canon 5D Mark II camera, anyone?), we can’t imagine the business won’t grow, especially among the global backpacking set looking to pick up a little extra travel money.
Oh, and if you’re just looking to dip your toes before placing delivery requests with a stranger, the savvy site has a blog (that’s pretty quick jump into media, considering the operation just launched in February, and the main site is still in beta form).
What do you make of the idea of being or using a (legal) “mule?” Would you ever try to make a few bucks this way? Would you order, say, a Kitchenaid or an iPhone, if you were in a country where you couldn’t buy these accoutrements through a more…normal channel?