by Lydia Makepeace
last updated : 12/3/2014
From moving cross country multiple times to shipping original watercolor paintings from my Etsy shop, I’ve learned a thing or two about shipping items safely. Over the years I’ve made some costly shipping mistakes and have compiled a list of the top 10 below so that you can avoid the most common shipping mistakes.
1. Shipping a package as if it will be delivered on a pillowy cloud
I think this is arguably the number one shipping mistake. You can label a package with as many “FRAGILE” or “Do Not Bend” stickers as you like but if you don’t pack something properly chances are you’re not going to like the results - i.e. shipping a framed picture with glass in a bubble envelope is NOT going to hack it.
Always risk overdoing it when packing up something valuable and/or fragile. If you’re shipping something that needs to remain flat, reinforce it with stiff backing board of some sort. If an item is breakable, double box (bubble wrap it, box it, bubble wrap it, and box again). Protect your package’s contents from water damage by placing them in a cello bag or by wrapping in plastic. Grocery bags and trash bags work well for this.
Finally, before you tape a package closed, give it a good shake. If you hear any movement, add more packing material. Movement = Damage
To see just what kind of abuse your packages might be subjected to check out the videos on DontThrowMyPackage.com. Yikes!
2. Shipping without a tracking number
When I moved from Colorado to New York I shipped several boxes of books and photographs that never arrived. I shipped them without tracking numbers (to save money) and wasn’t able to figure out where they went missing or were stolen. While not monetarily valuable, the contents had a lot of sentimental value and the photographs were irreplaceable. I still mourn their loss.
Shipping packages with a tracking number is not a guarantee but it will go a long way in helping you to recover them if they stray on their journey.
3. Shipping without insurance
Don’t roll the dice. If an item is valuable, breakable, or would be difficult to replace - insure it! Read the fine print before purchasing insurance to make certain your items are covered. Items such as electronics, fine art, and jewelry often require special packing and insurance in order to be covered.
Save money and stop waiting in long post office lines by purchasing your postage online. USPS Click-N-Ship is a great tool if you’re only sending the occasional package. You can also purchase shipping labels through your PayPal account. If you’re an Etsy seller like me you can purchase your shipping labels right from Etsy!
5. Choosing the cheapest shipping option
Yes, shipping can be crazy expensive but choosing the cheapest shipping option isn’t always the best way to save money. The more valuable/breakable/meaningful an item is the more you should consider a shipping upgrade. The less time your fragile package stays in the mail system the better! Consider the cost of having to replace the items if they are lost, stolen or damaged when weighing which shipping option to go with.
6. Choosing the wrong shipping option
If you’re an online seller, (e.g. eBay, Amazon, Etsy) think about the needs and preferences of your customers when choosing which shipping options to offer. Generally when I purchase something from Amazon or eBay I’m looking to cut costs and save money, and that includes saving on shipping. Unless I specify otherwise, I want it shipped with the cheapest option possible.
My needs and preferences change when I shop for something on Etsy though. If I buy something handmade and/or one of a kind I want to know that it’s being shipped as safely as possible and I want it to be able to track where my package is at. I like getting it really fast too, because a package in the mail makes my day!
7. Shipping to the wrong address
Seems like a no-brainer, happens all the time. If you’re addressing something by hand double and triple check it. (And make sure the recipient hasn’t moved. This happened to me recently when I tried to surprise a friend with an unexpected gift. Fortunately the package was safely forwarded.) If you’re an online seller about to ship out a large and/or expensive order confirm your customer’s address.
8. Incorrectly measuring and/or weighing a package
Purchasing postage or a shipping label online can save time and money, but only if you make sure to enter in the correct weight and package dimensions.
Always round up! Shipping calculators only accept even numbers. If a measurement comes to 2 1/2 inches round it up to 3 inches. If a package weighs 4.2 pounds round it up to 5 pounds. Your packages will be reweighed and measured and if you haven’t purchased the correct amount of postage you will be either billed for the amount still owed or your package will be returned to you - then you’ll be out the postage you already paid plus the postage to resend it :(
9. Expecting a package to be delivered “yesterday"
Because we live in a world with weather, holidays and humans, no delivery date is absolutely guaranteed. Do your best to plan ahead and allow ample time for packages to be delivered. The United States Postal Service issues holiday shipping deadlines every year. Be sure to consult the USPS calendar if you want to make sure your gifts get there by Christmas!
10. Incorrectly estimating shipping costs
This last tip is especially important for online sellers. Incorrectly estimating your shipping costs can really cost you! Consider flat rate options from USPS or FedEx to avoid surprises. And don’t forget to add in the cost of shipping materials and the time it takes to pack your items properly.
Do you have any shipping advice? Let me know if I’ve left anything out by commenting below!