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Top 3 Shipping Faux Pas

Avoid these common packing and shipping mistakes.

Selling online has opened commerce transactions to the masses. It is easier than ever for someone in Biloxi, MS, to send a ceramic plate to a collector in Sydney. With the abundance of technology choices available, these transactions are becoming easier and easier, with many people becoming savvy online sellers.

One part of an online transaction that has not changed with time is the actual packing and shipping of products to buyers. We may have shiny new shipping software to rate packages and print labels, but someone has to physically pack and ship the goods in a professional and safe manner.

Being in the shipping insurance business, Shipsurance sees a fair share of interesting decisions when it comes to packing and shipping. Poor packaging, careless labeling and not educating your buyer ahead of time does not exude professionalism on the part of the shipper.

Even if you are insured, a damaged or lost package is not the desired outcome, and leads to an unsatisfied transaction. I wanted to share a few shipping faux pas that we regularly see, and explain better options so you do not fall into this category.

1. Shipping jewelry or collectible coins in a padded envelope

I understand it is cost effective, but there are smarter ways to properly pack these types of commodities. Why is it problematic to use a padded envelope to ship this type of item? Here are a few reasons:

Pack the items in a small box and make sure the contents are secured with tape or packaging material so they won’t rattle around
  • Shipments are run through conveyor belts and sorting machines, and dropped on one another in the mail flow. If a padded envelope catches a snag, it is torn open, leaving the contents to disappear. If a box is dropped on it, the contents can bend or break. We have seen thousands of pieces of “unbreakable” jewelry get damaged in this way.

  • Anyone with “sticky fingers” can tear or cut a small hole in the envelope allowing the contents to slip out.

  • In the case of a roll of coins, an envelope does not leave much to the imagination. It is obvious what the envelope contains.

  • Smaller envelopes can easily be folded up and placed in a jacket pocket, only to walk away.

What is a simple and better way to accomplish this?

  • Pack the items in a small box and make sure the contents are secured with tape or packaging material so they won’t rattle around.

  • Place that box in a slightly larger corrugated box and make sure it does not move around. This way, if someone cuts a hole in the outer box, the contents do not come rolling out. It also strengthens the packaging to support long drops from neighboring packages.

  • Larger packages are tougher to walk away with. Use 6 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches as a good starting point.

Making a change like this will protect your valuables in transit.

2. Giving away the contents on your shipping label or packaging

This may seem rather obvious, but people often overlook it. The return label on your packages should not indicate the contents-for example: Acme Jewelers, Best Video Games, Cell Phone Warehouse, etc. Better alternatives would be Acme Company, BVG and Fulfillment Warehouse.

Make sure the packaging does not contain words that indicate the contents, such as Apple, Tiffany, computer or diamond

Make sure the packaging does not contain any keywords such as Apple, Tiffany, computer, diamond or any other words that leave little to the imagination. Pack your items in nondescript boxes or the carrier-provided boxes. Do not use manufacturer packaging. It alludes to the contents, and the packaging is not often designed to be shipped individually.

3. Not ensuring your shipments are signed for at delivery

Sometimes it is easier on buyers if they come home to find their packages waiting for them on the patio, but this opens up a can of worms for sellers. Some of the problems this causes are:

  • Passers-by can take packages left on doorsteps or in mailboxes. It is often too tempting to leave an undisturbed package alone. Some buyers live in apartments or multitenant housing, where their shipments are stored in a central location with open access to all the people living there.

  • The elements can ruin many shipments. Packages get left in the rain, in direct access to sprinklers, in the snow, in direct sunlight or in the pool (it has happened).

  • Most people are honest, but a package that was not physically signed for can open a seller up to possible untruthful (fraudulent) statements of non-receipt by their buyers.

Paying for a signature confirmation from the carriers may not always be cost effective or warranted, but if you are shipping something with value, it can make the entire process smoother and lead to happy customers. Shipping a $400 item without a signature is just not a smart decision.

I hope I have provided a few tips that inspire you to rethink the way you pack and ship merchandise to your customers. Most of these tips, and more, can be found at

About the author

Ariel Shmorak
Ariel Shmorak is vice president of Shipsurance Insurance Services, a provider of shipping insurance for packages shipped via all the major shipping carriers such as the UPS, FedEx and UPS. Ariel has been consulting with small-business and independent sellers on shipping best practices for more than 10 years. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • I often ship jewelry in a hard sided box and then in a padded envelope.  I haven’t had any issues yet. I used to always ship the way you describe BUT buyer complained about having to pay higher postage and were lowering my shipping stars. Unless the piece is worth 30.00 or more it isn’t profitable to ship box in box 6×6

  • Great advise. We take great care in packaging our orders and feel the extra time and cost has paid off in few damage claims and higher customer satisfaction.

  • Npierre

    This is all fine and dandy, but has the author of this piece taken into account the cost of all his suggestions. The reason why a padded envelop is used is cost effectiveness. A box, however small automatically increases the cost of shipping. The advise on signature and insurance adds more cost. How much is a seller supposed to charge for shipping? Perhaps the shipping companies should stop upcharging with all the additional levies such as residential delivery and fuel surcharge. If you ship with a padded envelop, place the item between two riggid cardboar pieces within the envelop and tape the entire envelop, this will make it more rigid and harder to open. By the way, when you ship internationally, you have to place a decscription of the contents. A typical “consultant’s” comments and rather self serving.

    • Expense is a big issue when discussing shipping. The first statement on point (1) is “I understand it
      is cost effective” :).
      International shipments do require a description of
      contents, however, the article addresses the return label and manufacturer
      packages merchandise, as well.

    • goodnewsfromgabriel

      More on contents description – Shipping within the U.S. does not require an item description – only the shipping label. International however requires the description. I only put the item on the label – NOT a complete description. For instance, a hard to find World Map shower curtain is simply a shower curtain. A Bamboo Bay Tropical Bath Set is simply a 3 pc bath set. A vintage jean jacket is simply a woman’s jacket, etc. NEVER name something that would invite theft.

  • Sheila Sarver

    I’ve been shipping items for years but your article gave me some new insight about some aspects. Thanks for sharing your experiences. “In the pool” ?

  • Powerpop18

    I learned my lesson the hard way. I sent an art print encased in plastic to prevent any water damage and sandwiched between two double thick pieces of cardboard. The packaging was in oversize of the actual art so it was completely surrounded. There was no chance of it bending or folding. I marked “Do Not Bend” on the package and heard back from the buyer in a few days that A HOLE WAS STABBED RIGHT THROUGH IT! A clear malicious act by a member of the USPS. The postmaster sympathized with me and said it could have occurred at any of the handling facilities. I even showed him how it could not even bend by wacking it against his table. I had to send an additional print at my expense sandwiched between to thin pieces of wood. That’s right, WOOD! I insured the package this time and did not anything on the parcel. To this day I do not write anything on a package and refuse when a buyer asks me to.

  • John Kushmerick

    It costs more to do most of these things than it’s worth. It’s more cost-effective to take a chance and pay $1-2 less per package to have 1/100 (in most cases much less) packages have a problem. It all depends on the average cost of the items you’re selling.

  • Shipper12

    While interesting the suggestion aren’t very practical. Theft by the shipping company employees I don’t think is that big of a problem. These are the types of suggestions I would expect from an insurance company and not from an outfit that actually ships items.

    • Shipper12 – You are correct; courier theft is not the main problem. Theft before and after delivery is a problem. Many shippers leave packages for the USPS to pick up outside their homes or places of business. When packages are delivered, they are often left in the mailbox or at the doorstep, as well.

  • Wladydy

    I totally agree with shipper 12. The USPS (although they get a bad rap) I have worked for them as a carrier for 11 years and these situations that are talked about are very rare occurances. Sticky fingers, come on really, an employee would be immediately fired, this person makes it sound like it happens all the time. Not at all. yes the packages and mail go through processing but there are a lot of employees behind the scenes that are there to watch for “at risk” packages, bulky envelopes, envelopes with pictures and so forth. The ideas given may be useful for some larger businesses but not cost effective for the average ebay seller.

    • They are rare occasions, you are correct. I apologize for
      the redundancy, but many times packages are left outdoors or in common areas
      for pickup. Also, after delivery they can be made available to the public. This is
      where taking extra precautions and making sure your package is as non-descript
      as possible makes sense. Being in the shipping insurance biz I have stories that you would not beleive! But that is for another article…

  • Cindy Hymer

    I resent the slam on the letter carrier and additionally on the USPS as a whole. The Postal Service and it’s employees are the most highly regarded of ALL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES AND SERVICES! and have been for 2 decades. Letter carriers are good at securing the mail and finding a safe place to stash a package. BACK OFF THE POST OFFICE!!!

    • Once again; theft before and after delivery is the problem. We love the USPS and all the great workers around the country who work hard delivering the mail and parcels for our great country. There is no “slam” here! We just want to give some advice that is tried and true.

  • Jean

    Hi guys, I just would like your opinion on it. I sent out many packages via UPS last month to my customers and everyone was pleased except a lady claiming she never received it. However, UPS indicates that it has been delivered and I can see the signature but with a total different name on it. The address was verified once more and the customer wanted her package delivered at work. She claims she worked there for 12 years and know everyone and nobody goes by that name. I find it hard to call her a liar but is it common sometimes for mistakes to be done like this with large volumes of packages sent?

    • CSN

      Contact the Postal Service and tell them what she told you. I would contact the Postal Inspector where the package was delivered, and tell them someone signed for the package, but it was not the person who the package was to be delivered, and they claimed they never got it. They should investigate if your package was insured.

      • I am not sure the Postal Service would assist in a package lost by UPS…

    • mrsnappy1

      Certainly seems like her package was lost in the shuffle at work after another employee had signed for it. But your option is really only refund or Escalate to a Claim with eBay. They well may rule in your favor or just refund her with their funds. And if you are exonerated then the chances of her leaving you negative feedback are slim and the chances of any negative feedback being removed by eBay are good. If it was not a lot of money I would just refund her and claim the loss on your taxes at years end.

  • Common Sense

    We insure every shipment. Items are rarely damaged, but when one is, it is worth the small cost.

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