Let me know if you find this page useful! I will add to it over time. For international readers, note that ParcelForce (PF for short) is the main UK courier service used by the normal Royal Mail (RM) postal service for items heavier than 2kg. I used to do almost all of my international shipping with PF, but now I mostly use Interparcel or occasionally parcel2go; these are brokerage companies that allow anyone to exploit discount rates for services via Fedex, UPS, DHL, TNT, PF, Hermes, Yodel and various other courier companies. I used to have a proper account with PF, but I found Interparcel could be as much as 50% cheaper, and usually faster, depending on the destination, so I closed the account a few years ago; more on this later.
Part 1 (info first posted to eBid forum on 23/Jun/2008; last updated: 09/Jan/2013)
If you send anything by a courier service, you must pack the item in a suitable box yourself before collection ("You don't say??"). This may sound rather obvious, but from talking to numerous courier van drivers it really is amazing how often people book a collection for something, expecting the driver to simply take the item just as it is with no packaging whatsoever. The kind of items drivers tell me people have tried to have collected as-is include a hammer, lawnmower, surf board, vacuum cleaner, chainsaw, all sorts of things. Note that until recently, PF drivers were obliged to take items whatever the state of packaging (if any), but this is no longer the case - drivers can now refuse to collect an item if they feel the packaging is unsafe or inadequate.
Here are some useful initial links:
Knowing the correct weights beforehand can save a lot of time and hassle in the PO, ie. it's a real pain if a parcel is just over a weight limit for a service. Years ago when I lived in Preston, before I had these scales, I once had to open and repack a large box inside a PO branch because it was just over the weight limit; this wasted 30 mins and made me late for work. Lesson learned. :) This issue is even more important for courier services because posting an overweight item can incur a charge, or be rejected/returned at further expense, or it might be delivered but you'll later receive a bill for several times the normal shipping cost.
As you post items, I recommend making notes of typical box size/weights so that over time you build up a reference of what something will be weight/size-wise; this removes some of the guesswork when calculating shipping costs. For example, when I post a Cherokee PSU for an SGI Octane2, I know the parcel will be 6kg, 42x22x20cm. Likewise, a typical O2 will be 15kg, box size 52x52x53cm. There's nothing worse than having to guess a shipping cost for a prospective buyer, knowing that months before you sent the same item somewhere but didn't bother writing down the box size/weight.
When you visit a PO, take the opportunity to obtain any printed booklets on pricing and services.
For lightweight items, sometimes a courier service may cost only slightly more than a small-packet PO service (ie. not more than 2kg), so sometimes it may be better to use the courier service if going to the PO means a long walk, bus trip, etc. Indeed, RM pricing has increased so much in recent years, today it's cheaper to send a 2kg parcel to the USA (etc.) via Interparcel/Fedex than by small packet airmail! This is a significant change to the cost spectrum of delivery services in the UK. And of course sending via Fedex is much faster. So, do take the time to check postage costs via Interparcel, parcel2go, etc. - you may be surprised at the low prices of better services now available.
However, some people insist on using the PO no matter what. I really don't know why given how bad many PO staff can be (of course there are skilled staff, but usually there's only one such person in each branch); many are really slow dealing with parcels these days (one-finger typing), they don't know what Consequential Loss for Special Delivery is (they often fill it in by mistake, assuming it's the normal insurance cover, which it's not), and so on. Thus, if you do visit a PO, it really helps cut down the time of your visit by having everything ready beforehand. Ask for a full booklet of S.D./Recorded/Signed-For forms, sheets of "By Airmail" labels, "Fragile" labels, Customs labels (I once obtained an entire reel of them when I asked), etc. If you're using Special Delivery then completely scribble out the Consequential Loss box if you're not using that option! Way too many PO staff think it's where they're supposed to write the item's normal value, which is not the case at all; besides, S.D. insures up to 500 UKP anyway by default, so unless your item is worth more than that, just say 500 when they ask for the item's value. Note that some PO branches process services without forms, so be careful when they ask you questions about insurance options, etc.
For those who send lots of items, you can obtain huge savings on packaging materials by buying in bulk. I buy reels of 50mm x 66m brown parcel tape and FRAGILE tape in boxes of 36 at a time, 50mm x 50m black gaffer tape 24 reels to a box, 15 cubic foot sacks of foam chips 4 sacks at a time, large 1500mm x 45m bubble wrap four rolls at a time (I cut these into 3x 50cm wide rolls), and so on. The discounts are enormous compared to buying these items individually, and the investment will soon pay for itself, eg. the brown tape reels work out to 50p each (they can be two or three times that much in high street shops).
In 2012 I bought packaging materials from eBay users thefreemanfactory2011 (black gaffer tape), toolcollectionuk (FRAGILE tape), yourwholesaler-discount (brown parcel tape), easipack (small 12x9x6 inch boxes), globe_packaging (large-size bubble wrap) and packaging.products.direct (foam chips). There are of course numerous normal online stores selling packaging, but I consistently find eBay sellers have better pricing. One exception though: I buy custom-made boxes from www.davpack.co.uk - ideal for when standard size boxes may result in volumetric weights that are too high for certain items.
If you're an infrequent seller though, then there various ways to obtain free packaging materials. For example, the veg/fruit sections in Tesco/ASDA (and other supermarkets) are an excellent source of free bubble wrap (every time I visit at the weekend I come away one 1 or 2 carrier bags full of the stuff), and small high-street computer shops are usually more than happy for people to take away their unwanted packaging as it saves them money, ie. it reduces how often they have to call in a waste disposal company to have unwanted materials removed. I used to do this when I lived in Preston (a shop called 1st Direct), indeed I would reorganise the shop's entire unwanted packaging area: put the things I wanted to one side (boxes, bubble wrap, foam chips, foam blocks, etc.) and then repack everything remaining to use space more efficiently. It meant the shop owner had to call in the disposal company only a third as often. Not everyone can do this of course, but it's handy if you can.
If you do end up becoming a serious seller, then efficient storage of your items also really helps. In 2007 and 2008 I bought thirteen sets of industrial shelving from Big Dug, some via their frequent bargain auctions, others at negotiated prices (another example). Shelving can be expensive, so going for the auctions can be a real money saver. There are plenty of other suppliers aswell of course, and numerous other types of shelving that may be better suited to lightweight items. Or you can make them yourself, something I've done for many years (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3), along with home-made desks, etc. One can also make use of received packaging for such things, eg. when I bought a large computer from a guy in the USA (see note #1), I made some disk storage shelves from one of the leftover wooden crate lid.
Never skimp on packaging. I've built up a reputation over the years for packing things to be 'nuke-proof', 'UPS-proof', and various other expressions buyers have used. :) (ironic really as I've found UPS to be one of the better couriers these days)
One guy said, if there's ever World War III, could I visit and wrap up his house. :D
The number of times I've bought items on eBay only to receive them in a damaged state. It is very frustrating. Always imagine how you would feel if you received the item you're packing, how you would like it to arrive so that it's delivered safely. For example, a typical perceived cost saving by eBay sellers is to send disk drives, graphics cards, memory modules and other fragile items in just a jiffy bag (padded envelope). This is a really bad idea. The chances of such items being damaged in transit when posted in this way are very high. Where is the cost saving if the buyer puts in a claim for a refund or a replacement item? NEVER use a jiffy bag or padded envelope for items of this nature. And always post using SD or a courier service, or at the very least use 1st Recorded, though remember the latter has a low level of insurance and it's difficult/slow to claim in the event of loss/damage (do NOT use Standard Parcels - this can be a very poor service these days, sometimes taking as long as a month to deliver an item). To some extent one can get away with posting CPUs in padded envelopes (less so for AMD CPUs which have pins on them), but I still prefer to use a small box just to be certain of a safe delivery. Also, I've noticed that people who post items in jiffy bags are more likely to overcharge on the shipping cost; it is very annoying for a buyer when they've paid 7 or 8 UKP postage and all they get is a rotten jiffy bag containing the item, with the all-too-visible posing label showing the postage was only 2 or 3 UKP.
So, since replacing an item may be costly, especially for international shipments, it's well worth ensuring it will definitely arrive intact. Thus, I use boxes that are generally somewhat larger than most people might think is necessary for a particular item (eg. for disk drives I use boxes which are 12x9x6 inches); I tape up every seam completely, and for anything heavy or going international I seal all edges with gaffer tape aswell to give extra strength. If a box appears to have any kind of crease weaknesses, I tape over those aswell. Typical comments I've received can be found on my personal site.
This does take more time (a lot more for large items), but it's well worth the effort: it prevents damage, results in good feedback, a strong reputation, etc. Sometimes it takes extra dedication, like when I packed a large SGI server system in the midst of a howling gale (2nd image). I built a suspended cover to keep off the rain, which was eventually torn to shreds by the wind (3MB QuickTime), but it served its purpose, I constructed the box ok, complete with a waterproof cover. Notice how the box packing is wrapped around the upper part of the pallet base, so it's impossible for the box to be tipped off the pallet (lots of gaffer tape going underneath the upper pallet sheet).
The key to effective packaging is shock absorption and movement prevention. I've received parcels in which the sender has wrapped an item so that it cannot move around, but it has been done with materials that are far too stiff, such as layers of cardboard. This can't absorb shocks, which means plastic items are more likely to shatter. Likewise, I've received items which were packed in lots of foam chips or bubble wrap, but the box had too much unused space inside which allowed the item to move around; when this happens, the item can sink to the bottom of the box, or move to one side, allowing impacts to the box to damage the item almost directly. Worst of all of course is when a sender has used almost no packaging at all, as in this extreme example of an SGI O2 computer I bought which arrived in hundreds of pieces.
So what's the best approach?
My methodology is as follows: if an item is static-sensitive, then I first wrap it in an antistatic bag, sealed with anti-static warning labels. This prevents the inevitable static charge in any surrounding foam chips, bubble wrap, etc. from damaging the item, and also looks very professional. Bags and ESD warning labels can be obtained from component stores such as RS and CPC/Farnell. I acquire lots of bags via buying things, but I do buy ESD labels new, eg. from CPC: code SA00426, 16X38mm, reel of 1000 labels, 10.65 + VAT; code SA00427, 25x50mm, reel of 1000 labels, 12.55 + VAT. It's also possible to obtain large numbers of antistatic bags from online auctions at good prices. And again, for the occasional sale, small high street computer shops can be a good source of antistatic bags.
Then I wrap each item in sheets of bubble wrap - small size 1cm bubbles for small/lightweight items, large size 1 inch bubbles for larger or heavy items. Using bubble wrap correctly can be an art in itself, but here are two examples to give you some idea of how I wrap larger items, namely an O2 and an Octane. Never use only a single bubble wrap layer, it won't provide enough protection. I always use 2 or 3 layers minimum (for SGI systems I use six layers of the 1" bubble wrap).
When sending multiple items, at this point it's wise to plan beforehand how you're going to fit them into the box, ie. stack them just on the floor to see how they're going to be placed together, relative to the box size/shape - this might reveal the box you've chosen is too small, or even perhaps too big.
Next, wrapped items placed in a box should have a good layer of foam chips all around them, in particular near the box sides/edges. Often I use small foam blocks to help hold items in place. Note that the key to using foam chips effectively is to make sure they're well squashed down into all the gaps. Don't just pour them in loose, that won't work. Use your hands to squeeze the foam chips in tightly, especially at the corners. NOTE: antistatic foam chips weigh quite a lot more than normal foam chips, so I generally do not use antistatic foam chips (and they're more expensive). If an item is already in an antistatic bag then IMO using specialised foam chips is a waste of money. Also, I find antistatic foam chips to be far too slippy - they move out of position too easily.
Sometimes I put foam blocks at the bottom of a box in order to ensure items cannot move downwards in transit. I use small pieces of gaffer tape, rolled up with the sticky side out, to act as double-sided tape to hold the blocks in place. This is most obvious with the shipment to the University of Uruguay mentioned earlier.
Ideally, the final layer of foam chips at the top of the box should result in the box lids being slightly raised/bulged upwards when the lids are sealed. This allows the foam chips to settle in transit even further but without the box developing a dent in the top surface, something I've often seen with heavy items posted to me.
When sealing the box, I first use small pieces of brown tape to seal the edges crossways. I tape up the edges so that, at various stages, the next piece of tape I apply seals down the edges of other bits of tape already in place, ie. I employ longer strips to hold all the smaller pieces in place. Then I use gaffer tape on every box edge: black for all the side edges and underneath, silver for the top three seams which the recipient will have to cut open. Lastly, I apply FRAGILE tape, first on the top in a particular pattern (visible in numerous images shown here), then around the sides. Thus, when it's all done there will only be one exposed tape edge for the entire top section of the parcel. This means it's impossible for the parcel to come undone during transit, and it's largely waterproof, ie. tape cannot come loose due to being rubbed against by other parcels, etc. By contrast, when buying things, I've received parcels which have been falling apart because of an almost total lack of proper sealing tape, ie. never send a parcel that's only sealed by taping the main top long seam - it won't survive the journey (definitely the case if one has used cheap brown parcel tape - it's not sticky enough). Always seal the side edges aswell to some extent. I seal them completely, but that's my personal obsessive bias.
Note that when I first construct the box prior to wrapping the items, I use extra tape inside the box to hold the inner flaps in place, including pieces of 'double-sided' gaffer tape underneath the flaps for larger boxes. This gives the box extra rigidity, useful for international shipping. If I'm sending a large box outside the EU, sometimes I'll apply extra strips of black gaffer to the box base for additional protection, eg. as in this example showing the underside of a box destined for Uruguay, used to send an SGI Indigo2 and various parts. This box had holes on the sides for easier handling, so I covered these up on the inside of the box with taped bubble wrap sheets so that foam chips could not fall out of the holes, but this still allows the handle holes to be used by courier personnel.
If you're sending an item that's flat in nature, don't use a thin box just because of this. Remember that other heavier items may be placed on top of your parcel during its journey. Plus, a box that is flat enough may tempt a postal worker to just shove it through a letterbox, causing damage, even if the parcel is supposed to be signed for. Indeed, sometimes it's a good idea to use a larger box precisely to ensure it cannot be squeezed through the recipient's letterbox, forcing the delivery worker to bring the recipient to the door. If the item is not fragile, then it doesn't matter, but bare this idea in mind. Relevant examples include glass-framed pictures, signed photos, etc. It can be especially relevant to computer items such as disk drives (the 1m drop to the floor could damage the drive) and option cards which may be damaged if bent or dropped.
Always write addresses clearly in block capitals. Using your 'normal' personal handwriting style makes it far more likely problems with address recognition will occur. I use a black permanent marker pen on white self-adhesive labels (code 013542, Staedtler Lumocolor Fine Black, box of ten from eBay seller 'speedystationery2011'); each A4 sheet is a single label, bought as 100 sheets per box (Ryman Address Labels P1 Universal 289x205mm A4, eBay seller 'official_ryman_outlet'); I write the addresses and score out just the area required, though of course for online courier-booked items one can print the address label from the supplied PDF (note that Interparcel's system does not include the recipient's phone number on the label, so I add it manually after printing).
For small boxes, I might print the label on an adhesive sheet so that the label can be attached to a box in a much smaller area (no need for a border where tape would go). Use a printer with a clear font, though not all printers can cope with the stiff sheets of sticky labels. If you do use a printer, print the item first to a normal cheap A4 sheet to check it will line up correctly with respect to the label edges and the size of your box top surface - don't rely on Print Preview, I find this is often rather inaccurate. And of course check the printer settings beforehand.
Always include your own 'From' address on the side or underside of the box. I print mine out on the above Ryman sticky label sheets, 30 addresses per A4 sheet; I score them with a box cutter, remove and apply as needed.
Use a black permanent marker pen to highlight with dots where the recipient should cut the tape on a parcel to open it. Buyers will find this very useful, and so will you if they should have to reuse the packaging to return the item for any reason, ie. it's much less likely the buyer will have trashed the box when trying to open it if they can see where the seams are located. This is especially relevant for boxes that are opened on one side in some way.
If you're sending multiple items, each bubble wrapped, etc., then write on each mini-package what they are. In my case, sending SGI computers, a shipment often includes extras such as CDs, mouse, keyboard, SCSI cable, speakers, metal locking bar, power cable and so on. Using a black marker again, I label each bubble wrapped item, which allows the buyer to open the most important items first, or perhaps not open some items at all if they want to put them in storage instead. You'd be surprised how pleased buyers are when they receive multiple items that have been marked in this way. Do not however write anything on any original item packaging.
If you include an invoice and other documents (eg. eBid invoice or your own receipt of some kind), it's looks so much more professional if the documents are inside a normal white envelope, placed inside the box. I write 'Documents Enclosed' on the envelope. A pack of 100 or 500 simple self-sealing envelopes is very economic for this purpose. For large box international shipments, I attached such documents to the top of the box, held underneath two cut-out layers of A4 paper, taped at the edges, with dotted lines to show where the recipient should cut around the edges to free the documents.
Always clean items that are dirty/dusty. This sounds obvious but it's amazing how many sellers (at least those on eBay) do not bother to clean the items they sell prior to shipping. It makes such a difference to the buyer if what they receive is in good, clean condition. Indeed, many of those who've bought things from me have thought I sent them literally new items, which wasn't true (I truthfully told them) - I merely clean everything first. I use antistatic foam-cleanser for general cleaning (box of 36 cans at a time to obtain a good discount), label remover and/or WD40 for getting rid of old labels and unwanted writing on an item, soft-tip 1" paint brush and cans of inert compressed air for removing dust from small items and/or hard to reach places (box of 5 cans at a time; use with care as its expensive stuff), cotton buds for delicate cleaning, a 25litre air compressor for dedusting larger items, and other miscellaneous cleaning aids. Always wash your hands after using chemical cleaning products, and dedust things outside if possible, unless you enjoy sneezing your head off afterwards. Besides, dust in electronic items may be toxic, with accumulated metal particles, chemicals from the circuit board, grease, etc. Such materials can increase the chances of a short circuit aswell, another reason for cleaning an item prior to testing and sale. Wear a mask if cleaning particularly dusty items. Note that these days there are good eBay sources for the above cleaning products, eg. I've bought dozens of 400ml air duster cans from caboodle_outlet (I buy them 30 or 50 at a time to keep the cost per can quite low).
Before posting a parcel, take a picture of it. When adding feedback to my main site, it's good to be able to show what the parcel looked like so other prospective buyers can see for themselves how I do it. Plus, if anything goes wrong and I have to make an insurance claim (eg. box arrives totally crushed, which happened once when I sent something to Spain), I have pictures to prove the parcel was in excellent condition when it was first sent. I use a digital camera to take the pics.
In the context of shipping within the UK, one other thing worth mentioning is the massive difference in how parcels are treated when sent by 1st or 2nd Class compared to Special Delivery (SD). Items sent 1st/2nd Class go via the normal parcel network; at train transfer stations, parcels can get some pretty rough treatment - sacks may be thrown 10 or 20 feet through the air to the waiting train coach, landing on the metal carriage floor (damage risk). By contrast, items sent by SD travel by a separate fleet of vehicles/planes and get much better treatment. They're also only in the delivery chain for a single working day, so there's much less opportunity for nasty things to happen, eg. being squashed by another parcel, etc. If it's valuable, fragile, or for better delivery speed, then use SD. Beyond a certain point though in terms of weight/cost, it's better/cheaper to use Interparcel/UPS, typically for items more than 2 or 3kg.
Also, delivery to central London by normal 1st or 2nd Class has a reputation for being less reliable than other parts of the UK. People in London who've bought things from me say it's best to use SD whenever possible. Remember: Royal Mail loses some 14 million items each year; London is a high-risk zone for such losses. It can happen anywhere though, and sometimes in the other direction, eg. recently I won a 4870 gfx card on eBay, posted from Birmingham via 1st Class Recorded, but sadly it never arrived (the seller did give a full refund, and then they put in a claim to RM).
When asking for a buyer's address, request the details without any abbreviations. Sometimes buyers will be so familiar with their address in some local way that they leave parts of it out when sending the details to a seller, especially local region or state names, or even post/zip codes. This can cause delays when the item is sent. Note though that some parts of the world do not have post codes at all, eg. Hong Kong.
1st Class Recorded is not a guarantee of delivery. Anyone at the same address can sign for the parcel. This can be problematic if the address refers to a block of flats or a shared house. SD is more expensive, but must be signed for by the named individual, and the default insurance cover is much higher (500 UKP). Or use MyHermes with the signature option. I guess it depends on the nature of the item whether one regards the extra risks associated with Recorded as being acceptable. Also remember that making an insurance claim for an item sent by SD is a much faster process than for Recorded; likewise, insurance claims for International Signed For (ISF) can take several months, but for anything valuable using ISF is definitely worth it, eg. in 2004 a parcel I sent to Australia never arrived, so although I had to wait a long time (3 months) I did eventually receive the full 300 UKP insurance cover refund from RM.
Now for an explanation of Consequential Loss (CL) cover, an optional extra for the Special Delivery service. Those of you sending items such as documents, films, urgent/time-critical items, signed posters, etc. may find this useful. As I mentioned before, many PO staff do not understand the CL option, so it's worth being pre-armed with the correct information if you want to use it.
Consequential Loss is extra insurance cover not related to the physical value of the item.
Read that again and let it sink in before reading on for a typical real-world example...
Some years ago the BBC wanted to buy a SCSI card from me for use with one of their live broadcasts due to go out that weekend. It was destined for an SGI Octane computer which was being used to do the broadcast. The value of the SCSI card was only 75 UKP, so I sent it by SD. However, it was absolutely critical that the card definitely arrive on the Friday when it was due; if it didn't, the broadcast on the Saturday could not go ahead, which would be costly indeed. Thus, the BBC said yes, use the CL option, which I did, for the full 10000 cover.
Hence, even though the item was only physically worth 75, if the parcel had been lost in transit then I would on behalf of the BBC have been able to claim the additional 10K in compensation for the consequences of the item's loss (thus the name), which would have gone at least some way to covering the BBC's expenses if RM had lost the parcel (I'm not sure how it works if the parcel is delivered ok but arrives late). In the event, the parcel did arrive on time and the broadcast went ahead as planned. And btw, you should have seen the amount of paperwork I had to deal with to sell something to the BBC. :D
Oh, what I meant earlier about the CL option was that, for the example given above, many PO staff would try to write '75' in the CL box on the SD form (or enter 75 on their computer system as the item's CL value), which is totally wrong. This is why I score out the CL box on SD forms beforehand if I'm not using the CL option.
I've been using Interparcel and parcel2go for several years now. Much cheaper and faster than ParcelForce (except for the very low cost economy service from Hermes), with numerous options offering tradeoffs between speed and price. However, there are some things which are worth baring in mind...
In general, it's best not to use the absolute cheapest possible service (Hermes or Yodel) for anything valuable or fragile. These services are more prone to delivery issues, and the time collection window is often very wide. One doesn't normally need to use any of expensive delivery options (before midday, before 9am, that sort of thing), so usually I use the next-day or 2-day service, eg. Interparcel Standard or Interparcel Economy (both done by UPS). Sometimes time restrictions or other factors mean I use a different service, while for international shipments it varies as to which service is the cheapest for a given box weight/size and destination (Fedex, UPS or DHL).
For posting items to the USA, you will find US customs procedures are much less likely to be an issue if you post via UPS; Fedex has very strict rules which can be a real pain at times - not a problem for simple items, but for anything valuable, time critical or electronic in nature one must be careful. Worse, if you have a problem with a Fedex item, eg. an incorrectly filled-out form, it's the Fedex driver who is penalised for this! I do use Fedex a lot, but for the USA I use UPS if possible, eg. if the price difference is small I'll use UPS. If you use Fedex via Interparcel and something goes wrong at US Customs, Fedex will not refund any charges because you didn't book directly with Fedex. The main thing Fedex may want to have listed on a shipping form is the harmonised product code for electronic items, and their FCC emissions category - these can be difficult to find as there's no single public database with this data. A TNT driver told me UPS has a different arrangement and so it's a much easier process; from experiences I've had, this does indeed appear to be the case.
Sites such as Interparcel and parcel2go are brokerage services, ie. one is not booking directly with the relevant courier. Although courier drivers like ordinary consumers who use these services, because it means people have preprinted labels for their parcels (less time spent doing a collection), one must bare certain issues in mind. First, the maximum insurance cover available is only 1000 UKP for Interparcel, somewhat more for parcel2go for certain services. This is important; if your item is much more valuable than the maximum possible, then consider using a relevant courier directly - it will cost more, but at least one can have full insurance. It's up to you whether the cost saving via Interparcel/etc. is worth the risk, eg. if the item value is 1150 while the purchased insurance is only 1K. Or if a booking consists of several items that add up in value to more than the limit, one could post them separately - by this I mean completely separate bookings, not just multiple parcels that are part of the same booking. Remember, the insurance limit is per consignment, not per box.
When booking a collection online, one must be able to specify the destination local state/region name and the relevant post/zip code. Buyers will normally tell you their post/zip code, but they will often forget about the state/region name; especially true for countries in Asia and South America. Make sure you have these details prior to trying to book a collection. I sometimes use wikipedia to find out the region name for a particular destination, eg. if I'm unable to contact the buyer in a timely manner for some reason.
Sending items via brokerage services may mean one is subject to different rules on damage cover compared to booking directly with a courier. For example, if you send some kind of complete computer system via Interparcel, any insurance cover is only applicable to total loss of the item, not damage. Check the shipping/cover restrictions prior to booking if you're not sure. By contrast, sending a computer directly by Fedex will include normal cover for damage aswell as loss.
Interparcel has various services which can be booked for a same-day collection. Cut-off times vary, but typically they are between midday and 4pm depending on the service. By contrast, parcel2go and MyHermes tend to require one to book collections at least one working day in advance. It's the Yodel/Hermes services via Interparcel which often have to be booked a day in advance.
When you book a collection, you must specify a collection window, usually a minimum of 2 hours in duration. The start of this window must of course begin after one has booked the collection; however, remember you will need time to sort out the labels, etc., so give yourself some extra time if possible in order to have time to do this before the courier arrives. For example, if you book a collection at 1150hrs, then select a window that begins at 1230hrs. Sometimes a courier driver may by chance be very close to you when you make a booking, which means your doorbell might ring mere minutes after the booking is complete. Indeed, the record I've seen for this is when a Fedex driver arrived less than 30 seconds after I made a booking - he was driving past at the top of hill where I live just as I completed the booking. Most unnerving. :D
From the above it should thus be obvious that it is best to have all documentation and labels ready before the courier driver arrives. Attach the labels to the box as soon as the booking is made, though for international deliveries (especially by Fedex) I normally leave the main shipping documents in a pile for the driver to organise. Either way, as drivers are under enormous time pressure these days, they'll be most grateful if you can ensure items are ready before they arrive, ie. they can scan the box label and that's it, they're away.
If you're a frequent sender then over time you'll probably get to know certain courier drivers quite well, which can have its own advantages, eg. my local UPS driver (Andy) normally covers the area where I live at around 1600 to 1630hrs, so I know if I'll have time to finish packing a box even if I make a booking a tad before it's ready, ie. he schedules his route to match. Likewise, if a box is ready much earlier than normal, eg. I may have packed it the previous evening, I'll call him after I've done the booking so that if it's convenient he knows he can collect the box earlier than requested. Drivers often find this useful when planning their routes during the day, eg. avoiding rush hour traffic jams, road works, etc. Help your driver if you can and they'll be more accommodating with your personal schedules, etc. Plus, in time they will get to know with which of your neighbours they can leave a parcel for you if you're out - very useful not to have to book a redelivery or visit a courier depot.
Sometimes a buyer asks me to use their own courier account, typically with Fedex, UPS or DHL. Ask your relevant courier driver for some forms and document envelopes so that if you do have to make a manual booking directly with a courier, again you can have all the documents ready before the driver arrives. Speaking of which, if you need to book directly via Fedex, UPS or DHL, here are the normal landline contact numbers in the UK (obtained via saynoto0870.com):
UPS: 02079 490 190 (Edinburgh local number is 314 6801) Fedex: 02476 706 660 DHL: 01332 816 960
Sometimes on eBay I ask a seller if I can book my own courier collection, especially relevant if the seller was planning to use expensive ParcelForce or unreliable Standard Parcels (don't bid and win an auction only to then ask if booking your own collection is possible; always ask beforehand). If the seller says yes, I always then let them know that a collection requires a time window when the sender must be at the sending address. Bare this in mind because economy services may require a very wide collection window, and in some cases one cannot change the window timeframe at all - it's just the entire day (eg. Yodel/Hermes), perhaps as late as 9pm, though if collecting from a business address then the times are more sensible, ie. just working hours, though this isn't ideal for all business addresses. Thus, it will be easier for the sender if one uses a slightly better service that offers some flexibility in the collection booking, eg. Interparcel Economy/Standard. If the service gives the relevant option, ask the seller if they'd prefer a morning or afternoon collection, etc. Having said that, whether or not a requested collection time slot is adhered to depends entirely on the courier used and the individual driver, usually based on local depot policy - some areas of the UK do not bother with requested time slots at all.
Naturally, for valuable/fragile items, a better service measn the item is more likely to be collected when requested, and less likely to result in delivery problems. What I do is tell the seller that the parcel can be collected from anywhere, ie. friend, neighbour, family member, work place, etc. This info gives the seller a chance to change their mind if they realise that having to wait at home isn't possible in this way, or if there's nobody else with whom they can leave the parcel. Better they have the choice than to book a collection only to find the seller is unable to adhere to the requested time slot. However, I find many sellers have never heard of Interparcel or other services, so they're often grateful for the information. Remember to ensure that if the seller is ok with your booking a collection, they send out an amended eBay invoice with the shipping cost removed. Some sellers will try and charge something anyway even if they say I can book my own collection - if so, this can often negate the intended cost saving, in which case I don't bother; plus, such a stance tends to make me a bit suspicious, doubly so if it's obvious the seller has not had to spend anything on packaging materials.
Some sellers initially state personal collection only because they don't have any packaging at all. Thus, on numerous occasions I have asked a seller if - assuming I win the item - I can send them my own proper packing box with all relevant packaging materials already enclosed, including foam chips/blocks, a roll of bubble wrap, reel of tape, return address label, etc. I construct the box to make it as easy as possible for the seller to pack the item. This has been a very successful way of obtaining items on which I otherwise would not have been able to bid. That's the really good part about the low prices of the brokerage services: it's far cheaper if I send the seller a box, etc. than for the seller to try and obtain such packaging materials themselves, and of course they have a box that is fully ready to use, no need to put it together. Note that for the journey down, I do not seal the top box seams completely - this makes it easier for the seller to tell where to cut the tape to open the box. However, for the return journey, I ask the seller to completely seal the edges (just as I do when posting an item), assuming the reel of tape I've included is sufficient. I retain empty tape reels onto which I can roll some tape for inclusion in packing boxes.
To the right is shown another example (click on the image for a larger version), and note that in this case the box side edges, lid edges and part of one lid top surface have been fully precoated with black gaffer tape to give maximum strength, etc. In other words, the black tape you can see on the side/lid edges are not pieces of tape that are holding the lids closed; only the brown tape is doing this. Reinforcing the box lids in this way means I can use it five or six times to have items delivered to me from all around the UK before the box finally has to be discarded, though of course the packaging materials inside can be retained for future use. The large area of black tape on the top surface allows the labels used for posting the box to the seller to be easily removed, ready for the return labels (notice I've marked the area with a sticker that says, "LABEL ZONE", which is covered in clear tape so that it cannot be removed). The strips of FRAGILE tape are positioned so that repeated use of the box will not result in these tapes being removed, ie. slightly different positions compared to when I normally post a box.
Example: if a seller has listed an SGI O2 but has no packaging, it only costs 7.80 to send them a packing box by Interparcel/Yodel48 (5kg, 52x52x53cm), while for the return journey it costs 13.20 to have the box returned via next-day Interparcel Standard (UPS). 2-day delivery is only 60p cheaper, so I reckon the extra is worth it to have an O2 delivered a whole day faster. One could of course use Yodel48 for the return journey aswell, but IMO that's unwise for an item as fragile as O2, even with the awesome packing materials I include in the box. Economy services are cheap for a reason. ;) However, if I was using such a box to have something less fragile sent to me, then Yodel48 would be ok.
Real Weight vs. Volumetric Weight
The cost of a particular shipping service normally depends on the weight of the parcel. However, in recent years the size of the box has become increasingly important. RM has changed its policies so that box size matters a lot more than it used to, eg. if I recall correctly, an international small-packet box must not be more than 90cm total for L+W+H. All courier services base their pricing on a combination of real weight vs. box size.
The 'weight' value based on box size is called volumetric weight. To the best of my knowledge, all companies now use the same formula:
Vol. Weight = (L * W * H) / 5000
where the dimensions are in cm (at one time PF used a divisor of 6000 which gave them a competitive edge, but they changed it to 5000 a few years ago - another reason why I switched to Interparcel). When considering a particular service, weigh the parcel with some scales, calculate the volumetric weight using a tape measure (always round up each dimension to the nearest cm), then use whichever value is higher for the booking quote.
For example, an SGI O2 once boxed is typically about 15kg (a bit less for an R5K unit), but the boxes I use for posting O2s are 52x52x53cm, so the volumetric weight is 29kg (28.6624, but one must always round up). I had these boxes custom-made to ensure the volumetric weight would be under 30kg, ie. the pricing never goes over a cost barrier or max weight limit for a particular service.
Volumetric weights are incredibly important for international shipments via courier. An item may not weigh very much, but if it's large and requires a big box, then the shipping cost could be quite high. For SGI items this is especially true when posting plastic skins parts for O2 and Octane systems; the parcels will weigh just a few kg, but the box size means the volumetric weight will be more like 20 to 30kg.
If you're not sure what box you will use when someone asks you about shipping costs, well, that can be a tricky problem. Best guess I suppose; position the items in a stack, try to guess how much larger it would be once everything is wrapped, with surrounding foam chips, etc. You'll get better at this over time. If you're really unsure, especialy for destinations outside the UK, ask the buyer if they're willing to cover any additional shipping that might be incurred once the parcel is packed (or perhaps you could split the difference), ie. if your initial estimate (and resulting payment received) turns out to be too low. Normally this is not a problem for posting single items, but it can be hard to judge the final box weight and size if someone is interested in lots of different items. It goes without saying of course that you may find the final cost was less than you thought, in which case refunding the extra you didn't need will help secure a loyal customer.
On rare occasions I find that using a box to pack an item means that the final weight will be over a particular cost point because of the volumetric weight, oer maybe a service I wanted to use is not available because the volumetric weight is too high. In such cases, depending on the item(s) involved, I may consider constructing a completely customised package consisting of many layers of bubble wrap followed by 2 or 3 layers of gaffer tape, and then some FRAGILE tape. Some extra shaped pieces of bubble wrap initially attached to the base of the main bubble wrap bundle can result in the final taping producing what is effectively a reasonably flat base, giving the package a natural 'right way up'.
The gaffer tape is first done at each end, then length-ways (so now it's fully covered), and then a 2nd layer going around the bundle instead so each piece crosses over the lengthways strips. I might add a 3rd layer depending on the nature of the item, the destination (more distant location = more tape), etc. The final package resembles a sort of sausage shape; several times I have been able to exploit a significantly lower shipping cost by using this method, in this example posting a heavy power supply to a hospital in Vietnam. Notice the thick dotted line around the middle of the bundle, ie. since there is no 'lid' in the normal sense, the recipient is instructed to cut along this line with a sharp knife, and up/down the four side edges, thus allowing the two halves of the bundle to be easily pulled apart.
This method is especially effective for posting newer-type SGI PS2 keyboards outside the UK - the weight saving means I can use the cheaper RM small-packet airmail service instead of a costly courier.
As mentioned earlier, for some items I use custom-size boxes, bought from www.davpack.co.uk. If you do this, always buy boxes in quantities of at least 10 or 20 at a time, otherwise the cost per box will be way too high. In case it's of any use to others who may be considering posting an O2, Octane/Octane2 or Tezro, the custom sizes I order from davpack are as follows (note these are internal dimensions):
Octane/Octane2: 54 x 44 x 59cm O2: 50 x 50 x 50cm Tezro: 70 x 50 x 60cm
In the future I might order some custom boxes for Indigo2 and Origin300 aswell; if so then I'll add the details here.
I'll include further information about using courier services and posting parcels in general at a later date, as and when I can think of relevant topics. In the meantime, please feel free to ask any questions you may have. Send emails to my Yahoo address and also to my sgidepot address just in case.
Lastly, here are some more examples of how I pack things; perhaps these images can serve as an inspiration for your own packing experiences:
Some final general comments I've made in various posts on the eBid forums which may help motivate, etc.:
youmeus writes: > ... So I just need to get with it, can't blame anyone else for my > lack of listing as it goes fairly fast since I learned how to use > PhotoBucket and set my defaults. ... I know what you mean. I find it takes longer to sort out the pictures of the items I'm going to sell than it does to type up the auction pages. Key thing to remember is that an auction that doesn't sell can be relisted or used as a starting point for a similar-item. My auctions have extra notes about shipping costs, etc. which are carried from one auction to another, saving a lot of time. I also remind myself that every hour spent watching garbage on TV is an hour that could be better spent adding extra listings or improving my main site. You only have one life as far as anyone can prove; don't waste it watching mindless trash on telly... though Big Bang Theory is an exception, hehe. ;)
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