At one point or another it's going to happen to you. You sell your handmade item, pretty its packaging up, get it all snug in a bubble envelope and take it to the post office.
Flash forward a few weeks and the customer is wagging their finger at you. They are either wondering where their purchased item is or they are not a happy camper for another reason.
Lost or delayed packages are part of any online goods business because with so many items being shipped worldwide, things are bound to go wrong. If you can spend $2,000 on a trip across the world, only to lose your bags, it makes sense that $2 packages go missing every once in a while.
What about the other reasons a customer may be ticked off? Perhaps they did receive their item but it was damaged en route. Or maybe they got it, but feel that two weeks in transit was too long to wait.
In Smooth Sailing: 15 Tips for Shipping Handmade Products, we covered the basics for getting your package out the door. Now let's look at some troubleshooting techniques in case things go awry.
Problem 1: The Package Has Not Arrived
This can happen often for various reasons. Once upon a time, I was using a post office that never seemed to do the job correctly. They mislabeled packages, sometimes put them in the wrong shipping bins and sometimes left packages behind. When I eventually switched to a new post office, I rarely had a problem, so keep in mind that service can vary.
Another issue brought up by many handmade sellers is that hand-written packages, as opposed to those with prepaid shipping labels, seem more prone to theft and loss.
Tips for Success:
- Observe the service at the post office you use. Make sure that staff put your outgoing packages in the right bins, and that they charge you for the correct postage (it's fantastic when they make a mistake and charge less, but that could mean your package is going to the wrong place).
Use PayPal or USPS shipping labels and skip not only post office lineups, but major lost package headaches. Online shipping tools are available in two ways, either go to USPS's website and enter all the information, or pre-pay directly in PayPal on your customer's receipt (click "print shipping label"). In my experience, using prepaid services online makes shipping more reliable and faster – an added bonus for customers!
Problem 2: The Customer Felt the Package Took Too Long to Show Up
Depending on where you live or how long you took to get the package out the door, customers may be disgruntled about its delivery time.
Tips for success:
- State your location and delivery time frames loud and clear, so customers never feel unsure about how long an item will take to arrive. If your packages typically take more than two weeks to arrive, say so rather than underestimate – even if it affects sales. Word-of-mouth referrals are more important than new buyers, in my opinion, and that angry customer is likely to tell lots of people about the shipping delay.
- Be honest about how long it will take you to send out an item, especially with custom orders. Customers need to know that you'll be creating the item after the sale.
- Even if your items are ready to ship, be accurate about how long it will take you to get them to the shipping or postal service. It's better to be honest and say it could take up to a week than to lie and have a customer see the postal date when they receive it. Trust me.
Problem 3: The Item Arrived Damaged
Either you didn't use enough foam peanuts or the delivery person sat on your package. Whatever the reason, it's up to you to deal with damaged goods. Imagine if Amazon told a customer, "Sorry, the post office must have dropped the item, we can't do anything for you." That wouldn't fly. In fact, it would be all over the Internet within hours. Amazon would have to issue a public apology and take better insurance measures for their customers.
Tips for Success:
- Always pay for extra insurance, even if the customer doesn't opt-in. It will make for bad business if you tell a customer, "Sorry, you didn't buy insurance so you are out of luck". The best way to avoid losing profit, while offering added protection for your customers, is to build the insurance cost into your product price. Normally this fee is between 50 cents and $2, which makes very little difference to a product's selling price. It also gives customers peace of mind when they see "insurance included" and allows you to cover costs should an item go missing or get damaged.
- Don't skimp on peanuts or packing materials, even if you just ran out. Once I skimped on a package because I ran out of materials, and instead of finding newspaper or tissue around the house, I let it slide and sent it out. Within two weeks I got an angry email and had to issue that customer a full refund. Get off your butt and find something to use or go out and buy some more supplies.
- Contact the post office. If you feel you did everything you could for the item to arrive intact, call your post office and tell them about your problem. Often they will issue a credit for the value of the item or even send you a voucher for the next shipped item.
Problem 4: Something Was Missing
Who is the culprit in this situation? I can tell you one person who is not: The customer.
Tips for Success:
- If you did it – yes, I'm talking about you. I know how it is, you are busy with work, a family and a craft business. You send out 10 packages a week and with this particular customer, you forgot part of their order. If realize this right after you send the package out, send the second part out right away and notify them immediately. A customer will be thankful that you caught the slip and that there isn't much time in between the two packages.
- If you don't realize this until after the customer points out the error, you have two options. You can send the second part of the order out immediately while offering them some sort of discount for next time or added free gift. The other option is to just refund for that item if they needed it in a hurry or you don't want to fork out the added shipping charges.
- In the case that someone else did it – perhaps something got misplaced during a customs inspection – call the post office and let them know. Hopefully (if the customer has indicated the package was clearly opened and inspected), you can get a credit or at least an apology. If you have insurance, then you would certainly get some money for your loss.
Problem 5: You "Overcharged" for Shipping
This happens to everyone. Say a customer sends you a message to ask how much shipping would be for a variety of items. You quote the customer and they make their purchase. A couple weeks go by and you get an angry message because when the customer's package arrived, they noticed the postage label was $2 less than what they paid.
Tips for Success:
- If there is a big difference between what you specified and what's on the package, refund the customer through PayPal. It's simple to do (and you even get a few cents back from the PayPal fees ), and makes for a very happy customer.
- If the quote was off, but the extra money was part of your handling fee (such as driving to the post office, packaging material, etc.) tell the customer so. Explain to them (in a nice way, of course) how the $2 was spent toward their package so they understand it doesn't (and shouldn't!) come out of your pocket with each and every sale.
Have you experienced any of these shipping mishaps, and how have you dealt with them?
Justine Smith is an Etsy success story who used her experience selling online and turned it into a full-time wholesale business. Her real passion is helping handmade sellers find success marketing their craft products. She offers tips on advertising, branding, social media and growth via email through her blog Handmade Marketer.
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