If you’re gifting and shipping collectibles for the holidays, I hope you are either very lucky or very well insured.
I recently shipped a First World War artillery-shell lamp and packed it to the point where I thought it was bullet-proof: a layer of paper wrap, tape-reinforced at the lamp’s base and socket, bubble-wrapped, and then double boxed and sealed with strapping tape. My box was clearly marked “fragile” in several places. Nevertheless, the package arrived damaged. The box was torn and crushed, and the lamp was bent.
An artillery shell? Bent? They were made to be fired from a cannon; how could it get bent?
Surely, I thought, this was a fluke. Until last week, that is, when I read a featured article in the current edition of Readers Digest titled “Confessions of a UPS Handler.”
The former UPS handler says that during the holidays “parcel delivery service” is a synonym with “herds of uncomfortable, sleep-deprived people shoving too many boxes into too-little trucks.” Author Sara Ohlms goes on to explain that prior to loading, packages ride on conveyor belts and sometimes log-jams occur where one belt meets another. “When that happens,” says author, “it’s like tripping at the head of a stampede. There’s nothing we can do…but say a prayer.”
Can all damaged packages be traced to mechanical failures? No, according to Ohlms. “Fragile” labels are routinely ignored, and it’s not uncommon for drivers to stand on one package in order to reach another.
UPS, FedEx and the United State Postal Service deliver hundreds of millions of packages every year; most arrive in good condition. But a recent study by StellaService shows that roughly one in 10 eCommerce packages arrive damaged. According to StellaService, most retailers consider a 5-percent damage rate to be “acceptable.”
The damage rates noted by StellaService by carrier are:
• UPS: 11 percent;
• USPS: 10 percent;
• FedEx: 7 percent.
These figures aren’t particularly reassuring for those of us wishing to ship collectibles, regardless of the time of year. We’ve put a lot of thought and money into our collections, and a 10-percent chance of our shipment arriving damaged is just too high. What can be done, then, when we must use a shipping service? How can we reduce the likelihood of damage? And, if our items are damaged, how can we offset any loss?
Shipping experts recommend the following when shipping valuables:
• Use a non-descript container. Don’t indicate on the outside of a box what’s on the inside of a box; it’s an invitation to thieves;
• Separate large shipments into multiple smaller shipments in case one shipment gets lost or damaged;
• Wrap breakables until each item is unrecognizable, and pack items so that they do not rattle in the box. If breakage is a concern, consider placing your packed box into a hard-shell cooler, and packing around the box with paper so the box doesn’t move around in the cooler and then place the cooler in another box. Coolers are relatively cheap, ranging from about $5 to $50 at Walmart (depending on the size) and are abuse-resistant. A cooler large enough to fit a six-pack of sodas can be had for about $10, which is cheap compared to the cost of your collectibles;
• Follow the carrier’s packing instructions. Insurance does not cover packages that are improperly packaged (including the kind and amount of tape used). For packing instructions, click here for UPS , click here for FedEx and click here for the US Postal Service;
• Make sure that each box is insured for the full value of the contents. Ask the carrier about sending your shipment as a “high value” shipment; such packages are placed into waterproof bags and are loaded by hand onto a truck; they are not placed on conveyor belts;
• Skip writing “fragile” on the box. UPS policy states that they do not provide special handling for boxes labelled “fragile” and a recent Popular Mechanics study confirms this. The magazine performed a study of common parcel carriers, and found that boxes marked “fragile” actually received more damage than boxes that were not so marked.
Even when you have taken all precautions, your shipment might still arrive damaged. In such cases, your only recourse will be to have purchased adequate insurance. So, when you purchase insurance, make sure you have read all the “fine print” as to what is covered and what isn’t (for both damage and loss).
If your shipment is simply too precious for you to sustain any loss, then the only way to assure safe delivery is to do it yourself. If you decide to self-deliver, let me suggest that you don a red Santa suit. Use the front door, though; chimneys can cause damage.
Previously published by WorthPoint.com
Originally posted 2014-12-05 11:00:00.