I’ve seen many online sources tell you that shipping policies aren’t required by law and today on the podcast I’m here to tell you that if you are trading to, or from the UK and EU, it IS a lawful requirement to set out your shipping policy for customers before they purchase from you.
It doesn’t have to be a complicated policy statement, but it does require a few essential pieces of information, set out in the Online and Distance Selling Guidance.
Let’s start at the top…
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What is a shipping policy and where does it live on my website?
A shipping policy is a statement that is present on your terms and conditions page – I recommend everyone has one, because not only does it make it clear to a buyer the process of buying from you, but it also covers terms they may need to be aware of if they require a return, exchange, or some other aftercare service.
A good policy helps establish trust before a sale is made and detailing shipping is a great way to increase trust.
On Etsy? Then put your shipping policy in your policy area, or under your FAQ section.
What do I need to include in my shipping policy?
The Online and Distance Selling guidance requires the following pieces of information;
Your business name, contact details and address – I usually put this at the bottom of my terms page. If you have an Etsy shop it appears at the bottom for you too.
Delivery arrangements and costs – make sure that you detail carriers and exact services, so that customers know how their orders are arriving with them and if they need to sign for them. Being clear on costs is key here, especially if you offer a range of delivery options, or as on Etsy you have a ‘combined shipping’ rate (meaning a discounted rate for buying more than one item from you in one transaction).
How long goods will take to arrive – this is very important to customers. They want to know exactly how long they should be waiting for their order to arrive. In this case it is important to include any delay you may have in-house from handling the order or making it if you are providing custom services (known as ‘processing time’ on Etsy.
I also find for good business practise and customer trust your policy should also include;
How you package orders – while you don’t need to go into extreme detail here, it is worth mentioning how items are packaged for transit. I have found in the past that this helps show a professional approach to the care of your products and delivery service.
Where you ship to – in the past I have found detailing where in the world I ship my products is extremely helpful to potential customers. It’s also helpful to me, because let’s face it there are some places in the world where shipping orders can be a difficult endeavour. You may find it easier to say which countries you exclude if these are fewer in number.
Which address you will be shipping to – if you have your own website this can feel a little obvious, but in my many years of shipping experience I have noticed two things can happen on occasion; one – sometimes billing addresses are not the same as delivery addresses, especially for those who have PayPal and Etsy accounts (because when they move home they forget to update these!) and two – making your terms clear in the first instance that you will be shipping to the delivery address given, provides your statement of liability for losses (or not depending on your stance).
If you provide tracking numbers – overseas buyers will generally ask this, especially if they are from the States. This is because this is standard practise in their postal system. Here in the UK and in other EU countries it might not be the case, so making it clear if you offer tracking numbers as standard will help overseas customers understand how shipping works with you. It may also indicate to them if buying a shipping upgrade, is a relevant extra service in this instance.
Customs cost information – Import taxes may be due in certain delivery situations. In my experience it is helpful to highlight that these costs are the customers to bear by law and that they should contact their relevant government department to find out what those might include. This keeps your customer informed and covers you if the customer has a problem with these charges later.
Customs paperwork information – To ship overseas your orders will require paperwork to get your order swiftly through customs and on its journey to your waiting customer. If you don’t provide relevant paperwork it can hold things up. In my experience I have found it helpful to give a basic outline of the paperwork you provide, just as reassurance if an item gets delayed, that it isn’t due to paperwork issues.
General customers note – in the past, it pains me to say, I have been asked on many occasions to falsify custom forms to fly something in ‘under the radar’, or to help a customer avoid custom fees! I have always been very offended by this behaviour, but still it gets asked of us and so my stance against this was to make it very clear in my shipping policy that under no circumstance will I ever falsify customs documents, because this is a criminal act which can have legal ramifications for both parties.
When an item is classed as missing in the post – your carrier will have a time limit on claims you can make with them if an item goes missing during transit. I have found it useful to indicate this as the timeframe of expectation to a customer. Why? Because once your customer has completed their purchase, they are eagerly awaiting it’s arrival and if something should cause a delay, which occasionally it might, it is good to give your customer a delivery window so that they know when to approach you for help.
How you deal with missing post – your terms page is the first encounter your customers will have with the aftercare part of your customer service policy, in my experience it is helpful to show them how seriously you are going to take their delivery issue and what you intend to do about it. Peace of mind equals confidence!
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The best way to write your shipping policy
Now we have explored what to include I thought it best to take you through how I might write out a shipping policy for customers of a product-based service. Please bear in mind that as a disclaimer I must state that I am not a lawyer and so you should have your policies checked from a legal standpoint. Instead this section of my blog post is more about an intended layout.
We want to keep it simple to read and fully inclusive. So, I tend to use bullet points for my website and on Etsy separate these into a few carefully worded paragraphs, or FAQ entries (depending on where you want to put it).
Given the key points above, here’s how I might lay out those individual policy points for ease of reading;
£x UK - Royal Mail 1st Class (1-3 business days after dispatch – no tracking number*)
£x Europe – Royal Mail Airmail (5-7 business days after dispatch – no tracking number*)
£x Rest of World - Royal Mail Airmail (5-7 business days after dispatch – no tracking number*)
*Tracking numbers do not come as standard but can be provided if you select a ‘tracked’ service at the checkout.
Dispatch times – I currently ship every (insert relevant days) around (interest time). To qualify for the next shipping day, you must place your order before (insert time) on the day before. Please note that custom order dispatch times vary, please see the individual item description for more information, or contact me via (insert support email) for more accurate information based on real time.
Please note that I currently do not ship to; ‘x’, or ‘x’.
All items are carefully packaged for transit in (insert bags/envelopes/boxes and type) and I use (insert wrapping details) to avoid breakages, or damage.
All items are shipped to the address you provide as the shipping address during your checkout. These details are the buyer’s responsibility, so please double check your shipping address before completing the sale.
A note on customs – all items shipping overseas will be accompanied with the correct paperwork for a swift customs check (in most cases this is a ‘x’ form for items under £x and ‘x’ for items over that amount). Any customs charges, or import taxes are the responsibility by law of the purchaser and to be sure of what these might be, I urge you to contact your relevant government department. Please note that I will not falsify customs documentation as this is a criminal act that can lead to fines, or imprisonment of either, or both parties.
My item hasn’t arrived, what do I do? On a very rare occasion packages can be delayed. Please note that my carriers state that items are not officially classed as ‘lost’ until ‘x’ working days for UK deliveries, ‘x’ working days for European deliveries and ‘x’ working days for other overseas deliveries. In this case please be in touch with me at (support email) and I will make every effort to locate your package or discover if there are delays to carrier services in your country.
Missing post – Once a package is established as lost, I will endeavour to (insert replace/refund with in ‘timeframe’).
Business owner name
Support email and, or telephone number
A good shipping policy should give your customers the peace of mind that they need to feel confident in buying from you. A great policy should help cut down any pre-sale customer queries and help you to stand fast if something crops up that you feel is asking you to circumnavigate what feels right for your business and customer service policy (or indeed the law).
Here is a quickfire list of the key things you should include within your policy statement;
1. Your business name, contact details and address
2. Delivery arrangements and costs
3. How long goods will take to arrive
4. How you package orders
5. Where you ship to
6. Which address you will be shipping to
7. If you provide tracking numbers
8. Customs cost information
9. Customs paperwork information
10. General customers note
11. When an item if classed as missing in the post
12. How you deal with missing post
Tell me; Have you got a shipping policy up and running? Is there anything you have included that I haven’t listed here?
I’d love to hear from you – comment below 👇 or email me!