Braving the crowds on Black Friday may be the easiest part of holiday shopping. Shipping packages to gift receivers around the country can be a huge challenge – both in getting the gifts there in one piece and in keeping your budget under control.
Here are 10 tips to help you ship your gifts:
1. Buy something you can mail easily
This seems like you’re buying for you and not them, but odds are there is something on your recipient’s list that is easy to ship through the mail.
Even with the right packing precautions, it’s always safer to buy items you know can survive a bumpy trip through the mail. Apparel, shoes and most toys are a safe bet.
2. Know the rules
The United States Postal Service has restrictions on what can be shipped, both internationally and domestically. Some things, such as ammunition, are completely prohibited, while other things, such as nail polish and perfumes, have restrictions.
Find out more at usps.com/ship/shipping-restrictions.htm.
3. Pay attention to the box
Make sure to use a new, sturdy box that’s a few inches larger than your gift on all sides to allow for plenty of packing materials. Using that box that’s been in the basement all year can result in your gifts cascading out at the wrong moment.
The Postal Service estimates that a crease can reduce a box’s strength by as much as 70 percent.
4. Buy good packing material
The Postal Service suggests using higher-performing cushioning materials made of polyethylene or polyurethane. Basic polystyrene cushioning can endure only one impact.
Using stronger, but thinner cushioning is better because you can use a smaller box and save on shipping costs if the price is based on the package’s dimensions and weight.
Newspaper is not a great choice because it flattens, but it’s good for wrapping fragile items and separating them from other items in the box.
5. Shake it
You want your packing job to result in a tight fit. Use at least 1 inch of cushioning around the item—top, bottom and all four sides — to fill in any air spaces. There should be very little movement when you shake the box.
The key point is to keep the gift items as far away from the box’s walls as possible. When you have a very fragile item, use two boxes, and cushion around the inner box with at least 3 inches of packing peanuts.
6. Know your deadlines
The holiday season is the busiest time of year for the Postal Service. These are the dates they recommend shipping items in the contiguous United States to make sure they arrive on time.
- USPS Retail Ground: Dec. 14
- First Class Mail: Dec. 19 (Alaska Dec. 20; Hawaii Dec. 15)
- Priority Mail: Dec. 20 (Alaska Dec. 20; Hawaii Dec. 15)
- Priority Mail Express: Dec. 22 (Alaska Dec. 21; Hawaii Dec. 20)
For more information on shipping to the rest of the world, visit www.usps.com/holiday.
7. Flat-rate is your friend
FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service all offer flat-rate boxes, meaning that you can pack as much as you can into a box and ship it for one price. However, these do come with some limits – for example, UPS and the USPS only allows up to 70 pounds, while FedEx only allows 50 pounds.
8. Look for deals
Do a little shopping around before you ship. Some places, such as PostNet stores, will help you compare shipping prices. You can also do this online at sites such as Shipgooder.com.
USPS, FedEx and UPS also have tools on their websites to estimate shipping costs.
9. Avoid missed packages
If you want to help your recipient avoid unwanted snooping from neighbors or children, consider sending the gift to their workplace. If it’s meant for kids, that’ll help keep it away from prying eyes. It will also help people from missing deliveries at home.
Keep your tracking numbers handy so you can pinpoint the package’s destination and lets its recipients know when to look out for it.
10. Consider insurance
Santa’s delivery service isn’t always perfect, so it’s worth considering insurance on whatever you’re shipping.
Ask your shipper about insurance or a declared-value option. The post office includes $100 of insurance in its Priority Mail Express shipping and offers options for declaring a higher value, for a fee.
If your package ends up being damaged in transit, but the shipping company determines that you packed it improperly, or did not follow proper packing procedures, they may have grounds to deny your claim.