Masterclass: in posting and packing collectables

08 April 2010
imports_CCGB_c1_87662.jpg Masterclass: in posting and packing collectables
Handle with care! Smart ways to ensure a smooth delivery. ...

Well, it just had to happen didn’t it? After all, with over 10 years’ experience of posting valuable and fragile items all over the globe, who better to tell you about the do’s and don’ts of posting? However, no sooner had I agreed to write a masterclass on the subject, and the curse kicked in. Picture the scenario: my feature is as good as in the bag, when two very valuable items go AWOL, leaving me with some unexpected, additional information to help with this article dealing with post and packaging problems. We experts cannot be accused of failing to go to great lengths to bring you first-hand experience! 

A postal revolution

With the closure of sub-post offices and the general slump in retailing, one could be forgiven for thinking that postal and courier services would be suffering a similar fate, but the Internet has proved an unlikely knight in shining armour. As we spend less on the high street, our love of online shopping has gone from strength to strength. Think about it: online stores never close, prices are competitive, potential buyers can read customer reviews… the list goes on and on. Over the last decade I have bought everything from scooters and sports cars, to rare art works and even delicate ivory statues. What high street could match that?

The Internet has made the shopping experience akin to a ‘child in a sweetshop’ for many of us. How many times have we had one glass of wine too many and then made that guilty purchase? Not only that, how many of us have listed a redundant piece of ‘junk’ on an online auction and been pleasantly surprised by the high sale price achieved? The Internet has proved that if there is something for sale, there are collectors willing to buy it, wherever they may be.

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Getting it there

No matter what we buy or sell, the purchase or sale is only the first part.  The act of getting it safely to the recipient is a task in its own right. There are many options, and just because you can get it there does not necessarily mean it will arrive safely. Nor does it mean you are restricted to popping in to your local post office. There are many services that can help you, the best of which may depend on where you are based and where the item is being sent.

Online auctions such as eBay have services listed including couriers or ‘a man with a van’ offering pick up and collection for large items. These can range from single carriers to more sophisticated operators. The feedback rating from happy or unhappy customers is a good way to gauge the competence of the carrier. This feedback should give you a clearer perspective in making your choice – the number of positive feedbacks can only serve to reinforce their professionalism. After all, it is sometimes worth paying a premium for a carrier to handle your valuable items respectfully rather than cut corners and put your trust in someone who is more used to carrying tools and building materials!

In an increasingly competitive commercial environment, there are high street postage and packing services as well as online shops that offer discounted rates in direct competition with post offices. Their special offers are very competitive and some high street companies, such as Mail Boxes Etc, can also offer a packing service (this service is chargeable). These companies are frequently used by local auction rooms to send delicate and valuable items. If you are unsure about packing items safely, they can offer good advice, and their own packing services involve the use of brand new packing materials, which should help with the protection of the item while in transit.

Payment protection

Online shopping has also given way to online payment sites such as PayPal. This site has enabled buyers and sellers to receive secure payments from all over the world. Buyer protection allows buyers to report items that are damaged, lost or undelivered, and gives the buyer the chance to sort out these issues with the seller, with PayPal acting as arbitrator and, ultimately, holder of the funds. In the case of online auctions like eBay, sellers can also have restrictions put on their PayPal accounts, which means that payment will only
be released when positive feedback has been given, thus ensuring a mutually acceptable transaction.

When it goes wrong

PayPal and eBay offer a degree of protection for both buyer and seller.  However, there are instances when a rogue interception can hamper a straightforward purchase. For instance, when posting or receiving items from overseas, there is the possibility – albeit remote – of the item being tampered with while in transit. This occurrence is near impossible to locate exactly but a tempting item description on a customs form, together with a stated customs value is an invitation to dishonest mail handlers. It happened to me once when sending a valuable watch to someone. The package arrived and was signed for, but the watch had allegedly been removed and the package resealed. Whether this was true or not, it is hard to prove when the package had been delivered to the other side of the world. In the case of online auctions, feedback and a sense of trust form the basis of successful sales and purchases.

With signed-for services of any kind, it is important to check the state of the package prior to signing. This need not be an in-depth examination, but a logical scan of the packaging. Check for tape that has worked loose, heavy dents or knocks or holes in the box. All these should be cause for concern and signify a less than smooth transit. If in doubt you then have an opportunity to refuse to take receipt of the parcel or take it and pursue a claim if the contents are either damaged or missing.

Panic prevention

Postal services are a good value and fast service for sending and receiving goods, but each time you send or receive a package there is the risk of it not reaching its destination. While online sales have encouraged a world trade, they have also caused many rare items to arrive at their destination ruined either by careless handling or insubstantial packing. My best advice is to pack each item so that it can stand the roughest handling. Clear labelling and plenty of ‘fragile’ tape should also help. The more prepared you are for the worst-case scenario, the better the chance of your parcel arriving safely.