Shipping & Fulfillment

Published Shipping Policies Can Protect Merchants

As we head into the holiday season, shipping of products goes into high gear. Ecommerce merchants must make sure that they have updated their shipping policies prior to Black Friday to reflect their current intent.

Unlike privacy policies and terms of use, shipping policies may be found in several places on an ecommerce site. Some sites have the information listed on multiple pages, others only on one. If you have information on multiple pages, review the information to make sure each page is the same. Typical places for shipping policies to be found include: (a) a page dedicated to the shipping policy, (b) the terms of use, and (c) information received at checkout.

Shipping policies will vary depending on what is being sold. Products that are hard to damage during the shipping process, low cost, or mass-produced may have lenient shipping policies, as the goods are easy to replace if damaged or lost. Sites that sell fragile items, high-end items, or one-of-a-kind items may have much stricter shipping policies.

What to Include in Shipping Policies?

Shipping policies should contain the following information.

  • Carrier options. What carriers do you allow customers to choose from? USPS, UPS, and FedEx are the most common, but other carriers are available, especially for large freight type items.
  • Processing time. Do you ship immediately or is there lag time between when an order is placed and an order arrives? Most consumers have been groomed to believe that if they order something with next day air or two-day shipping, it will be on their doorstep in one to two days. If you have a processing time, alert customers so they can adjust the type of shipping they choose accordingly.
  • Insurance. If you require insurance — a good idea for high-end and one of a kind items — inform the customers, especially if you charge them for it.
  • Returns. If you accept returns, are there any conditions? Have a clear policy on what returns you accept and who pays for the shipping for those returns.
  • Notification time. How long from receiving the package does a customer have to tell you that the order is damaged or wrong? Is it three days? Two weeks? Make sure customers know their responsibility for checking goods.
  • Who pays for shipping? In a world of Amazon Prime and free shipping, if you charge for shipping, customers need to know this upfront.
  • How can a customer contact you? This seems basic, but making it easy for a customer to contact you with any issues can go a long way to making sure that no legal or marketing problems arise.
  • Do you require signatures on delivery or that the items be delivered to a secure place, such as an office address? Package theft continues to be a problem in many neighborhoods. By requiring signature confirmation, you can ensure that the items you shipped make it to the proper recipient and have the name of the person who received them.

If an attorney drafts your terms of use, she may ask you the above questions and others that in her experience apply to your business. Since your shipping policy is a contract with your clients about the responsibilities of each party, it is important that you have carefully considered the above issues and any others.

In most cases that I have seen — for disputes regarding alleged damaged items, wrong items, or unordered items and a charge back occurs for both the costs of the items and shipping — the customer wins and the business owner loses both the items and the money paid for them.

By having clear policies in place, it can help both your customers be clear on who does what and give you some standing in a dispute.

Elizabeth Lewis
Elizabeth Lewis
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