Shipping a gift requires secure packing and
reliable delivery. Here are packing tips, plus a comparison
of USPO, UPS, FedEx and DHL services.
With friends and relatives so scattered these days, most of us are shipping a gift at least once a year. Sixteen adults in my family (3 siblings, 2 spouses and 11 grown children) live in eight states from New England to California, plus Canada, plus changing Foreign Service assignments overseas. So we’ve gotten friendly with the shipping services. Here's what we've learned:
Preparing your gift for shipment
- Before shipping, a gift needs to be packaged properly - preferably in a strong, corrugated shipping carton. A used one is OK if it's in tiptop condition. Remove old labels or use a marker to blank them out. Make sure your address labels are very visible and very legible.
- Your shipping carton should be large enough to allow for 2 inches of protective packing material all around if the gift is breakable. I use bubble wrap or foam popcorn, or a combination. Crumpled paper is not recommended as a protective wrapping material.
- When shipping several gift packages in one carton, place protective material individually around each breakable item. Then you can use crumpled paper to fill in any spaces that remain between them. Use enough filler so nothing rattles around, but don’t pack it so tight that anything will be crushed when the box is snugly shut.
- You can protect bows or decorations with throwaway containers – perhaps a box that strawberries came in from the market, or a plastic margarine tub, inverted and tied in place over the bow. You can also cut the bottom from a food carton.
Instead of a bow, I often tie on curling ribbon, leaving it uncurled for shipping so it won’t get crushed. Upon arrival, the ribbon can be freshly curled for presentation to the recipient. Shipping a gift tied with yarn works well too, or try one of these creative gift wrap ideas that don't need much protection.
- Tape the shipping carton securely with strong, wide tape. I found a small dispenser of Duck brand “EZ Start” clear 2-inch tape at the supermarket – it’s great! If the cut end sticks onto the roll, it’s easy to peel up again, and the tape is nice and strong.
- You can write the shipping address directly on the box or a shipping label, and the same for your return address. Either way, it’s a good idea to protect the shipping address with clear tape so it won't smear from handling or wet weather. Now your gift is ready to ship.
The four most commonly used shippers here in the United States are the US Postal Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS Store), Federal Express (FedEx), and DHL. There are some differences in the services they provide, and I urge you to visit their websites for help in making the best choice.
You will want to consider convenience, pricing, and speed of delivery, but the weight and physical dimensions of your package may determine which services you can use for shipping a gift that's extra large.
All four services ship domestically (US) and internationally; all offer packing materials, standard and express services, insurance, and shipment tracking.
United States Postal Service (USPS)
One advantage of the US Postal Service is that there is a post office in just about every town in the United States and they will deliver to street and P.O. Box addresses. Ship-it-yourself stations for domestic packages are appearing in post offices, resulting in shorter waiting lines for shipping a gift.
Another advantage is that letters and packages can be shipped overseas to APO and FPO addresses at domestic rates. Also, the post office usually requires fewer, less complicated forms than other services.
The major disadvantage of the USPS is that most deliveries are not guaranteed. Check this carefully, and be sure to insure valuable packages and track your shipments. Weight limit is generally 70 pounds, size limit 130 inches total, length plus widest girth.
Services: First Class, Priority Mail, Express Mail, Parcel Post, Media Mail; Global Express, Global Express Guaranteed, Global Express Priority
United Parcel Service/UPS Store
UPS has become more easily accessible since they acquired Mail Boxes, Etc. and opened UPS Stores in local neighborhoods. UPS has earned a reputation for being reliable and efficient, and they are the carrier of choice for many companies I have worked with.
One nice advantage of the UPS Store is that for a reasonable fee they will pack your shipment for you. This is especially useful if you are shipping several gifts to one address, as they will have the right size shipping carton and first-rate packing materials.
All UPS shipments include insurance up to $100 and higher amounts can be purchased as needed. Shipments are easily tracked online or by telephone. Some locations offer pick up service for a fee, and most can provide shipping options for very large packages.
Services: Next Day Air, 2nd Day Air, 3-Day Select, UPS Ground and International.
United Parcel Service/UPS website
Federal Express (FedEx)
FedEx is one of those companies like Xerox, Coke, and Kleenex, whose names have become a generic term for their products or services – when you want something delivered overnight, you “FedEx” it. FedEx guarantees delivery, and shipments are easy to track. I have used FedEx in a business setting and found them very reliable for overnight letters and freight, and quick to issue refunds on the few occasions when they missed a deadline.
Now that they’ve added Home Delivery routes, FedEx is a good option for personal use in shipping a gift to a distant loved one. The main disadvantage is that FedEx does not deliver to P.O. Box addresses. Another is that the paperwork is somewhat more tiresome than that of other services. Weight limit is 70 pounds for FedEx Home Delivery; size limit is 108 inches in length or 165 inches total, length plus girth. For businesses, FedEx Ground has a substantially higher (100-150 pounds) weight limit.
Services: FedEx Express (domestic and international), FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery.
I have used DHL in a business setting for both domestic and international overnight letters and found them to be reliable and somewhat less costly than FedEx. However, a fuel surcharge may diminish any price gap, given cost of gasoline, so consider this when comparing prices among delivery services.
The DHL website is very informative and offers assistance with forms and labels. Like FedEx, DHL does not deliver to P.O. Box addresses. For guaranteed domestic shipments DHL Ground has a weight limit of 150 pounds; overall dimension limit is 56” x 36” x 25” with no dimension exceeding 56”. But for shipping a gift internationally (Worldwide Priority Express), there is no size or weight limit.
Services: Same Day, Next Day, 2nd Day, Ground (1-6 business days); DHL Global Mail (letters and small packages); Worldwide Priority Express.
All of this may sound tedious, and you may be tempted to forget the whole thing and mail out gift cards or certificates instead! But once you figure out which service is best for your purposes, and most convenient to use, shipping a gift will be a straightforward process.
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