Is it Worth Getting Proof of Posting for Everything You Sell?

by Allison Whitehead

Allison Whitehead is a UK-based writer and eBay PowerSeller who provides PowerSeller Tips for eBay Confidential.

Proof of posting, it’s that reassuring service offered by Royal Mail when you send something through the post. But is it really worth bothering with?

We have been on an interesting journey with proof of posting. In the early days when we first started out on eBay and cash flow was a lot tighter than it is now, we got proof of posting for every single item we sent out. We queued at the post office a couple of times a week as we sent our items out, paid for postage and got the receipts. Then came the next development in our journey. We realised we could now do all our postage online and print the postage labels ourselves. We could print proof of posting tickets too, but they were no good unless we queued up at the post office to get them stamped. And when we did so we realised that every single item had o be weighed and checked before they would stamp that valuable proof of posting.

Then Christmas 2007 arrived, and so did a whole deluge of orders. The queues at the post office got longer, and we finally got fed up with waiting. From that moment on we simply didn’t have the time to watch as dozens and dozens of parcels and packets were studiously weighed and checked, just so we could get our proof of posting.

So we took a chance. Everything that fitted directly into a postbox was destined for that exact place from then on. Anything that was too big was walked inside and left at the collection point, so we didn’t have to queue at all. So how many items got lost in the post that we then had to swallow the cost for?

In truth, it was much less than 1%. We’re talking about a handful of items here. But the time we saved was immeasurable – and well worth not having to worry about proof of posting.
So in answer to the title of this article, I personally don’t think it is worth getting the proofs, although a caveat to that would be that it depends on your own personal situation. As I mentioned before, when we began trading on eBay we started with £200. We HAD to make sure we made a profit from that otherwise we may not have been able to expand as much as we have done. At this point we were protecting our own interests by getting the proof of posting. We always made sure, however, that if anything did go missing we sorted the problem out with the customer before doing anything about it ourselves.

But there was one other good reason why we gave up with proof of posting. The reason was because the process of actually claiming for a lost parcel is a long one, and the value of the items we sell really didn’t make it worth our time trying.

So what can we learn from this? The main point to think about is that what you do will depend on the level of business you are bringing in. A few odd parcels here and there will probably mean you won’t be in the post office too often, so queuing every now and then won’t matter too much. But if you are sending out dozens every day it might be a different matter.

Of course, the value of each item also plays a part in how you send it. If your items tend to be quite low in value and therefore cheap to replace, your time would be better spent doing anything other than sorting out those proofs of posting. But it would be a different matter once they got expensive.

We all have our own threshold for the type of goods we are happy to send through the mail without insuring them in any way. But the main thing to remember is that your customer must always come first. It’s no good telling them it’s tough luck their item got lost and that they should have paid for insurance. That doesn’t give a good representation of your business.

We have replaced items for people in the past, and many of them have come back to order with us again in the future. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened if we had turned round and said ‘hard luck’! In the end, whatever you decide to do you need to think about time as well as money. If you could be doing something more important that will earn you more money instead of standing in line at the post office every day, then proof of posting may not be the way to go any more. We found we instinctively knew when it was time to give up doing it, and if you are fairly new to eBay and the whole posting saga you may well find the same is true for you.

I suspect that anyone who has tried to make a claim for an item that has got lost will probably have come to the same conclusion. In the end, most businesses have to make allowances for items that are lost or damaged, however that might happen. Provided it doesn’t happen on a regular basis then the odd loss here or there shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Always remember to box up or wrap your items sufficiently well for them to stand a chance of braving the postal system too. We’ve received items bought off eBay in bin liners before now, which wasn’t the best bit of packing we’ve ever seen!

So the next time you are in the queue at the post office, ask yourself if you really need to be there.

Additional Comments from Avril Harper
I totally agree with you Allison, and there’s always a chance of sellers becoming paranoid about products making it through the post, to the point sellers can sometimes overspend on time and money, also effort, to ensure nothing gets lost or broken on route. But there are times when I insist on some form of insurance for packages leaving my office, notably when those items are unique or going to people I already consider ‘iffy’. In pre ‘seller unfriendly’ days when sellers could leave negative or neutral feedback for problem buyers, sellers could often spot patterns emerging in buyer feedback that indicated the individual would soon be on the phone claiming the product had not arrived. Buyers would accompany that claim with something like: “Get the Xi*&% sorted out before I leave you negative feedback” which is usually a way of forcing worried sellers to send duplicate product. On one occasion my daughter received a rude and very nasty message from a customer in Belgium who contacted PayPal, said the product had not arrived, and demanded an instant refund. We checked his feedback before responding to PayPal and found he’d worked the same scam on 14 people before us, all of whom had left him negative feedback. Today it’s impossible to check buyer reputation this way because sellers can no longer leave derogatory feedback.

We contacted PayPal and eBay about our Belgian friend, we asked why irritants like this should be allowed to buy from honest sellers. Unsurprisingly, eBay and PayPal skipped over the problem and blamed us for not insuring the package at our own expense, which would have meant insurance costing more than the product itself had fetched. So we left the issue on hold while we sent our customer a replacement package, this time insured at our expense. 

Guess what happened next? Exactly, he claimed the second product had not arrived, despite the fact we had postage receipts to the contrary which we showed eBay and PayPal scanned in an email attachment. What did eBay and PayPal have to say about it? Nothing! We argued, communicated with eBay and PayPal and their customer, and finally PayPal deducted the buyer’s payment from my daughter’s account and refunded their customer. That same customer who’d just received two of our products free of charge!

So I do agree with Allison about proofs of postage being of questionable benefit and I consider nothing will stop people dishonestly claiming products get lost in the post or suffer damage on route. For me, as long as only low price items are involved it’s probably better for sellers to refund instead of sending duplicate products to obviously dishonest buyers.

BIG TIP: Since sellers were prevented from leaving poor feedback for dishonest customers, you might think there’s no way at all of helping fellow traders steer clear of people like my Belgian friend. In fact, there is a way that many sellers use to point the finger at undesirable buyers and it involves leaving negative comments in the box relating to positive feedback. It goes something like this:

Not POSITIVE FEEDBACK, claimed TWICE product did not arrive. Sellers beware!
Or something similar. The reality is, if a customer claims a product fails to arrive or is damaged, before you send a replacement package, go look through those positive feedback comments given by fellow traders. For really dishonest buyers with long feedback history you’ll almost certainly find some sellers brave enough to warn their colleagues.

Today, I still insure high value products going overseas, typically £50 plus, purely because most foreign postal services are actually less efficient than our own and the sight of an insurance sticker can make some difference to how your package is treated by postal workers on route.

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here