We got a notice the other day that Federal Express, who ships about one-third of the items we sell.
In short, the things buyers need to keep and be able to provide to the shipper when making a claim of “damaged during shipment” has increased.
We expect fully expect that other carriers may soon increase the “standards of proof” required.
Consumers should also know that the time window between when a package is delivered to you and a shipper will even consider a damage claim is very narrow, often less than a week barring extreme circumstances.
Find out what you need to do to make sure your claim is successful!
While a good merchant will help you process your claim, virtually no stores (including the big guys) are legally responsible for damages that occur between the time a package leaves the warehouse and is delivered to you. This is clearly stated in most store policies. Why? shippers are paid to deliver packages in a responsible manner.
Here are the new rules, and what you should do regardless of which carrier delivers merchandise to you.
What To Keep Until You Know the Products Work Properly
Federal Express requires the following materials to be kept for all packages delivered to you, even if only one of several were damaged:
- Original shipping box
- Any inside packaging, including the box the product may be in as well as any paper, bubble wrap, styrofoam or other materials used to protect the product during shipment.
- All paperwork that came with the product, in particular the shipping labels and any notes that were left by the delivery person. For example, we often find packages on our front porch with a sticky note attached to the window.
Even if a package is not damaged during shipment, it could have manufacturing defects that are not immediately noticeable. The more information you have, the better your chances on proving your claims. The merchant may believe you, but they still have to convince the manufacturer.
Do the Following As Soon As Possible
Contact the merchant as soon as possible and ask for advice. They should tell you what is noted above and also should recommend that you take photographs of the box and the damaged item.
Every store’s policies vary, but shippers are responsible for merchandise delivery.
While merchants can, and should help you with any damage claims, nobody can guarantee a claim will be successful unless store policies and shipper policies are carried out to the letter.
Is it a nuisance to keep five boxes for a week or so to make sure hidden damage (or manufacturing defects) are discovered. Yes it is, but it’s less painful than having the merchant unable to help you because you don’t have the materials required for a successful claim.
As shown in the photo to the right, damage can occur even in packages that appear unscathed. Knowing the manufacturer’s packaging policies and other information, we make a very educated guess that this package was dropped from about 10 feet onto a hard surface. Reckless handling can cause damage no matter how well an item is packaged. Shippers know this as well as we do.
If you look carefully, you can also see the item is still partially within its packaging. Pictures like this, when submitted in a timely fashion can make or break your damage claim, regardless of what the shipper says.
What You Should Expect from Your Retailer
You should also print out, at the time of your purchase, any invoice from an online store and read any emails that you get from them.
Good retailers will not only provide you a UPS or FedEx tracking number, they should be able to tell you when the date the delivery is scheduled to occur (the time is usually when the shipper makes deliveries to your neighborhood, so if you don’t have packages shipped to you regularly, ask a neighbor what time they usually show up).
The merchant should also set you up with email alerts to let you know if extreme weather or natural disasters (such as earthquakes, tornadoes or wildfires) will delay your shipment.
With the tracking number, you can visit UPS.com or FedEx.com. Depending on the time frame of delivery and what options the merchant set up for you, you can also ask that the product be delayed until a more convenient day when someone will be around. And, if it’s convenient for where you live, you can also ask that the package be held at the shipper’s nearest office until you can pick it up yourself.
If you don’t have the time or computer skills to do this (we get a lot of calls from people who very new to computers and online shopping), your merchant should be willing and able to do this for you. Just call or email them and ask that the delivery be scheduled on a day somebody will be around.
There are a couple of reasons to do this. First, you want to make sure that the package isn’t stolen. And let’s face it, this happens in the best of neighborhoods. It’s most common for people who live in condos or apartments, but it also can happen if your front door is close to the sidewalk, or if the area between the street and your door is not visible to neighbors.
That being said, we’ve only had one item ever “disappear,” and we refunded the customer because it was a small dollar purchase and we like to keep our customers happy.
The other reason we recommend that someone be there when the package is delivered is that a package with obvious damage should not be accepted.
Instead, you should refuse delivery and ask the delivery person to note the reason as “packaging damaged, suspect damaged product.”
Even if you are home, deliveries often are left at the door closest to the street or driveway, often without you even hearing them come or go. If you find a package is damaged, you MUST contact your merchant for instructions as soon as possible, as policies vary from store to store and from warehouse to warehouse.
Make Damage Claims as Quickly as Possible
We’ve only had one incident in the past year where an item was delivered in a damaged state. The FedEx delivery person was in the room when the solar lamp was placed in the package and he stated this fact in his pick-up notes.
However, the customer did not report the item until three weeks after the item was received. Even though all the necessary items were retained, the shipper said they “could not even consider such a claim.”
With their own notes showing the item was in good condition when it was picked up, they blamed the blamed the recipient. We knew this was baloney, because the customer took a picture of the broken item when it was still partially in the package and partly surrounded by protective wrapping.
Even so, they waited too long to make the claim and it was rejected. Because this customer had bought several of the same item (at a pretty penny no less), we provided them a replacement item at no cost, but it cut into our profits significantly.
It also made us reevaluate our shipping options, since large products are often far less expensive to ship by FedEx than UPS, as UPS adds weight surcharges to big packages or awkward sized packages, regardless of the actual weight. (This is because a large 5 pound package takes up as much space as a 50 pound product of the same size, and the smaller package should be placed on top of heavier packages, requiring more work for the shipper.)
Are Some Shippers Better than Others?
Better, is in many ways, a relative term. For the last two years, a major TV news network did a study of the top three shippers in the US: Federal Express, UPS and the UPS Postal Service.
Let’s start out by saying for each carrier, the percentage of damage packages compared to the total amount shipped during the study period was very small.
What may surprise a lot of you is that the winner was the US Postal Service which had by far the least reports of damaged items. The loser: Federal Express, by a wide margin. UPS handled items far better than FedEx, but not as well as the USPS. (Damages were tallied as a percentage of all packages delivered so the total quantity delivered by each was irrelevant.)
So, since FedEx and UPS usually (but not always) cost more than the Post Office, why is the Post Office the least common method used by most stores?
Because the Postal Service, in general, does not provide the wide range of tracking, delivery rescheduling, or “hold for pick-up” options that the other carriers do. Given that damages are rare, the tracking benefits actually help in preventing or noting damage promptly, and also aid in theft prevention.
The moral: always check store policies (and customer testimonials) as part of your purchase making decision. Store polices should outline what you need to do for damaged packages, and they should state that the store is willing to help you with your claim.
Bottom Line: Once the package leaves a merchant’s warehouse, it’s in the hands of the shipper. Merchants are more than willing to help customers, and often are required buy insurance when the package is over a certain dollar value. While accidents are rare, once the package gets to you, the merchant can’t help you if you don’t follow the store or shipper’s rules: the responsibility for proving the damage claims shifts largely to you, as you are the ones with the items necessary to make the claim.
Copyright 2012, AM McElroy, SolarLightingSmart.com, SolarFlairLighting.com