Shipping Policy

As the world shifts from dropping by a store to packages dropped on your doorstep, clear and concise standards around shipping, in the form of a shipping policy, are becoming a necessity for web vendors of all forms. A shipping policy is simply a clear statement of how your company ships goods. It can include:

  • Costs
  • Methods and how long each method will take
  • Handling times
  • Times orders must be placed for certain guarantees such as same-day shipping
  • Restrictions on delivery, such as no P.O. boxes
  • Any other useful information for the customer

In this article we’ll discuss why you need a policy, where it should go, what should be contained in the policy, and how it interacts with other documentation such as your terms of service.

Why Have A Shipping Policy?

Shipping policies are not required by law, but they are useful to your customers and can help explain relevant laws and policies quickly and clearly. Fundamentally, a shipping policy is part of the overall implied contract between you and your customer that forms the basis of an exchange. It’s in the interest of both parties that this contract be as clear and detailed as possible.

In some circumstances, a shipping policy is also useful to explain two different legal systems to your customers, in the case of importing goods, or to explain interstate shipping restrictions, such as with chemicals.

In many cases it’s important to have these concerns fully documented in your policy, even if they only detail the relevant laws. Do not copy and paste these laws into your shipping policy; instead, include links to the necessary statute so customers can refer to their own counsel as needed.

Shipping policies also may be a part of your other policies. For example, as part of your website’s terms of service, you can make clear that all customer orders and requests must abide by your shipping policy.

This allows you to add important options to the contract between yourself and a customer, such as the ability to cancel orders if proper permits have not been obtained, to issue or deny refunds over shipping problems, and to explain what authorities you may be expected to provide inventories, bills of lading, and other information to and at which points in the shipping process.

What Should Your Shipping Policy Include?

Above all, your shipping policy should make clear what your responsibilities are for shipping, and what your customer will need to take care of. These will vary depending on what you ship and where you ship, so before drafting a policy, consider your most common shipping concerns.

Methods of Shipping

Detail which shipping methods and shipping companies you use, and their specific requirements. Make a point of linking to the specific shipping companies you use and providing their contact information, where necessary. If goods are tied up in transit, this will ease customer issues.

Should I Include An “I Agree To Terms” Checkbox?

Generally, an “agree to terms” checkbox for your terms of service, which includes your shipping policy, should be enough. However, in situations where you will be dealing with complicated shipping issues, customs inspections, or other concerns, require customers to separately read and understand your shipping policy. It will limit confusion and set the groundwork to resolve disputes.

Make sure that any policy you require agreement on covers any categories you’re concerned about in detail.

Shipping Policies and Other Legal Agreements

Make mention of your shipping policy in your other legal agreements such as your privacy policy and your terms of service.

When you mention it, be sure to refer to it wherever relevant and include a link to the full shipping policy. For example, if your privacy policy needs to carve out an exception for international shipping, include a short paragraph explaining the issues and link to your shipping policy.

When it comes to terms of service, clarify where shipping and service touch. For example, if a customer refuses their order, or has it shipped back requesting a refund, your terms of service should clarify who pays for the return shipping and whether a stocking fee applies.

Remember to include proper translations of your shipping policy for the major languages of all your markets. This should be a carefully translated document that has been looked at by counsel to ensure the contract it represents is proper and abides by laws in both countries.

Remember, the goal is clarity: Who is responsible for what, and what it will cost them. A good shipping policy gives the customers the tools they need to buy from you with confidence and ease.

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