As head of the large e-commerce company Spreadshirt, every Christmas season we face multiple challenges that threaten to stop our merchandise getting delivered to our customers.

Our products are shipped to over 40 countries and at this time of year, we have to have a plan in case the post office in one of those countries goes on strike for a few days, experiences bad flight delays from bad weather, or if one of our factories gets cut off by snow (of course, this isn’t a problem for our factory in Las Vegas!). Over the years, we’ve learned that you have to manage your deadlines and customer expectations accordingly.

Good shipping is about managing for the best and expecting the worse, especially at peak times. Better to promise longer delivery and surprise the customer by a day, than have a frustrated or worried customer. Even off-peak, good shipping is about testing the alternatives to get the best value for customers in terms of service vs. cost, and then managing the customer’s expectation to exceed that value.

Unfortunately, delivery errors are often learned the hard way, after customer complaints and lost time and money. So here are some quick tips of how to avoid some of the most common shipping pitfalls:

1. Check your labels

We recently investigated why our shipping costs were so high, and soon realised we were paying more than $60,000 simply for products that weren’t deliverable because of invalid customer addresses. Our shipping company would then charge to ship the package back to us so we were paying customs and shipping charges twice for each undeliverable package.

We have now turned to an address verification system, which averages around 5 cents per order, to cut down on error. Keep in mind that your packages and labels will also need other specific markings, revealing information such as the country of origin and the presence of any hazardous materials. It’s important to brush up on labelling requirements and to also to talk to your shipping provider who can advise on any labelling errors that should be addressed.

2. Research the regulations for your destination

Each country has specific customs requirements and the requirements you use for one might get your product stuck in customs in another. Research if your package fulfills the necessary requirements or regulations, such as certificates to prove the product’s country of origin before you set delivery expectations for your customers.

3. Pick the right shipping company for your destination

No one international shipping company or method is the best provider for every circumstance. Certain shipping companies have established relationships with customs in specific destinations so selecting a company for specific countries may speed up delivery to your customers. Most shipping companies with a strong presence in a country will also have a physical office location in the destination.

4. Check who will be handling your product

Make sure to ask who is actually shipping your products! When you contract with a shipping service to ship your products, the company you contracted might not necessarily be handling the actual shipping. Often the company then turns the package over to a shipping management company which then handles the shipping timeline and method and since the management company is out to make a profit, they often ship the product by the cheapest way possible, which is often the slowest.

5. Check shipments are packaged correctly

Find out the number of times a package will be handled and the mode of transportation and ensure you safely package your product so that it is intact on arrival. You should also be aware of any regulations on shipping containers for the destination country. Businesses using wood pallets, for example, might not realise that some countries regulate wood packaging to control pests and ask companies to follow specific standards.

Over the years we have learned that shipping is complicated and most online retailers won’t ever become shipping experts. However, you need to be curious about the issues surrounding international shipping because there are often daily changes. This is the time to be measuring to see if your shipping is matching customer expectation and to revisit your delivery service or to change your T&Cs on delivery if the weather worsens. Otherwise you run the risk that customers begin to imagine that your product will not come in time and their fears become your nightmares.

Philip Rooke

Philip Rooke


Philip Rooke is CEO of Spreadshirt.