Sample Shipping Policy Template and Why You Need One

by Nicole O. Legal writer.
Sample Shipping Policy Template and Why You Need One

Eighty percent of people choose not to become a repeat customer with a company because they have a poor experience.

One of the ways you can ruin your relationship with your customers is by shipping your packages at-will or inconsistently. When a customer has no idea when to expect the item they purchased, they will take their business elsewhere.

A Shipping Policy manages customer expectations and helps them make the right choice when they buy. It covers all the steps that occur from the time they buy the item until it arrives at their door. They know what shipping options are available, what they cost, where you ship, and what happens if they purchase a restricted item (like alcohol).


What is a Shipping Policy?

A Shipping Policy provides all the essential and good-to-know information related to what customers can expect when it comes to them receiving goods they've bought.

It shares your shipping options, shipping restrictions, shipping costs, and any other things they need to know before they make a purchase.

A Shipping Policy isn't a Return or Refund Policy, but it can include details about the cost of shipping for returns.

Why Do You Need a Shipping Policy?

Why Do You Need a Shipping Policy?

Shipping Policies are incredibly helpful documents for both your business and your customers. You don't legally need one, but you'll want one. Here's what they can do for your business.

A Shipping Policy Offers Transparency

Shipping Policies provide transparency to customers. They know from your Shipping Policy when to expect their item and how much it costs. It also encourages consistency on your part because your customers know what to expect.

A survey shows that 47 percent of online shoppers choose not to buy a second time because they didn't know where their package was either during fulfillment or delivery. If you let your customers know your average processing time before shipping, as well as your average shipping time frame, your customers will have a better idea what to expect and won't just be wondering what's going on with their order.

Shipping Policies Mean Fewer Customer Service Issues

Shipping Policies cut down on customer service inquiries or refund requests. You'll get fewer emails related to shipping questions, and when you do get them, you can direct them to your Shipping Policy.

When customers make informed decisions about purchasing based on your Shipping Policy, you'll get fewer complaints and enjoy the bounty of having more happy customers.

Shipping Policies Encourage More Purchases and Loyal Customers

Finally, Shipping Policies encourage customers to hit the "Buy" button. Delivery and packaging has a huge impact on customer loyalty. Eighty-seven percent of customers consider delivery time to be a key factor in their decision to become and remain a loyal customer. Why? Because customers say it builds trust.

So, if your Shipping Policy says you prepare packages in 1-2 business days and you offer 3-day shipping, customers know that if they order on Friday, they can expect their package by the following Friday at the latest.

Essential Parts of Your Shipping Policy

Essential Parts of Your Shipping Policy

For your Shipping Policy to work its magic, you need a complete and up-to-date policy that answers all the essential questions. You should also use it to outline what you do differently from your competitors.

Remember, shipping is a place for your business to shine, so make it crystal clear what your business does.

Shipping Methods

Do you offer standard shipping or a range of shipping options? List them at the top of your shipping policy.

There are many items that customers order because they want them within a specific timeframe. If you can't offer that, be up front. At the same time, if you offer a diverse array of shipping options, it can also set you apart from your competitors.

Often, you'll include your shipping methods along with your expected timeframe information to give customers a clear picture of what each method entails.

REI uses an up-to-date system that uses date of visit to estimate what day the order arrives based on the order date:

REI Shipping Timeline with Shipping Method and Estimated Arrival Date in a chart

It's a useful mechanism because it creates a sense of urgency by providing the precise date the customer will have their product if they order today.

Expected Timeframes (including Handling)

How long will the customer wait to receive their item from the time they click Purchase to the day it arrives on their doorstep?

In addition to listing your shipping methods, you should also note the expected time frames, including handling time.

Target provides a detailed overview of customer options in its Shipping Policy:

Target online delivery shipping options

Target combined the shipping options with the delivery and handling period. It goes into detail regarding the methods it uses to ensure faster shipping. For example, Target notes that it might ship one item first and a second item later to ensure your order reaches you faster.

It also notes what "Express Shipping" (commonly known as 1-day shipping) means. In this case, Express Shipping isn't one-day from the time you order but one day from when the items ship AND get picked up by the carrier.

Target also goes the extra mile in transparency by noting that business days don't include weekends and not all items qualify for 2-day or Express Shipping.

Shipping Prices

How much does shipping cost? You should include it in your Shipping Policy.

Why include prices in your policy if you add it automatically at your cart? Doing so offers transparency and demonstrates uniformity. It also gives customers a chance to look up shipping costs before shopping, which allows them to price compare between retailers before spending ten to fifteen minutes shopping on your site.

This is particularly important for customers who rarely qualify for free or low-cost shipping, such as customers in Alaska, Hawaii, or in Canada. If you market your business to international buyers, they'll also want to know what shipping costs before they buy because the prices between retailers tend to vary dramatically.

Hautelook, part of Nordstrom, breaks down its prices and considerations in an easy to read table:

HauteLook Shipping and Returns Policy: Shipping Rates

A quick glance at the chart lets customers in the U.S. know that they'll pay no shipping on U.S. orders over $100 and at least $7.95 on orders under $100. An important section to note is that the rate section doesn't say "shipping rate" but "starting rate," which informs customers that the price listed is the minimum shipping rate but not be the total rate.

Additionally, the considerations section notes that if you buy from abroad, the $100 no longer applies. Free shipping also doesn't apply to items over 5 lbs.

So if you buy a $125 dress on Hautelook and request it be delivered to Arizona, you get free shipping. If you spend $275 on a Le Creuset set, then you will pay for shipping because a Le Creuset set weighs more than 5lbs.

Hautelook also notes that it adds 20 percent to all international orders in addition to the starting shipping rate. This gives Hautelook the leeway to add a specific percentage uniformly to whatever the order total is.

Shipping Restrictions

Are there places you won't deliver? Perhaps there are items that you can't send to certain countries.

Declare these restrictions in your Shipping Policy.

One common issue is P.O. Boxes. P.O. Boxes are popular in rural communities that don't have access to the postal service as well as with members of the military. If you can't or won't ship to a P.O. Box, say so in your policy.

For example, Away delivers all of its trendy suitcases using UPS - not USPS. As a result, it can't deliver any packages to a P.O. Box address:

Away Shipping and Returns: Shipping to PO Boxes section

Additionally, national or state legislation may prevent you from delivering some of your items to all addresses.

For example, Giant Vapes can't deliver to Utah or Indiana residents as a result of state legislation in both states. It notes this and mentions that it will update its Shipping Policy if there are changes to the laws:

Giant Vapes Shipping Policy: Domestic Shipping restrictions section

Noting that your restriction is due to a law is a good idea so your shoppers don't just think you're discriminating against specific regions.

Contact Details for Missing or Lost Packages

Packages get lost or misplaced even with the most robust shipping procedures in place. After all, you hand the item over to a courier, but you lose control over the package once you do.

The courier could deliver it to the wrong address. It could get lost in transit. They could deliver it to a neighbor or put it in a secure spot in a building. A dozen things can happen between the time your package leaves your warehouse and when it reaches the customer.

Give customers a point of contact if their package doesn't arrive when it should.

Olly, a health product and vitamin brand, offers customers advice and directs them to the right place if all else fails:

Olly Orders FAQ: Missing shipping contact information section

Olly politely requests that customers look in common courier hiding spots, and if they still can't find it, then to call Olly during customer service hours to place an inquiry.

Customs and Duties

If you offer international shipping, then someone, at some point, needs to deal with customs and duties. It used to be the customer's jobs to handle the duties. You'd get a letter from your carrier informing you that they are holding your package until you pay the customs and duties charges for your country.

Today, things are a bit different. You can still pass the burden on to the customer, but customers are less willing to get the bill later. There are two popular options: Choose a carrier who will handle it on your behalf or calculate customs and duties at the time of checkout.

Whatever you do, note it in your Shipping Policy.

The Whiskey Exchange, a UK-based drinks specialist, calculates customs clearance at checkout when possible so customers don't need to wait for their package to know what the charges will be:

The Whiskey Exchange Delivery Charges: Customs charges with list of countries

It also links to the relevant government website for each country on its shipping destination list.

Australia-based hat maker Lack of Colour, on the other hand, passes off all customs and taxes requirements to the customer. Its Shipping Policy makes the customer's role clear.

Lack of Colour Shipping Policy: Customs, duty and taxes section

It also notes that shipping times are only an estimate because customs delays can slow things down. It's not Lack of Colour's fault if your package is caught up at customs and takes longer to arrive.

Lack of Colour Shipping Policy: Section about Not being responsible for customs and other delays

Payment Methods

Your Shipping Policy is a good place to put your payment information, even if you already included it elsewhere.

Why add it in your Shipping Policy? Because payment often impacts shipping. For example, you might place a temporary hold on a customer's credit or debit card upon purchase but then only take the payment once the item ships.

For example, DJI, the drone manufacturer, does exactly that:

DJI Help Center: Payment Methods and note about temporary authorization of card

Laying it out in your Shipping Policy lets customers know in advance and explains why you haven't charged their card 2-3 days after purchase (unless you already shipped). It effectively prepares customers for the authorization to come at a point after they initiate the transaction, which can save them worry and overdraft fees.

Talking about payment methods in your Shipping Policy is also essential if you accept PayPal. PayPal disputes always over-complicate orders, and DJI notes that if a dispute occurs, it will not charge you and not process the order further until the dispute is settled:

DJI Help Center: Payment Methods and note about PayPal disputes

How do you charge for items shipped to other countries? Are all charges in your home country, or do you use a provider that offers a currency converter? Let shoppers know.

Restricted Item Clauses

Some items, like alcohol, require special shipping protections.

If you order alcohol in the United States, you need to be 21 to order and the person accepting the delivery also needs to be 21. Additionally, you may not be able to import the shipment to your state (even from another U.S. state).

Independent Spirits, a wine and whiskey store in Chicago, offers shipping to its customers. However, the nature of its business means its items are restricted. So its policy includes details about handling these items:

Independent Spirits Terms and Conditions: Clause about accepting delivery with age verification

It tells customers that if you choose to ship alcohol from its site, then you must ensure you are legally entitled to accept the order according to the laws of your state.

The policy also informs customers that if the laws of your state change, you can get a refund by returning the order.

Alcohol is the most popular restricted material, but you'll also need these if you intend to ship vape juice, CBD items, chemicals, or any other highly-legislated item or age-restricted material.

Cancelling an Order

Can customers cancel an order after making the purchase? Or do they have to wait to return it? Let them know where you stand in your Shipping Policy. While this can be covered in a Return and Refund Policy, you can at minimum include a statement or clause in your Shipping Policy that summarizes your stance and links to your Return and Refund Policy, if you have one.

Benefits for Rewards or Loyalty Program Members

Your Shipping Policy is also an excellent place to direct shoppers back to your Rewards or Loyalty program by reminding program members of their exclusive benefits. If you want to drive membership, consider placing it in a prominent position as well as re-iterating the benefits in other sections.

The first thing Macy's added to its Shipping Policy is that Macy's Star Rewards Platinum and Gold Members receive free shipping whenever they use their Macy's card:

Macys Shipping Policy: Rewards members free shipping section and chart for shipping times and costs

Macy's also includes its tiered loyalty program benefits within its general shipping breakdown to include and differentiate between rates for:

  • Non cardholders & Silver + Bronze Members
  • Platinum + Gold Members
  • All other shoppers

Where to Display Your Shipping Policy

Where to Display Your Shipping Policy

Your Shipping Policy will win over your customers, but only if everyone knows where to find it.

Display and link to your Shipping Policy early on in the shopping process and make it easily accessible to encourage transparency.

In Your Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions, and Refund Policy

Adding links to your Shipping Policy to other legal documents directs customers to the answers to their questions.

As an ecommerce site, you'll cover the collection of address and payment details in your Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions, so these are good places to link to your Shipping Policy when the need arises. Doing so adds transparency to your site and makes your legal agreements more cohesive.

If you have a separate Refund Policy, link to your Shipping Policy where and when required to answer common customer questions.

Customers expect to find the answers to their questions in the links in your footer, so this is an excellent place to link directly to your Shipping Policy. Here's how Nordstrom does this by adding it to its Customer Service links list in the site footer:

Nordstrom website footer links with Shipping Policy highlighted

You can even go as far as giving your Shipping Policy it's own space, as Barnes and Noble does:

Barnes and Noble website footer links with shipping FAQ highlighted

On Your Shopping Cart/Checkout Page

Is you Shipping Policy more complicated than simply adding $4.95 plus tax? Link to your policy in your Basket or on the Checkout page so customers can check it out before committing to that order.

Because IKEA ships furniture across entire countries, it doesn't add any old delivery fee. So it links to its Shipping Policy to discuss what it considers to be "standard delivery" through the "Learn more" link.

IKEA checkout screen with standard delivery calculator

In Any Shipping Offer Banners or Pop-ups

Are you offering a shipping offer to new customers or for a limited time? Add a link to your Shipping Policy and further information to any banners or pop-ups for easy access, like S'well does here:

Swell website: Free shipping banner offer with Details link

In Shipping Confirmation Emails

Hooray! Your customer ordered. Give them easy access to your Shipping Policy to answer any questions by adding a link to the confirmation email, as Anthropologie does:

Screenshot of Anthropologie order confirmation email

Summary

A poor shipping experience can turn your valuable customers into your competition's most valuable buyers.

Your Shipping Policy sets up and manages customer expectations. A comprehensive policy not only wins you more customers, but it prevents returns and endless customer service emails.

Every Shipping Policy should include information about shipping methods, expected timeframes, shipping prices, shipping restrictions, payment methods and contact details. When your products or policy requires it, you should also include details about customs and duties, restricted items, and any shipping benefits earned by rewards or loyalty program members.

Remember to link to your Shipping Policy often and in places your customers would intuitively expect to find it or want to read it.

Last updated on 29 August 2019

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Nicole O.

Legal writer.