Look before they ship

You’ve spotted a gotta-have-it item online. You’ve looked into the price, product details, and return information. Ready to click the BUY button? Not so fast. If you don’t pay careful attention to a company’s shipping policies, you could miss the boat. That’s a money-saving tip for all consumers, but especially if you live in Alaska, Hawaii, or a U.S. Territory – Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the North Mariana Islands – or send packages to those locations.

Check out shipping before you get to the check-out page. Learn about a company’s shipping policies before you start the purchase process. Also look for what the company says about how long it will take for your package to arrive. Residents of Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. Territories have something else to consider. Does the company deliver to your location? If that’s not apparent from their website, shop around to see if the same item is available from an online retailer that clearly says it will ship to you.

Discuss options with individual sellers. Let’s say you’re shopping on eBay, Etsy, or one of the other platforms where individuals can sell items. Before doing a deal, you can use the “contact seller” function to discuss shipping. Both buyers and sellers can benefit from having accurate information up front. For example, some sellers may not know that if they use the U.S. Postal Service’s First-Class Mail or Flat Rate Priority Mail, it costs the same to send a package to Alaska, Hawaii, or a U.S. Territory as it does to send it across town. It just might take a little longer. In addition, the major delivery companies have price estimators on their websites. Use them to compare what it will cost to ship via the Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS.

Use care to provide a correct address and zip code. If you’re sending a package to someone in a U.S. territory or are ordering something online for delivery there, remember that addresses in all 50 states and territories follow the same basic format with the city, two-letter state or territory abbreviation, and zip code on the last line. (The two-letter abbreviation for the territory goes where the “state” abbreviation would go.) For addresses in Puerto Rico that require an urbanization name, that belongs on the second line beginning with the letters URB.

If a package is late, contact the seller to find out why. You have rights under the law if you’ve been charged for items you never received.

Are you sending packages to others? For more tips, read the FTC Business Blog, Signed, sealed, delivered: Shipping basics for your business.

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