Shipping Furniture Tips Part 1

We have noticed that many Internet shops dealing in furniture and bulky item sales state only, "…buyer responsible for pickup…" in the item listing. And they give no clue anywhere as to how this might be accomplished, which makes us wonder if they really wanted to sell the item?

Apparently, some shops are willing to wait for just the right buyer. One who both desires the item and happens to be savvy enough to know how to manage to get it home. But if you think about the statement, "buyer responsible for pickup", although it is clear it certainly is not helpful, especially to shoppers still debating whether to purchase an item or not. After all, if the seller was not able to find at least one suitable shipping concern in advance of listing that Hoosier cabinet or Victorian marble topped table, why would most potential buyers be anymore capable? And, unless a piece is special or rare, why would someone even be willing to go searching for shipping options?

It’s OK to be a novice at dealing with furniture, hoping to gain experience with time, but looking like a novice certainly isn’t going to encourage a buyer to make a purchase. They may not be as interested in buying the example you offer as a similar piece from another online seller who has the appearance of being a bit more accomplished (even if this isn’t true, doesn’t matter, perception rules).

A buyer may also believe that they will need to have a furniture piece picked up fairly quickly. Just as 'time is money,' a piece of antique furniture can be an expensive investment and no one is going to be happy about the thought that their 'money' might be parked at your house, rather than theirs, a month or more after the deal is done. And, for all they know there may be storage charges involved if they leave an item for too long a period of time while trying to find a suitable mover.

Placing obstacles in the path of a buyer and adding stress to a potential purchase is not conducive to making a sale. If you want to sell furniture, not just list pieces in your shop for esthetics, do the legwork for the prospective buyers ahead of time. Find at least one suitable shipping method, either a service that you have actually used in the past or one you might consider using if you were the buyer. Offer this as an option either in the listing, or on your shop’s home page or on your Terms of Sale page. Not personally recommended, mind you, not unless you are absolutely positive you have good reason to do so. You just want give the shopper to have an option to consider.

What Do You Need to Know?

For shop owners with the time and the muscle, as well as access to an enclosed panel delivery van, the best choice is to offer a delivery service within a given range from their location. Most furniture delivery’s are generally within a 200-mile radius, probably because they can make the trip in a day, and will not have the added expense of an overnight stay in a motel room. But if personal delivery isn't a practical option, and for the majority of sellers it won't be, that leaves researching commercial shippers in advance. After you find a potential shipper, or three, that can (will) pick up at your location and deliver elsewhere, you’ll have options to list for potential buyers.

Every type of shipping concern has in-house rules. They have expectations of the shipper and limits to the service they provide. Usually their limitations have to do with size, weight, packaging (who does it and how it’s to be done), insurance coverage and, sometimes, pickup/delivery ranges. So the first thing a shop owner should do is gather a short list of possible companies and then compare what they offer and their limitations to see what considerations might work for them and what won't. There are companies that specialize in big, heavy or bulky items. Others specialize in items of higher value, large and small, as well as things of a fragile nature, like antiques. All of these companies have expectations that the shipper must meet. And you should have expectations of them, as well, if you accept the responsibility of shipping for the buyer.

Insurance for loss or damage is always a definite shipping concern, so don't assume a quote from freight or specialty service includes full coverage. Damage claims on fragile items like antiques and art may not be fully covered even by regular carriers you are familiar with such as UPS or FedEX. Why? Because those services were never really intended for moving such things around the country, and although they will accept them for shipment they tend to limit their own liability for antiques, art, and inherently fragile items. We recommend before considering a regular service for valuable items like framed art or antiques, you review the 'small print' and ask questions about indemnity coverage.

Another thing to remember is to read any contract you are asked to sign and make sure you understand it before signing, keeping in mind that an estimate from a shipping concern is just that, an estimate. What you may be quoted in the beginning and what you end up owing in the end can (and often will) differ. The fact that most shipping companies rely on pre-ship quoted estimates can make it difficult to charge a buyer an accurate amount in advance of shipment and this is the reason many online sellers regularly place the onus of arranging shipment for furniture pieces entirely on the buyers. But buyers are often flexible, so keep the lines of communication open - and pleasant - and there shouldn’t be any obstacle to arranging shipping for a buyer, if that type of arrangement is what they prefer.

Before getting a shipping quote you need to know the item's dimensions (which should already be in your shop listing) and some idea of the weight of the piece. Dimensional weight can be obtained by calculating density. It is basically a way to express the space a package can be expected to displace in a delivery vehicle and how much it weighs. To compute dimensional weight, first calculate cubic size: height x width x length = ?. Then divide by 166 (for inches or pounds) or 6000 (for centimeters or kilograms). The resulting figure is the dimensional weight. Weigh the item to determine which is larger, the actual weight or the dimensional weight. The larger of the two weights is the one the shipping company will figure into their bill of lading for the shipment.

Because of the unwieldy nature of many furniture pieces, actual weight is probably going to end up being a best guess estimate for most, so you can easily consider skipping the math. You might have to get creative to figure out a ‘way to weigh’ very large items fairly accurately, but the more accurate you are, the closer you can estimate actual shipping costs. Providing an estimate helps a buyer determine the potential shipping costs and gives them the ability to figure out what their total investment will be in an item, and can assist a shopper in making the decision to buy.

What are the Options?

Motor freight companies will accept and haul very heavy, large items. This method can be economical, but is usually better for items that are very well packaged by means of plastic wrapped pallet or crating. Freight shippers generally are business oriented and may only offer curbside or dockside deliveries, expecting the recipient of the delivery to take it from there. Buyers living in high rise apartments or those not physically able to take a furniture item off a truck and into their home wouldn't find the economy angle practical. Some buyers may live in off-the-beaten-path small towns or in remote areas, too, where freight companies will not deliver without additional mileage charges. Or they simply won't deliver to the area, at all.

Van Line companies are oriented for dealing with residential buyers. They will come inside to blanket wrap an item and will load without any assistance from you. They'll do the same on the other end when delivery is made. But in general, most domestic delivery companies do not differentiate a great deal between an item of furniture that is new and one that might be 150 years old. Often their insurance coverage for damage claims is severely limited in amount and they may not accept small shipments that consist of only a single item.

Below is a short list of companies who specialize in large or bulky shipments or whom provide shipping assistance for your reference. We do not recommend any company in particular. The information is provided to assist you in getting started in the process of vetting services for your buyers. No doubt there are other resources that can be found by searching the Internet.

Nationwide Delivery Systems, Inc. Specializes in shipping large, heavy, single items like pianos. States they ship antiques and other large items that need a delicate touch. Shipping by this company may be slow, since they might wait until they have a full load before hitting the road to make deliveries in the buyers area. But the preferred 'white glove' service this company offers may be just what a buyer is expecting and appreciates. Having personnel trained in dealing with antiques, art and items of a fragile nature would also appear to be a plus.

Transit Systems, Inc. This is an intermediary service that can help find the right shipping service for any given type of shipment. Using a shipping broker can solve a lot of problems for you immediately, since they offer the ability for the shipper to customize according to immediate need. They can also arrange for shipments in freight trucks that are immediately heading to the right location and have room for one or more items. They are able to broker international shipments, too, including taking care of all the paperwork.

Greyhound PackageXpress Small furniture items can be shipped via Greyhound package express. Small pieces of furniture not exceeding size limitations (packaged) can be shipped through this service. Package cannot exceed 30" x 47" x 82" or a weight of 100 pounds.

Finally, be sure to read a shipper's Terms of Service. This is an important step regardless of the type of item you are shipping, but can be of particular concern for antique furniture and accessories. For instance, other than the obvious items like 'radioactive materials' and 'fireworks', Greyhound Package Xpress service prohibits the following items: Jewelry, Mirrors, Pictures and Paintings, with Glass, in Frames, and items with declared value of more than $1,000.00.

The cost of shipping may seem high to you when you first start getting quotes from shipping companies. But keep their overhead in mind, including vehicle maintenance, tolls, fuel and employee time. Price isn’t always as big a concern for many potential buyers as you might think in these types of transactions. When it comes to furniture items and those of a fragile or special nature, folks tend to regularly opt for a hint of reliability and care, over cost.


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