There is still a current debate (February 2009) about the Royal Mail's policy on compensation for fragile items.
Some ebay sellers believe and have stated that although insurance/compensation is included in the charges for Recorded Delivery (up to £36); Special Delivery (up to £500) and Airsure and International Signed For (varying amounts) glass and ceramics, ie. breakable items are excluded from this cover.
There is much confusion about this matter and the Royal Mail is not always terribly helpful. An enquirer will get different answers from which ever post office they visit but usually the advice given, without any recourse to official documentation, is in the negative - fragile items are not covered.
Visiting the Royal Mail web site (royalmail.com) is much more fun! It is hard to use and several pages need to be viewed to get close to an answer, before giving up and calling Customer Services on 08457 740 740.
They consistently give the same answer but before you rejoice, there is a catch 22 in their official policy! All non prohibited, fragile items ARE covered for damage or loss, provided that they are properly packed. The cynic might, therefore, add that if they were damaged, then they were not properly packed and so no compensation.
For the ebay seller, substantial packing is important but it also helps to know RM's claims proceedure. They do wish to inspect the packet and damage. I advise all my customers, that in case of damage, the item and the packing should be immediately photographed and retained for inspection. The seller/consignee files the claim with RM and the buyer will usually have to present the damaged kit to the local sorting office. (so, do not have the customer return the items to you at this stage). You will also have to include with your claim, all ebay documentation relevant to the item. All being well, compensation then wings its way, slowly to the seller. Be warned, Customer Services do not exist to facilitate claims, rather, to ensure that they are not paid !
NB, if your total price to a customer includes shipping and you have insured for this value, then you are entitled to the postal cost as a refund also.
A second NB. A customer with a claim for loss or damage, will have insufficient information to make an acceptable claim. The seller has contracted the service and it is their responsibility to make the claim , not their customer, irrespective of their terms of trade, (which are illegal if they state delivery failure is not their responsibility).
When the seller compensates his customer is up to him, but he must. Under English Law, it is the vendor's responsibility to deliver the goods. Statements often seen on ebay such as "I am not responsible for non delivery or damage" just don't wash and are totally invalid. If a customer chooses to force a repayment through ebay or take legal action, the vendor does not have a leg to stand on. Trading standards officers will take the view that an ebay member with ten selling feedbacks is a trader and will apply the appropriate law in this case.
My view is, grin and bear it. Provided the claim is genuine, keep the customer happy. Your trading reputation is too valuable. This may seem naive and, yes, there are some dodgy people out there but if you pack well, insist on using "signed for"/tracked & insured delivery, and have a standard and consistent complaints & claims procedure, you will not loose out. Be warned, Royal Mail will expect a month's wait before applying for loss, they will then take up to 90 days to agree your claim< (although, expect six months as standard). In the case of Special Delivery and International, they should also refund the original postage charge but you may have to remind them. I have no experience of the case for recorded delivery.
A word on packing. Good packing costs. Expensive items justify the expense of new materials. Inexpensive items, (say £10 to £30), present more of a problem as P&P costs could affect the success level of a sale. Yes, use recycled material but do not skimp to keep weight and postage costs down to the detriment of safety. The trick of successful packing is cushioning. Firstly, protect any vunerable parts or projections with extra reinforcement, then bubblewrap. The bigger the bubble size, the better the cushion effect will be. Then FLOAT the item within the packing container with in-fill material. This protects against jarring and impacts which will not transmit to the coddled item within. If lightweight plastics are used, you will be surprised how little weight is added. Newspaper and board are comparatively very heavy. If the package is large and heavy, do not rely upon packing tape alone but also use plastic strapping. This picture is of a £250 item in packing process and illustrates the floating principle using expanded foam bits around the bubblewrapped item with expanded foam sheet reinforcement to the outer box. The purpose of the photo was not for this guide but as additional proof should a claim be neccesary. Always protect yourself. All of this will not protect your goods should they be seriously manhandled, crushed, jumped upon or maliciously treated, but you will then be covered and not suffer financial loss.
Finally, to state the obvious. Fragile warning signs and return delivery address. The first may be a red rag... but you have then warned the shippers. The second, because if the item is not delivered, you would like to get it back and here, the Post Office is very efficient in returning undelivered items.
The above article applies to all Royal Mail services BUT not Parcel Force services. Although tracking and insurance are available, this company specifically (and cynically?), does exclude breakables; itemising glass and ceramics.
The moral must be, keep your packages under 2kilos, for international sales. U.K. First Class Recorded Delivery does have a weight limit of 30kgs. for packets but they must be 610x460x460mm and top value of £36. For a full range of prices, refer to the Royal Mail's "pricing made easy" leaflet.
If you are paid via Paypal and do not have a tracking code; in the event of a dispute, Paypal will re-imburse your customer, whatever! So, send everything, tracked and insured! If the customer does not want to pay tracking/insurance costs, in spite of warnings , they will still have an acceptable claim against you which Paypal will uphold! Message is, fully insured and tracked or no sale!
TWO: When you do your trek to the post office (because the Royal Mail, certainly do not yet collect from me!), DO ensure that individual tickets for recorded delivery, special delivery or international, are fully written up including the insurance value of the item - including the postage as this is what the customer paid as a total price and is the figure that you will wish to recover. A claim proceeds that much better if that figure is on your receipt and the counter clerk should ask for it although they often do not.
ENSURE THAT YOU KEEP THE PRINTED RECEIPT ! BECAUSE IF YOU HAVE NOT THIS PIECE OF PAPER, THEN THE ROYAL MAIL WILL NOT ACCEPT YOUR CLAIM DUE TO LACK OF PROOF OF PURCHASE (of the service)! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. (Sorry, being boring but have just realised all this is only appropriate for UK sellers but may help others around the world , so good luck!)
All queries or comments, please contact me through ebay and good luck.
This guide continues as Studio Pottery Royal Mail Compensation Some More Advice