Posting: The Periphery Between A Large Letter And Small Parcel

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A great number of things sold on ebay weigh anywhere from less than 100g up to 1kg and as such the two sizes of packaging that most will deal with are 'Large Letter' and 'Small Parcel', and the current costs for those via the Royal Mail are as follows:
Size Weight 1st Class 2nd Class Max. Thickness
Large Letter 0-100g 90p 69p 25mm
  101-250g £1.20 £1.10 25mm
  251-500g £1.60 £1.40 25mm
  501-750g £2.30 £1.90 25mm
Small Parcel 0-1kg £3.00 £2.60 8cm
All of that seems very simple to understand, and in most cases it is and you can't go wrong. If you know that the item you are selling is definitely thin enough to fit the Large Letter slot at the Post Office, weighing the item will let you know exactly how much it will be to send - if it weighs more than 750g it would be classed as a Small Parcel even if it was thin enough to fit through the Large Letter slot! Alternatively, if you know for sure that the package is too big for the Large Letter slot then it is going to be a Small Parcel!

Things start to get slightly more 'confusing' when one considers items that, when packaged, are very much on the periphery between Large Letter and Small Parcel.

Let us consider an item you are sending that, on its own, unpackaged, weighs 550g, you measure the thickness of it and find that is 15mm. Well within the limits of a Large Letter. Even when you put it in a plain envelope (which doesn't weigh much), it will still pass freely through the Large Letter slot at the Post Office. You look at the price guide, wanting to send it 2nd class, you see it will cost you £1.90. Happy with that you precede to list your item on Ebay and choose your P&P as £2.80 based on the cost of posting and packaging (for this example lets say that 90p was added as 'packaging'). Simples.

At the end of your auction someone has bid and won your item, they pay you quickly, and you get ready to dispatch your item. Realising that you don't want any damage to the item you place it in a padded envelope, neatly write the address on the envelope, seal it up, and off to the Post Office you go. When there, they weigh it and tell you in total it is 600g. They then try and put it through the Large Letter slot, but it doesn't go through freely. That will be a Small Parcel they say. That will cost you £2.60 they say. Even though when you measured the thickness (with the padded envelope) you were sure it would be classed as a Large Letter, here they are telling you NO, it is classed as a Small Parcel!

In this scenario then:
  • The seller listed their item with P&P total of £2.80 based on the item being a Large Letter weighing between 501-750g costing £1.90 and the packaging costing 90p. While at the Post Office they have been charged £2.60 just for postage. They have taken a 70p hit in their packaging cost!
  • The buyer, who bid on the item based on P&P of £2.80 will receive the item, notice it cost £2.60 to post and may well feel that 20p for packaging was fair!

What if it was the other way round? What if the seller had priced their item originally as a Small Parcel, £2.60, and added 90p for packaging, but when arriving at the Post Office their item actually fitted through the Large Letter slot and cost £1.90 to post? In that case the buyer would have paid £3.50 for P&P, the seller would have paid £1.90 for postage and made £1.60 from the packaging (50p more that what they 'cost' it at).

Now the real issue!
What if the item is less than 100g?

Imagine the same scenario as above but with an item that when packaged weighs less than 100g. When putting the item on Ebay they reckon that because of the thickness of it when packaged it will be too big to be a Large Letter so price it as a Small Parcel, 2nd Class, £2.60 and they add 90p for the packaging (envelope, padding, etc). So they list the item with P&P of £3.50.

On going to the Post Office however, the cashier manages to pull it through the Large Letter slot and, because it weighs less than 100g charges you 69p for the item. Expecting it to cost £2.60 and having it cost only 69p to post; great you think. But when the item arrives the buyer may well look at the package and see it only cost 69p to send and then they may get angry that, from their point of view, they have paid £2.81 just for the packaging. Indeed, said buyer may well send you a message requesting a partial refund of the P&P.

It would be up to the seller's own conscience to decide whether or not to honour that request. (Although it should be noted that if a demand for partial refund is based on the threat from the buyer of leaving negative feedback then they can be reported to Ebay as it is against their Terms Of Service). There are many different ways to look at such a situation but one must always consider things the other way round! [note 1]

What if the seller had presumed that it would be a Large Letter and had set the P&P accordingly - 69p for posting and 90p for packaging - at a total of £1.59. But when they got to the Post Office the item didn't fit freely through the Large Letter slot and they were charged as a Small Parcel at £2.60. Then the seller is out of pocket litterally by £1.01, but has also then negated the 90p for packaging. When the buyer receives the item they may see how much it cost to post and feel they have had a bargain. The seller will probably just take the hit, chalk it up to experience and next time they sell a similar item set their P&P based on it being a Small Parcel. (But then what happens if at the Post Office they 'fit' it through the Large Letter slot? It's a 'vicious' circle indeed!).
Not every buyer on Ebay also sells, and not every seller on Ebay also buys, so it can perhaps be understandable how issues like above can creep in to play and cause 'consternation' on one of the parties - especially on items weighing 100g or less, where the difference in cost between a Large Letter and Small Parcel is the difference between 69p and £2.60. [note 2] Of course, it has to be said, that there are a number of people selling on Ebay who charge high P&P, knowing fine well what exactly the item will cost to send, and setting a much higher premium on P&P just to make an extra buck. [note 3] But there are also genuine times when a seller has, in good faith, priced their P&P fairly (perhaps based on previous sales of similar items) but it ends up costing less to send or more to send than was originally planned . [note 4].


In the majority of cases, finding out what the cost of posting an item will be is as simple as looking up the price guide. If you know the weight and the dimensions of the package then the chances are you will be able to find the price for sending easily and accurately. Alas though there are always those times when it could be on the periphery of two different 'sizes', especially made worse for lighter items that may fall between being a Large Letter or a Small Parcel as the price difference could be as much as £2.10 (1st Class). When such a situation arises there is always going to be a 'winner' and a 'loser', yet it seems that when the buyer benefits the seller has to redress it, but not the other way round. Which may seem unfortunate but also seems to be true.

Thanks for reading this 'opinion' piece. Have you had a similar situation arise? As a buyer? As A Seller? Please feel free to leave your comments below and share your thoughts.

[Note 1] I buy and sell on Ebay. Knowing the difficulties that can arise on issues already mentioned as a seller, then as a buyer I am more than aware that these things happen. Of course one must consider when bidding on a item what the P&P is at that point. If the buyer feels it is acceptable they may bid and if they feel it isn't acceptable then they don't have to bid. If subsequently it turns out that the cost of postage ended up cheaper than what the seller had anticipated, does the buyer have any right to a partial refund (what if it is the other way round? Would the seller have the right to ask the buyer to pay more after the event if it cost more than they had anticipated). Personally, as a buyer, I only bid on things if I think that the P&P seems reasonable for the item - if it subsequently turns out that the actual cost of P&P was cheaper to the seller, then good luck to them for making a few extra pennies as, at the end of the day, what they priced it as originally seemed fair to me when I bid on the item and I was happy to pay it then!
[Note 2] In my experience, Ebayers who regularly both buy and sell have a better understanding of postage costs and understand that there may well be times when sizing is on the periphery. There is also an argument that, for those who regularly buy and sell, the times when they benefit from said issues and the times when they lose out from said issues have a habit of evening themselves out!
[Note 3] Both regular buyers and regular sellers on Ebay should have some understanding of costs of Postage (the price guide is available free from a Post Office or on their website) and should be able to give a rough estimate as to how much something should cost to send and thus be able to work out if a seller is charging a large premium on P&P before they bid. If they do bid then it should be on the assumption they don't mind paying the P&P quoted.
[Note 4] Different cashiers at different Post Offices, from my experience, seem to have different rules as to what passing 'freely' through the slot means. For example, one week I sent a PS2 game in a padded envelope which didn't fit through as a Large Letter and cost me £2.60, but the following week I sent a similar PS2 game in a similar padded envelope but (with the cashier's 'brute force', but safely) it was classed as Large Letter and cost 69p! Considering the two items weighed the same and were packaged the same, how does one price the P&P fairly if it may or may not be classed as a Small Parcel!
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