May 30, 2017

How to Ship High Value Items

When shipping high value items, whether holiday gifts, eBay items you sold, or anything else, you should consider what the best shipping method would be. This article lists the main methods of transporting high value items from here to there, the pros and cons of each method, and what’s appropriate to ship which way. Of course the underlying assumption is that the item is legal to ship in the first place.

To Ship or not to Ship, That is the (First) Question

High value items are not always measured in their cash value. Sometimes an item is irreplaceable because of its sentimental value, or because it is literally one of a kind. The first question you must ask yourself before shipping such high value items is this: if the item is lost, stolen, or destroyed, will you be satisfied with what you could get from a successful insurance claim? If the answer is no, you should not ship the item. Note that if you’re selling the item on eBay, you’ve already determined that money is a good replacement for the item.

If an item cannot be replaced with money you could still (in many cases) deliver it in person, or have a trusted person (like a spouse, trusted friend, etc.) deliver it for you. This might involve a several-hour drive or, especially for overseas shipping, a flight. Either way, you can get the item from here to there with relatively low risk. Checked luggage is subjected to rough handling, and on occasion can disappear or have items stolen, so do not use this method for truly irreplaceable items. Of course with current carry-on regulations being what they are, any items must be small, lightweight, and fit security limitations (e.g. no sharp objects, no pressurized containers, no liquids, etc.) to qualify for carry-on luggage.

Shipping Methods for High Value Items

For items that can be replaced with their cash value, but are very expensive, a same day courier service provides the most secure and fastest means of delivery. Some same day courier services will even have a specific person maintaining the item in their personal possession at all times.

Important questions to ask the same-day courier service include:

  • Is delivery guaranteed before closing time (important especially for business addresses)?
  • What happens with the item if it is late and cannot be delivered that day?
  • Will your item fit their guidelines on weight, size, type of item, etc.?
  • Are there customs or ITAR issues for your item (for international shipping)?
  • What is the insurance cost (usually a set fraction of the insured value)?
  • What risks will not be covered by the shipping insurance?
  • What is the limit on insured value?
  • How and when will you be notified of successful delivery? Is proof of delivery provided?
  • Can you specify the person(s) authorized to accept delivery?
  • What happens if the courier fails to deliver on time?
  • What happens if the authorized recipients are not available at the delivery address?

Before shipping an item with a same-day courier service, make sure you know the answers to all these questions and are comfortable with those answers.

When next-day or later delivery is acceptable, the largest shipping companies such as Federal Express, UPS, DHL and the like, usually provide a more cost-effective option than specialized courier services.

For international shipping it is very important to check with the recipient which services have good track record at their location. Some major carriers have poor delivery records in specific locations, especially if delivery is in a large campus, or a business location with multiple buildings. A temporary driver may deliver the item at the wrong department or the wrong building altogether, leading to significant delays, or even lost shipments.

Shipping Methods for Less Urgent Deliveries

Domestic ground shipping is often a better choice than guaranteed next-day shipping. For example, UPS Ground shipments from New Jersey to Maryland usually arrive next day without having to pay the higher Next Day Air cost. Both for air and ground shipping, care should be taken to pack the item well to reduce the risk of breakage.

USPS shipping provides certain benefits such as flat rate shipping at much more affordable rates than those of UPS, DHL, or FedEx. Flat rate shipping extends even to international flat rate envelopes that provide one of the most cost effective shipping options out there. Note however that USPS tracking and verification add to the cost of shipping so if you need those services, consider the total cost when comparing shipping prices.

Shipping Very Large and/or Heavy Items

For very large and heavy items you may not be able to utilize normal UPS, FedEx, or USPS services, and will need freight services. If you do not have a freight service you usually deal with, you may be best served by finding a reputable freight forwarder to arrange your shipment. This provides you access to many small shipping companies you’re not familiar with and with whom the forwarder has established relationships. If something goes wrong, a good freight forwarding service will do their best to make you whole, whether through the shipping company’s insurance, or their own coverage.

This image shows a full trailer truck of a type used by many ground shipping companies. The image was released to the public domain by Wikimedia user Coyau. A full size version is available through

Another advantage is that the forwarder may be able to consolidate your shipment with several others going the same way, reducing your cost. Some of the larger shipping companies provide similar options. Some well-known names include FedEx Freight, UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Bax Global, Service by Air, etc.

Whichever service you choose, make sure your shipment is insured at a level sufficient to make you whole if your shipment arrives damaged, or never arrives at all. The carrier’s insurance might cover you, but for certain types of losses your own insurance will make things much simpler, at a relatively low cost.

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