Scooter's Shipping Suggestions

The Perils of Return Shipping via UPS
Some Words of Advice and a Cautionary Tale

[The following admonitory article appeared in Chrestologia, Vol. XVIII, No. 3 (October 1993) and is being presented to you here by Scooter, manager of the ASW Shipping Department. She has had much experience dealing with various shipping services and hopes that our customers will be equally circumspect when they have to send instruments back to us for exchange or repair.]

As most of our customers are aware, we use United Parcel Service to deliver the great majority of our valuable and delicate historical instruments within the United States. For international customers, we select from among air parcel post, Federal Express, UPS, or air freight, depending upon the circumstances. While UPS does not have a wholly unblemished record and occasionally does manage to damage a parcel, they do on the whole provide a good, reasonable combination of prompt, efficient, safe, and cost-effective delivery. When customers find it necessary to return an instrument, either for exchange or repair, we insist that it be returned by the same carrier as shipped, suitably wrapped and insured for its full value. For many years, we have not been able to accept returns from domestic customers via parcel post, however convenient for the customer, because of the high likelihood of loss or damage in handling by the post office.

Recently, several of our customers have experienced difficulty in using so-called mail box services to ship UPS parcels. Typically, these services are tiny, store-front shops in suburban malls which offer a wide variety of convenient services such as shipping, packing and wrapping, insurance, rental mail boxes, photocopying, etc. Many display a prominent UPS sign in their window and many of their customers are led to believe that they are dealing with UPS directly, when in fact they are simply paying someone else to pack and ship via UPS for them. The difference is an important legal and procedural one, as some of our customers have learned to their grief and dismay.

When you deal directly with UPS, you are the "shipper of record" -- i.e., if the package is lost or damaged in shipment and you have insured it properly, you may place a loss or damage claim and be reimbursed in full. If, however, you use a mailbox service to ship via UPS for you, they are the shipper of record. If damage occurs, UPS will not deal with either you or ASW directly, only with the shipping firm. As some customers have learned the hard way, these firms are more than willing to take your money and ship for you, but they are rarely willing to take the time and effort to place a damage claim for you and pursue the matter until it is settled, which typically requires numerous phone calls and much persistence. In addition, the quality of the packing services rendered by such firms is, in our experience, highly variable, ranging from highly professional to totally inept.

In a recent case, a customer of Antique Sound Workshop attempted to ship a valuable and delicate instrument back to the maker via a conveniently located neighborhood shipper service. The instrument was damaged in the return shipment, either through inadequate packing by the customer or agent, or inept handling by either the agent or UPS itself. UPS refused to allow either the customer, the maker, or ourselves, the three individuals with a financial interest in having the matter satisfactorily resolved, to initiate a damage claim. Only the mailbox firm, the shipper of record, could place the claim and, predictably, they were totally negligent in pursuing the matter. The matter was pending for almost six months and, after much effort on the part of ourselves, the customer, and the maker, the mailbox shipper still refused to cooperate. Ultimately the customer had to accept responsibility and pay for the damaged instrument.

We strongly advise that customers wishing to ship instruments to us for exchange or repair deal directly with United Parcel Service and not through an intermediary. If it is inconvenient for you to take your package to a UPS depot or reception center, UPS will, for a modest fee, come to your home and pick up the package from you. Many customers are unaware of this on-call pickup service. A third choice is to call us and we will request that UPS pick up the package. Any of these three alternatives is greatly preferable to using a store-front shipping agent who has no interest in seeing that your instrument is carefully packed and safely shipped. Customers who elect to use third-party shipping agents to send instruments to us for return or repair are advised that they do so at their own risk.

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