How to Avoid Shipping Disaster

While packing, shipping, and receiving jewelry is a basic, integral part of any retail jeweler’s business, it’s anything but basic when it comes to ensuring that proper procedures are followed to protect the merchandise, the retailer, and the vendor, especially during busy times. Horror stories abound of jewelry that was lost or damaged in transit, orders that were incomplete, diamonds and expensive pieces that got thrown out with the trash, and other mistakes.

“The worst part is the packing,” says Mary Breski, of James Breski & Co., a Chicago-based supplier specializing in colored-stone jewelry. “Retailers need to give the same care when shipping the vendor’s merchandise as they give to the jewelry in their stores.”

Faulty packing and shipping procedures can cost you money as well as goodwill with vendors and customers. Breski offered the following tips to help jewelers improve their packing and shipping; protect themselves and their merchandise, vendors, and customers; and limit losses from shipping mistakes.

  • Wrap all jewelry items individually in tissue paper. You should at least bag them individually. Make sure items are wrapped naturally and not with undue pressure on delicate hinges or other elements that can break. “Don’t just throw it into a box where it can bounce around and become damaged,” Breski advises. “We’ve received pieces that are broken, that had stones fall out during transit, or that have been roughed up and require more polishing and extra attention. This eats up time and money, and it can really add up.”

  • Mark the bag or envelope specifically as to its contents. This should include a description of the jewelry inside and whether it’s a return or a repair. “There are still jewelers who return jewelry with no paperwork,” Breski observes.

  • Put the envelope or bag containing the jewelry into a box. Don’t put the envelope or bag directly into a shipping envelope, because that won’t protect the jewelry.

  • For incoming packages, compare what you’ve received with what you were supposed to get. Make this determination by looking closely at the packing slip, and if something is amiss, call the shipper immediately to notify them. Don’t assume that what’s on the invoice is what’s inside, Breski warns. Sometimes packages come with the wrong invoice. Or something may have been included by mistake in the package. It can happen that an item isn’t recorded on the packing slip or is recorded improperly. It’s possible for an item that should be there to be omitted. “Verify everything is there that is supposed to be there so you can talk intelligently about it with the shipper in case of a problem,” she advises.

  • Take your time opening every package. Jewelry is very small, and loose items may have been put in the package without a box, bag, or envelope. There have been instances where jewelry has been thrown out unintentionally, along with critical packing slips and invoices.

  • Keep a special garbage can just for boxes and packing from jewelry shipments. Save the boxes for a week. At the end of the week, break down each box and check thoroughly for hidden jewelry, misplaced invoices, or other important information. “Sometimes, a customer tells us something should be in there, but we never found it,” Breski says. “We had one case where our records showed we received one diamond ring, but the customer said they sent us two. This is a trust issue that could really impact your relationship with a customer, and I was prepared to go to the garbage site where our garbage is delivered and look for the missing item. Luckily, the customer called back and said they found the stone.”

  • Keep a logbook and record every shipment you send and receive. Records should include date, ID or shipping number, who and where it’s from, and an itemized description of what’s inside each package so there’s no question later.

  • Know when to use an alternate name or initials. If you are shipping to a customer with a jewelry-related name in their title, use the substitute name or initials. This makes the package a less obvious target for thieves. “Rather than calling someone ‘John Doe Jewelers,’ call them ‘J.D.J.’ or ‘John Doe Co.,’” Breski says. But note that some companies have a particular way they want to be addressed, so talk to the company ahead of time.

  • Always track your shipments. Breski believes that you can almost predict that there might be problems by the tracking information. “If the package goes back and forth too many times and is in too many hands, there’s a chance it’s going to be lost, misplaced, or stolen,” she says.

  • Keep holidays happy. The holiday season is the worst for packing and shipping miscues, says Breski. That’s when jewelers are under the gun and often bring in untrained, non-employee family members and friends to help out. This can be a recipe for disaster. “We see a lot of jewelry shipped in haste that’s been packaged improperly, especially at Christmastime,” Breski says. “It’s worth it to go over packing and shipping procedures with your entire staff—including anyone who will handle packages—and make sure everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what to do.”