C&T Q&A – What Do I Do When A Parcel Goes Missing?




What do I do when a parcel goes missing

Today’s question is from Bronwyn, who writes:

Hi Jess,

Long time reader, first time emailer 🙂

For the last 12 months I have operated a (very!) modest Etsy fabric shop.

I received notification last night regarding a sale that was made in late January. Bottom line: the customer didn’t receive it. To keep my postage rates low (and appealing) I quote regular mail in my listings, and offer registered mail upon request. No customers have taken up the extra registered postage, so for most of the time I’ve been in business, I’ve taken a photo of every unregistered parcel that I’ve sent, and the photo shows the customers name, and where possible, the postage stamps on it.

But I find out that this single parcel, out if 50 sales and 12 months of operating does not arrive at the destination.

I lodged an enquiry with Australia Post, but since there was no tracking, not much more assistance they can provide, which means one of two things:

1) I lose, or
2) The customer loses

(Neither of these scenarios are appealing to me.)

What I want to know in this case, has this ever happened to you (in early days maybe)? What did you do (what would you do)?

Should I offer refund less postage (even though I decline responsibility of lost/damaged items in my shop policies)?

Or should I offer replacement (but insist the customer pays for registered post)?

Any advice you could give would really help me out 🙂



Ahh, lost parcels. If you sell online for long enough, I can guarantee that it WILL happen to you – especially if you ship internationally.

It’s definitely happened to me – both locally and internationally – a few times over the years.

This is one area where there are definitely shades of grey, BUT you need to be aware of the rules you are operating under.

First – if your customer has purchased using Paypal, you need to be aware that according to Paypal rules, YOU are responsible for the parcel until the customer is holding it their hot little hands.

What this means is that if the customer opens a dispute with Paypal within (I believe) 45 days of purchase, you can pretty much guarantee that Paypal will find in their favour and refund their money. Tracking or no tracking.

Second – if you’ve sold your item via a venue like Etsy or Madeit, the same rule pretty much applies. If your customer lodges a complaint, chances are the venue will find in their favour and force you to refund them.

Third – even IF you sell on your own site, and the customer pays via direct debit… well. Let’s put ourselves in the customer’s shoes for a moment. If you bought something from an online shop and it didn’t arrive – what would you expect the seller to do? I’m betting you’re thinking that you’d expect the seller to make it up to you – either by re-sending or refunding for the item that never arrived.


Can you see where I’m going with this?

Yes. Long story short – YOU as the seller are responsible for that item until your customer has it. I have to admit I always cringe a little when I read someone’s policies and they state they ‘aren’t responsible for lost parcels’. Because you ARE. You can say you’re not all you like, but it’s not just up to you – when it comes to that particular issue, you’re operating under the rules of the payment gateway (Paypal or Credit Card) and the venue you sell at. Know their rules before you start selling with them.

That means you are going to need to replace or refund for an item that never arrived.

In my mind, the only possible exception to this is when you have sent an item using some form of tracking, your postal service tells you it’s been delivered… but your customer then claims to have never received it. This is where things get sticky.

Either the post office has made a mistake, your customer has made a mistake, or – in very few instances – they’re lying to you. Thankfully, the latter is very, very rare in my experience, and I always give people the benefit of the doubt.

Having a tracked item arrive/but not actually arrive has happened to me (once or twice in my whole business career) I have done my best to help the customer play detective. Ask them questions about the delivery address. Is it possible someone else at that address has the parcel? Did it go into your neighbours PO Box? Could it have gone next door? Is it a place of business and lost in the mailroom? Did you leave it too long to collect the parcel and it’s been returned to sender? Etc. It is worth following this up with your postal service, even so, JUST to make sure they haven’t made an error somewhere along the line.

However… in this instance, I have NOT automatically refunded or replaced the item, because I have physical proof of delivery.

So. When you send without tracking, you are taking the risk that you will be liable to replace or refund. Frankly, I think it’s just good business practice, because the cost to replace or refund one item out of hundreds is pretty minuscule in the long run, and it will result in a customer who will sing your praises, rather than one who will complain about you at every turn.

I personally have a price rule about what items get tracking and which items don’t.

You see – I send the vast majority of my items as ‘large letters’ – both within Australia and internationally – which keeps my postal prices very low. That means they have no tracking. If you sell larger items and ship within Australia, parcel post now has tracking as standard, which is a new and brilliant thing (thanks AusPost!). So, any parcel you send within Australia should be tracked – it’s only when you’re tricksy like me and use the large letter option that it isn’t. Of course, international letters and parcels still don’t have tracking as standard, no matter what size they are.

Therefore – I send all items over a certain value via registered or parcel post within Australia, so I can keep track of them. And yes – the customer pays for this. I simply have a different postage rate for items under that $$ value and items over that value.

Outside of Australia, I don’t include tracking with any orders. The cheapest international tracking option we have here – Pack & Track – is over $20. For the one order in 500 that goes missing, I’d rather charge my international customers $4.50 for shipping and get more sales, than charge them over $20 and lose out on sales to US, UK, or other sellers who can charge a lot less for tracking.

It’s a bit of a risk… but so is every single part of being in business! The trick is thinking about it, and coming to terms with the level of risk you’re willing to take with your shipping. Cheaper shipping options mean more sales… but also no protection for you if things go missing.

I hope this helped, Bronwyn, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of costly news!

Thrivers – I’d love to hear how you deal with the lost parcel issue. Share with us in the comments. 

 Image source: Sylwia Bartyzel


Van Den has written 389 posts in this blog.

Jess Van Den is the editor of Create & Thrive, and has been a full-time creative entrepreneur since 2010. She makes eco-conscious, contemporary, handmade sterling silver jewellery under the Epheriell label, and blogs about her jewellery and other beautiful things at Epheriell.com. You can catch her on twitter @JessVanDen.



I agree with Jess. It’s just not worth the bad word of mouth to not replace the item straight away. Good PR is worth so much more than the cost of replacing an item.

Jackie Cauthron-Schafer

Just to throw in one more scenario- I recently ordered something from Etsy that had a tracking number. It was delivered to my mailbox, which is 2 miles from my house. Someone stole the package that day. I contacted my delivery person and she confirmed that she placed the box next to my mailbox in the usual fashion. I’ve lived here a bit over a year and no parcels have gone missing except for one to a neighbor at Christmas. After contacting neighbors and writing a note, I finally caved in and contacted the seller, who made a new product and mailed it to me in a timely fashion. Although the first package shipped out after her stated time frame (with no communication) I am really happy with her and will promote her business and purchase from her again. She has a loyal and vocal fan. This was a birthday present from a daughter bought with an Etsy gift card and it means a lot to me. So- happy customer, good relations.

I know a lot of people are deceitful, but not everyone is out to get more. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt until they give you a reason to do otherwise.


I work in a similar fashion, however because in the UK I can offer cheaper tracking even with large letters I prefer that peace of mind. For international orders I only send tracked parcels. As a buyer sometimes I would prefer to buy with tracking, certainly if it is above a certain value as some sellers are hard to get hold off and I would like the added peace of mind to know I could still find that parcel.
In the past it has happened to me, as a buyer, that a parcel got stuck at customs, luckily it had tracking and I was able to find it. If it didn’t I don’t know how I would get hold of that parcel since the post hadn’t informed me that the parcel was waiting at their depot as there was fees to pay.

Kylie Fogarty

Brilliant post – as an Etsy seller (KylieFogartyFineArt) one of the common themes in threads is what to do about postage, keeping costs down and not having them go missing. I use large letter postage as a lot of my sales are miniatures, so this helps with the cost of postage, but I do miss the tracking factor. I’ve also learnt that registered post doesn’t mean too much, so I now pay for signature on delivery – particularly with my one of a kind originals.

Lately it seems a lot of parcels and letters are going missing, and there is a lot of exasperation amongst Etsy sellers, particularly in my area of Canberra, so we are all seeking ways to minimise these situations.

As Australian sellers, it seems that we are a bit higher for postage costs, so its always a concern for me on how to keep these costs down for potential clients and what ways are best to get the most cost effective outcomes for everyone.

I like the fact that you have a price rule, I have an original rule, if its original, it needs tracking 🙂

I’ve had parcels that I have bought go missing to me but thankfully none of my sales have gone missing.

Look forward to reading more of your posts,



I think your answer is excellent, and reassures me of my own choice to use oversize letter rate and keep my shipping costs low. Before the standard tracking for parcels in Australia I used to bump up a customer’s bulk order to include complimentary tracking but in most cases I’m prepared to risk having to replace a parcel. I have only replaced one domestic parcel in 5 years.

With USPS before the US budget crisis you could use your customs green form ID as a tracking for free, but not anymore. In the days when you could I had a customer notify me that their parcel did not arrive, yet on USPS is clearly showed as being delivered. I asked her to please check with neighbours, housemates, and the local PO and about three days after she had visited her PO it showed up with a wrapping that was postdated after her complaint. I take from this that perhaps a PO person had thought of keeping the parcel and then worried they would be caught, or the customer used the grace leeway I provided by telling her it showed as delivered to gracefully back down if there was any untruth to her original claim.

By the way, it is a really good thing to give a customer a gracious way out… just in case they need it!


If you ship from Australia to eg. US UK or Canada you can track your item without paying extra for track and trace. The custom declaration form number is traceable on the websites of the postal services of these countries. As soon as the parcel arrives there I must say. (I don’t sell much to other countries so I’m not sure if there are more countries that have this service) You just have to keep a record of the number on the envelop. When it is a parcel the number is even on your docket from the PO. So if you still have the number try to trace it.


Marjon – I discovered this a few years ago and have always written down my customs number since. However: 1. It used to be pretty unreliable, as not all parcels were scanned into the system for some reason. So, I never told my customers that their parcels had tracking – I only used it as a last resort tactic if their parcel went missing. 2. I’ve tried it lately and it doesn’t seem to work (with USPS) at ALL any more. I read something somewhere about them changing the system so customs numbers were no longer trackable, but I can’t remember where. So – I’d be wary of ever telling a customer their parcel has tracking using this method for those reasons. Which is a huge shame, because when it worked, it was awesome!

What say you?