Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Navigating Canada Post

As I begin the annual ritual of adjusting the shipping prices in all my Etsy listings, I thought it might be an opportune time to share some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned about shipping with Canada Post.

Running an online shop means you’ll be mailing a lot of packages. That makes dealing with the post office a necessary evil (unless you use Paypal to print out shipping labels, of course, but that is a topic for another post). I’m pretty sure I made every mistake there is when I first started selling on Etsy. Learning the ins and outs of Canada Post cost me a lot of time and money! With a little knowledge and planning you will be able to enjoy a much smoother and less expensive process.

1. Know Thyself (and thy package)

The best thing you will ever do for your online store is to buy a digital scale. Most sellers will probably be able to get by with a simple kitchen scale. These are available (cheap!) from places like Walmart or Canadian Tire. Always weigh your item along with any and all packaging that will be used. It also helps to know the dimensions of the envelope or box you’ll be using to ship the item, because each shipping option has size limits. Use this information to look up shipping prices before you list.

Speaking of shipping options, get to know the services you are using. Learn exactly what you will need and get comfortable enough to be able to ask for it by name. Once I had done my research I was astounded at how much incorrect information and bad advice was given out by the clerks at the post office. Head over to Canada Post’s website and print out the information sheets available in this section.

2. Understand you options

Here is a quick overview of the services most likely of use to you, their standards, restrictions and pros and cons. Be aware that a fuel surcharge may or may not apply when you mail your item depending on the current price of gas.

Shipping in Canada

Shipping within Canada is tricky to gauge. There is only one service available for parcels. Rates are calculated based on size, weight and how far the item has to travel. Items sent within the city and province will cost around $8 (and up, as weight increases). There are several rate codes within each province, but in general packages sent to destinations outside of Manitoba will start at about $10. Sending an item to a fellow Canadian is often more expensive than shipping to the U.S. because Canada Post is responsible for the entire delivery rather than just getting the package to the border. The upside is that it will likely reach its destination slightly faster (2-9 days), and delivery confirmation is included.

Shipping to the USA

Light Packet: The cheapest option available for most items (unless you are able to use letter mail), and it goes by air. There are no options or features available with Light Packet, and no included coverage for loss or damage. Watch out for the size limitations: the maximum height for this option is 2cm, and maximum weight is 500g.

Small Packet (surface and air): This is the service I use most often. It applies to packages under 60 cm long and under one kilogram. The rates for airmail are a bit higher than surface, but it does make a difference in delivery times. A package shipped surface mail has a delivery standard of 6-12 business days whereas airmail is expected to arrive in 4-10 days. Coverage up to $100 is included, but there is no tracking service or delivery confirmation available.

Expedited Parcel: This is the service for larger heavier items. Rates are based on your location and where the item is going. Expedited Parcel costs significantly more than Small Packet, but expected delivery time is quicker (4-8 business days between major centres) and both tracking and delivery confirmation are included.

Shipping Internationally

Etsy is expanding! There is an increased focus on recruiting buyers and sellers overseas which means a higher chance that your item may be purchased by someone halfway around the globe. Shipping internationally is easy. Small Packet service is offered for packages up to 60cm long and 2kg in weight. Delivery is available to international destinations all over the world, and price depends on where you’re sending to. It’s a good idea to research rate zones for Europe and Australia because many of your Etsy customers are located there. Surface shipping is much cheaper than air mail, but be prepared; delivery standards for surface are 4-6 weeks, and, yes, it really will take that long. There is no tracking or delivery confirmation available, but your item is automatically insured for loss or damage up to $100.

3. Understand the expectations of your customers

In general, customers from the US are used to much faster and cheaper mail service than we are. USPS has much lower rates, offers more services and delivers faster than Canada Post. Many customers in the US will not be aware of the increased cost of obtaining a tracking number. It helps to post and fully explain services and delivery standards in your shop policies. Remember that a delivery standard of 6-12 days is 6-12 business days, Monday to Friday only, not including holidays and not including the day the package was sent. If there are holidays in there, 12 days can actually stretch into almost three weeks! Remember that your package has to go through customs, and delays there are completely unpredictable. Be prepared to answer questions from your American customers in a factual and understanding manner. When sending packages across the border or to international destinations, always check the list of prohibited items and follow all guidelines to ensure your package won’t be held up unnecessarily.

By planning ahead before listing your item, and gaining familiarity with the services offered by the post office, you’ll never receive an unwelcome surprise from Canada Post. A thorough knowledge of Canada Post’s services and guidelines also enables you to deal effectively with your customers. With an informed and streamlined shipping process, you can feel confident sending your items all over the world.


  1. Great post Sue! I wish I would have known all these things when I started selling on Etsy.

    Sue is so right that the first thing is to get a digital scale! It saves endless time and questions if you go to the post office, and is indispensable if you use an online shipping option like Paypal shipping.

    There is more than one option for shipping parcels within Canada, and if you use Paypal shipping, it is sometimes cheaper (with the business discount automatically calculated in Paypal) to use Xpresspost rather than regular parcel. Regular parcel in Canada goes Airmail, but Xpresspost gets there very fast, making customers very happy!

    International buyers are far more understanding about shipping times and costs, and don't hesitate to add international shipping to your options. If a shop does not list shipping to Canada or international in there listing, I move on as a buyer. Don't make a customer contact you for shipping rates--you'll loose sales that way.

  2. Great advice!
    Thanks for the information about shipping in Canada! I have only shipped two or three packages within the country and didn't know much about it beyond the information on Canada Post's website. Seems there is always more to learn. :)

  3. I made a mistake above--it should have said "Expedited Parcel" is cheaper than regular post. Xpress post is more expensive than both of these.


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