Cheap parcel delivery

Tips for sending via Royal Mail, discount web couriers & online retailers

Sending a parcel? The cost can quickly add up, but by using this guide to compare delivery via Royal Mail and discount courier sites, and direct via online retailers if sending a gift, it's possible to save a packet (sorry) – and you can even have your items collected directly from your home, with Royal Mail again extending its free collection offer.

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Buying from an online UK store for someone else? It's almost always cheaper to send direct

If you're buying an item from an online store for someone else, it's almost always cheaper to get it sent directly to the recipient, especially as over a certain amount (normally £20-£50 depending on the retailer) it's free. Plus many stores let you write gift notes to the recipient so you can personalise it.

This can really help with larger or heavier gifts as Royal Mail and parcel firms charge by size and weight, while retailers don't tend to – it's normally based on the underlying cost of the item. Even where there's a charge, it's usually only a few quid.

For example, when we looked at sending a 'Baby Yoda' toy worth £57 via standard delivery, Amazon was free (on orders over £20 if you don't have Prime), ShopDisney was free (as our order was £50+, £3.95 otherwise), and Zavvi was £1.99.

Plus you've the benefit of it being quicker and there being only one delivery charge, as you're not having to send the item(s) to yourself first. But it isn't an option for everyone, eg, if you're buying from local businesses that don't deliver, want to look at what you're buying first hand or want to add personal touches such as gift wrap or a card.

Looking to send gifts to friends and family overseas? For tips and tricks on how to pay less – check out MSE Jenny's blog on Slashing the cost of sending parcels abroad.

Sending an item yourself? The cheapest option likely depends on weight

There are a lot of variables when it comes to parcel delivery, eg, location, weight, size, drop off or collection, delivery speed etc, so we can't give you exact prices as they vary enormously – but during our research we've spotted some trends based on the weight of the item you're sending. 

  • A small item less than 1kg? Royal Mail usually wins – though not always by a lot. For an idea of items under 1kg, a reusable aluminium water bottle, a large page-a-day daily diary or a 1,000-piece jigsaw should all fall within this bracket.

    We've checked hundreds of examples over the years, and Royal Mail usually wins, even if it's sometimes by pennies rather than pounds. It's not guaranteed though, so check before you send – and remember to take the size of the parcel, the value of the contents and the service you want into account. When we last tested 10 examples, we found that Royal Mail was cheaper for parcels under 1kg on seven occasions.

    For example, in one of our checks, sending a parcel worth £100, weighing 500g, dimensions 40cm x 30cm x 15cm, cost £5.10 via Royal Mail (£100 cover, delivery within 2-3 working days, tracked with signature) vs £5.55 for the cheapest discount courier site (£100 cover, delivery within 2-4 working days, tracked with signature).

    But Royal Mail isn't always cheaper, so check. For example, in one of our tests we wanted to send a parcel worth £60, weighing 600g, dimensions 10cm x 25cm x 25cm, and found we could send via courier collection for £5.52 (£60 cover, delivery within 3-4 working days), compared with £7.98 via Royal Mail collection (£100 cover, delivery within 2-3 working days).

    Use Royal Mail's price finder to quickly check prices and delivery options based on your parcel's weight, size, value and destination.

  • A heavier item of 1kg or more? Discount courier sites are usually cheapest. Examples of items weighing 1kg or more include a pair of boots, a couple of hardback books or a blender.

    Again, we've tested this hundreds of times over the years, and once again there's a trend – discount courier sites usually win. But again, this isn't a universal rule, so check before you send. And if you want your parcel collected, while discount courier sites would usually win, Royal Mail may be cheaper at the moment as it's offering free collection until Sat 31 Dec.

    When we recently tested 10 examples (not taking the above Royal Mail promotion into account), we found that for parcels over 1kg, a discount courier beat Royal Mail on eight occasions. For example, in one of our tests we sent two cook books weighing a total of 2.1kg via standard delivery, and the cheapest courier was £6 vs £10 sent via Royal Mail.

How to find courier firms and how to compare them

This isn't about going direct to the biggies, such as DPD, Evri and FedEx (though it can be worth checking them also if you've time). Instead, use special discount courier websites which do two things:

  1. Buy spare delivery slots from the big-name couriers and then flog those slots cheaply.
  2. Allow you to search for and compare those discounted slots to find the cheapest.

Here's a list of discount courier websites and which firms they compare:

Extended again. Sending a parcel or prepaid return via Royal Mail? It will collect for free until Friday 30 June

Royal Mail's Parcel Collect service allows you to pay an extra 72p on top of the cost of postage (or 60p if you're returning a parcel that has Royal Mail prepaid postage) for a postie to collect the parcel you're sending from your doorstep or a nominated 'safe place', rather than you having to take it to a post office.

If you've checked the 'send it yourself' options and found that Royal Mail is the best choice for you – or not far off it – the good news is it's again extended the offer to waive its usual fee and collect parcels for free until Friday 30 June (it was originally due to end in December last year, and then the start of April this year). It's particularly useful if you're sending a bulky item, sending several parcels at once or would struggle to get to a post office.

To take advantage of the promotion, pay for postage via the Royal Mail website or the Royal Mail app (available for iOS and Android devices), then free collection is automatically added – choose when you want collection, select if you need a free pre-printed postage label, and pick a safe place for collection if no one'll be home (you can only get one pre-printed label if collection if from a safe place). When your parcel is collected, you'll receive an email as proof of postage.

If you've paid for postage already, or you're sending a prepaid return parcel, book free collection via the Royal Mail website or app and enter the tracking number or postage item ID on the label you're using.

Need to knows

  • Collections are Monday to Saturday (but not bank holidays)
  • You can book up to five days in advance and until the day before, though Royal Mail advises taking your item to a post office for guaranteed next-day delivery
  • Maximum parcel size and weight will depend on the postage you purchase – for letter and parcel sizes and weights, see the Royal Mail size guide
  • There's no limit to the number of parcels you can have collected, but if you're sending more than 20 a week, Royal Mail recommends you look into a business account
  • Offer ends at 11.59pm on Friday 30 June

For more info, see the Royal Mail parcel collection webpage.

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Parcel delivery need-to-knows

  • You can often pay more for quicker delivery and other extras

    The cost of parcel delivery varies depending on a lot of things – size, speed, what it's worth, whether you want it collected or are willing to drop it off, if you want it to be tracked and signed for, and so on. Take all of these into account when comparing prices.

  • Always check the delivery company out

    Make sure you only go with a courier firm you've heard of and feel happy to use. If the difference is only a few pennies, it may be better to go with the big name with a decent reputation rather than an unknown quantity.

    For an idea of customer service, January's poll of MoneySavers highlighted which of the big delivery firms have the best and worst feedback – see the Top parcel delivery firms MSE News story from then for full info. You should still read the T&Cs carefully before sending though, to make sure you're covered should something go wrong.

  • Make sure to measure and weigh your package accurately

    Poor packing may void postal insurance and compensation claims, so package your goods properly.

    Be sure to measure and weigh your parcel accurately when getting a quote. If the package is bigger or heavier than stated, you may have to pay a surcharge.

    If you try sending something over 31.5kg it may not be accepted, as safety guidelines mean goods of this weight should be carried by at least two people. This means you may need a specialist service – these may be offered but, as you'd expect, usually cost more.

  • If you're sending a parcel and want it collected from home, you'll likely need a printer

    If you want your parcel collected from your home, rather than having to post it or drop it off yourself, you're likely to need a printer in order to print out the label required. Some discount courier services offer a 'no printer required' collection option though – especially handy if you're unable to leave home due to coronavirus – so keep an eye out when comparing them (though this can cost extra).

  • If you're sending parcels yourself via Royal Mail or a courier firm, allow more time

    If you're sending parcels yourself, rather than direct via online retailers, remember to take into account the time it will take for you to either buy the items you want locally or for them to be delivered to you from elsewhere and then package them up before you can send them on to the recipient yourself.

  • If parcels go missing, you've few rights

    Parcels do, on occasion, go missing, but there's no reason sending via a discount courier site should increase the chances of this happening. Yet always think twice before sending very expensive or irreplaceable items (and consider insurance).

    If the worst happens, it can be a bit of a pain as you should first go to the middleman – the discount courier site. The site you used should give you a claim form from the courier firm itself. It's up to them to deal with any enquiries. Sometimes they're understaffed, so be sure to chase things up. Weigh this up before deciding how to send your parcel.

Sending overseas? The principles are the same

You will also find it's usually cheaper to get a UK retailer to send an item overseas, even to places as far away as Australia, eg, MSE Jenny found she could send 3kg of make-up to Australia for £6 via the retailer compared with £28 for the cheapest courier and £65 via Royal Mail. However, it's also important to compare, and you face the same Post Office vs courier question if you want to send something yourself.

For full tips and tricks, see MSE Jenny's blog on slashing the cost of sending parcels abroad.

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