Close up of a man signing a device and taking delivery of a parcel from a delivery person.

Cheap Parcel Delivery

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

More people are sending parcels with there still being restrictions on seeing each other, but the cost can quickly add up. This guide compares sending via Royal Mail, discount courier sites, and direct via online retailers to show it's possible to save a packet (sorry).

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Buying from an online UK store? It's almost always cheaper to have it sent directly

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 heavier gifts as Royal Mail and parcel firms charge by weight, while shops 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.

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. 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. It's not a universal rule though, so it's worth checking before you send. To be on the safe side we tried again this year, and when we tested 10 examples we found that Royal Mail was cheaper for parcels under 1kg on seven occasions. For example, in one of our checks, using standard delivery cost £8 via Royal Mail vs £10 for the cheapest discount courier site.

    But as we've said, this isn't always the case, so do check. For example, in one of our tests we wanted to send a toy weighing 600g, and we found we could send it via a courier for £6, compared with £8 via Royal Mail.

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

  • 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 right now as it's offering free collection until Sunday 30 May.

    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 Hermes, DPD and FedEx (though it can be worth checking them also if you've time). Instead, use special discount courier websites which do two things:

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

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

New. Sending a parcel or prepaid return via Royal Mail? It will collect for free until Sunday 30 May

Last October, Royal Mail launched a parcel collection service called Parcel Collect, so for an extra 72p on top of the cost of postage (or 60p if you're returning a parcel that has Royal Mail prepaid postage), a postie will collect the parcel you're sending from your doorstep or a nominated 'safe place', rather than you having to take your parcel to a Post Office.

If you're sending an item yourself and, having checked the options, have found that Royal Mail is the cheapest – or not far off it – the good news is that Royal Mail is offering to waive its usual fee of 72p per parcel (or 60p per prepaid return parcel) and collect up to five parcels a day for free until Sunday 30 May.

Most discount courier websites offer a similar service as standard, and it's particularly useful if you're sending a bulky item, sending several parcels, would have difficulty getting to a post office or if, due to coronavirus, you're unable to head out or feel uncomfortable about doing so.

To take advantage of the promotion, pay for the postage you want as usual via the Royal Mail website or the Royal Mail app (available for iOS and Android devices), then book a collection (if you're sending a prepaid return parcel, just book a collection). When your parcel is collected, you'll receive an email notification as proof of purchase.

Bear in mind that in order to be collected, the parcel(s) you're sending must have a Royal Mail postage label attached – this means that unless you're returning an item that came with a prepaid label, you will need access to a printer to be able to use Parcel Collect.

Need to knows

  • Free collection of up to five items per day, per address
  • Collections available Mon-Sat
  • Collections can be booked up to five days in advance and until 11.59pm the day before
  • Maximum parcel size: length 61cm x width 46cm x depth 46cm
  • Maximum parcel weight: 20kg
  • Offer ends at 11.59pm on Sunday 30 May

Parcel delivery need-to-knows

  • The cost of parcel delivery varies depending on a lot of things – speed, whether you want it collected or are willing to drop it off, if you want it to be tracked and signed for, whether you want it insured and how much for, and so on. Take these things into account when comparing prices, and see the point below on whether you need insurance.  

  • It very much depends on who you book through and which courier service you choose. For example, all UK parcels sent via Royal Mail are automatically covered for loss and damage of up to at least £20 – and up to £200 in some cases. MyHermes includes £20 parcel cover as standard on UK deliveries and ParcelsPlease* includes £60 cover.

    When you book through a discount courier website you're getting the equivalent of the courier company's full-price service, so you should get the same protection as if you booked with them directly. The amount of cover you get varies though, as the examples above show, so always check.

    Additional cover is generally available through discount courier websites for an extra fee, and if you have concerns you won't be covered enough, it may be worth adding. Always check any policy exclusions before you buy to ensure your item's covered.

    It's not always cheap though. We've seen cover up to £400 for an extra £24, and up to £800 for £60. If you pay for extra cover, make sure it's on the order confirmation.

  • 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 for full info. You should still read the T&Cs carefully before sending though, to make sure you're covered should something go wrong.

  • 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 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 shielding or self-isolating – so keep an eye out when comparing them (though this can cost extra).

  • 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 before you can send them on to the recipient yourself.

  • 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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