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Royal Mail shipping – Let’s just get straight to the point: online shoppers in the UK basically love to receive their orders through Royal Mail. In fact, our own consumer research shows that this national postal service is the number-one courier of choice for British consumers. For online retailers like you who operate within the UK, Royal Mail is probably among your top UK couriers for getting your goods to your customers. In this complete guide, we’ll give you a full run-down on these topics: 

But before we start, if you’d like to take a look at more couriers than just Royal Mail, feel free to download our complete Courier Comparison Guide 2021. Compare shipping services, costs, pros, cons, and more for; Royal Mail, Hermes, FedEx, DPD, DHL Parcel, DHL Express, UPS, and Pacelforce.

What is Royal Mail?

Royal Mail is one of the oldest postal services in the world, with a history spanning more than 500 years. It was established in 1516 by the court of King Henry VIII as the official postal service of the English government. It is one of the most iconic brands in the UK, and its famous red letterboxes are a familiar part of everyday life for millions of people there.

Because of its long history and strong reputation, Royal Mail is very popular among UK online shoppers. The company’s own research shows that nearly 3 out of 4 UK shoppers say they are more likely to buy from retailers when they know that Royal Mail will handle the shipping. 

Even more UK shoppers (77%) say they consider Royal Mail a trustworthy courier, placing them well ahead of many other popular couriers in the country in terms of consumer trust.

The company has come a long way since the days of delivering letters by horse and carriage. During the last 10 years, Royal Mail has become completely privatised. However, many UK consumers still view Royal Mail as a public service, which also adds to the brand’s strong reputation for reliability. Its parent company, the Royal Mail Group, operates two major divisions: 

  • Royal Mail, which still serves the UK as the nation’s official postal service
  • Parcelforce Worldwide, which offers international parcel shipping to and from the UK

Both of these subsidiaries now offer plenty of special shipping options for e-commerce retailers. We’ll look at those in detail below.

Royal Mail shipping services

shipping with royal mail

Shipped with Royal Mail, your merchandise will reach your customers quickly and at a relatively low price, compared with other couriers. Here are the main shipping services Royal Mail offers for parcels shipped within the UK:

Special delivery guaranteed

If your customer requires next-day delivery, Royal Mail has got you covered with several flexible options under its Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed service. This super speedy delivery service is promoted by Royal Mail as a solution for must-have, last-minute purchases. It guarantees next-day delivery by 9 a.m. or by 1 p.m., depending on the service level you select. 

This service is available five days a week, plus (for an extra fee) on Saturdays. These shipments are guaranteed to arrive on time, or else you are eligible for a refund. They are also insured up to £50 as standard, with an option to insure for up to £2,500.

Shipping with Royal Mail tracked 24 and Royal Mail tracked 48 

These are excellent all-round delivery services for most common e-commerce purposes. They offer tracked shipping with a choice of either next-day delivery (Royal Mail Tracked 24) or delivery within 2 to 3 days (Royal Mail Tracked 48). Best of all, the tracking number enables you and your customer to see the estimated delivery time, which is accurate within a window of two hours. 

Royal Mail shipping tracking takes place through Royal Mail’s online tracking portal. When using Royal Mail Tracked services, both you and your customer will receive the tracking number.

Shipping with Royal Mail 24 and Royal Mail 48

A lower-cost option for next-day and 2–3-day delivery, Royal Mail 24 and Royal Mail 48 give you the same speedy delivery, except without the benefit of detailed tracking information.

Shipping with Royal Mail Tracked Returns 

Developed primarily for e-commerce shipping, Royal Mail Tracked Returns is a tracked return shipping service for when your customers decide to send an item back. We’ll discuss this in more detail below.

Royal Mail Local Collect and Parcel Collect

Royal Mail Local Collect is a lower-cost option that enables your customers to pick up their parcel at one of Royal Mail’s thousands of local pick-up locations.

Royal Mail Parcel Collect

Royal Mail Parcel Collect is an all-new service launched in October 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a doorstep pickup service that your customers can use, for example, to conveniently hand over return parcels to the postal worker when they are making their daily round. This saves your customer from having to hand over a return parcel at the nearest post office or another drop-off point, where queues are currently quite bothersome. Best of all, this service is available to all UK residents, as Royal Mail’s coverage extends to the entire nation.

Shipping with Royal Mail 2nd Class

For a standard, no-frills delivery with a three-day shipping time (on average), it’s hard to beat Royal Mail 2nd Class shipping. The drawback to this low-cost service is that shipping times are not guaranteed, and there is no tracking, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how long it will actually take for the parcel to get delivered. The service does, however, include standard £20 insurance cover, which might make it an appealing option for sending low-cost merchandise to customers who are not overly concerned with delivery speed.

Advantages of Royal Mail for e-commerce shipping

As competition in the UK logistics industry heats up, especially since the start of the COVID pandemic, Royal Mail is trying to claim a more significant share of the market by offering services that cater to e-commerce retailers. This means there are now many benefits that might entice online retailers to do business with Royal Mail. These benefits include:

Royal Mail shop integrations for e-commerce

WooCommerce Royal Mail shipping with tracking can be set up using a convenient plugin. Royal Mail offers its own shipping tool for e-retail called Click & Drop, which has integrations for WooCommerce as well as eBay, Amazon, Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, Etsy and other popular online shopping platforms.

Strong local presence and Royal Mail Local Collect

Customers love the flexibility of being able to pick up their parcels at a local collection point. This frees them up from having to stay at home to wait for a delivery. And since Royal Mail operates 11,500 post offices and 1,200 Royal Mail Customer Service Points throughout the nation, there’s always a nearby pick-up location for your customers. Plus, your customers are probably very well aware of their nearest Royal Mail location (or post office), in contrast to other couriers which have less of a local presence.

Royal Mail tracked returns service

Especially in combination with Royal Mail’s new doorstep pickup service (Royal Mail Parcel Collect), Royal Mail Tracked Returns is a great way to offer your customers a convenient return-shipping experience. See more information below under the ‘Royal Mail Tracked Returns for e-commerce’ section.

Very flexible shipping options with Royal Mail

Royal Mail offers a wide range of delivery options to suit your budget and volume needs. Depending on the speed of delivery your customers expect, you can rely on Royal Mail for anything from next-day to standard 2–3-day delivery, with or without tracking options.

Specialised business services from Royal Mail

As the largest courier in the UK by far, shipping more than four times more than its closest competitor in recent years, Royal Mail has access to extensive customer data which it provides to business customers in the form of its CustomerFinder and AddressNow Data services. CustomerFinder helps e-retailers locate potential customers, while AddressNow makes address fill-in super easy for customers during checkout processes. Royal Mail also offers warehousing services for storing your company’s merchandise.

Free weekday pickup for higher-volume shippers

If your business spends more than £15,000 on shipping with Royal Mail each year, you will be eligible for free weekday pickup from your shipping location. For businesses that spend less than £15,000 a year with Royal Mail, you can still use regular weekday collection, which costs around £800 a year as of 2020.

Sunday deliveries with Parcelforce

Royal Mail’s sister company, Parcelforce, which specialises in international shipping, also offers domestic deliveries in the UK on Sundays. This has become a growing point of competition among UK couriers, now that Hermes and DPD also offer Sunday delivery services.

Royal Mail shipping costs

Royal Mail shipping prices for e-commerce retailers vary, depending on the volume of shipping you do. If your business ships over 20 parcels a week, you can sign up for a Royal Mail Business Parcel account. This gives you access to personalised pricing, as well as access to other business-related benefits, including:

  • Use of Royal Mail’s Click & Go shipping platform
  • Royal Mail integrations for e-retail
  • Royal Mail Tracked Returns (with personalised pricing for return shipping)

If you are a high-volume business shipper (with shipping expenses of £15,000 or more each year), you will be eligible for various complimentary services, including free weekday pickup.

In general, Royal Mail is definitely among the UK’s most competitively priced couriers. Suppose you wish to send a small parcel (weighing up to 2 kg). In that case, you (or your customer) can expect to spend anywhere from £4 to £40 depending on the delivery speed, insurance coverage, and other services you require.

To give you an idea of how the price range varies according to service levels:

  • On the low end of the price range, you and your customers have the option of using Royal Mail 2nd Class to ship your parcels. Within the UK, it costs under £4 to ship a 2 kg parcel using this service. As mentioned above, their shipments usually take three days to be delivered, but there is no guarantee, and, depending on shipping volume (which is currently extremely high) they may take much, much longer.
  • On the higher end, the prices range for Royal Mail Special Delivery services range from £17 to £40, depending on the exact delivery time you select. For the extra price, you get guaranteed delivery times (right down to two-hour delivery windows) and convenient, transparent tracking information.

Royal Mail international shipping prices are set by its international shipping subsidiary, Parcelforce. We’ll look at Parcelforce in more detail below in the section on ‘Royal Mail international shipping’. 

Besides relatively low costs for shipping, Royal Mail also offers its additional services for low rates: 

  • The new Royal Mail Parcel Collect service costs just 72 p. for a doorstep pick-up.
  • Royal Mail Tracked Returns service costs as little as £2 to £3 for a single return shipment. However, this special service for e-retailers is available only to online sellers who meet certain minimum shipping requirements (see ‘Royal Mail Tracked Returns’ below for more information). 

Royal Mail tracked returns for e-commerce

One of the main benefits of having a Business Parcels account with Royal Mail is that you get access to the very affordable Royal Mail Tracked Returns service. This enables you to handle returns and give your customers a convenient, transparent return-shipping experience.

The pricing for Royal Mail Tracked Returns is calculated individually, based on your return shipping needs. Typically, prices range from as low as £2 to £3 per return, depending on your volume and other conditions. However, you must meet these conditions to be eligible: 

  • You are a Royal Mail Business Parcels account holder.
  • You receive at least 20 return shipments a week, or 1,000 per year.

Once you’ve signed up for Royal Mail Tracked Returns, you get access to return-shipping benefits like these: 

  • Tracking the return package all the way to the delivery point through an online return shipping portal.
  • Providing your customers with print-at-home shipping labels for them to use when returning the parcel through the post office, at a Royal Mail Customer Service Point or, for an additional fee, using the new Royal Mail Parcel Collect service. 
  • Up to £100 of insurance coverage for your return shipments in case of loss or destruction.
  • Your Royal Mail Tracked Returns portal can be integrated into your inventory management system to help keep track of your stock.

Royal Mail international shipping: Parcelforce

When it comes to international shipping, Royal Mail teams up with its sister company Parcelforce, which is a separate division of the Royal Mail Group. Parcelforce also offers domestic shipping, but only express services which are identical in price and service level to the Royal Mail Special Delivery services described above. International shipments with Parcelforce are usually delivered within 2 to 4 days.

For shipping internationally using Parcelforce, your shipments will be priced according to a ‘zone’ system, in which each region of the world is categorised into a specific zone. If you’re a UK-based retailer shipping to a customer in Western Europe, it will generally cost between £20 and £55 to ship a 2 kg parcel, depending on how fast you want it delivered.

Prices are higher for other zones around the world, starting at around £33 for shipments from the UK to the United States, for example.

Parcelforce also offers business-related benefits for e-commerce retailers. For example, retailers can join the Parcelforce Rewards4U programme and save 15% if they ship more than one international parcel a week.

Restricted items

As with other domestic and international couriers, you should keep in mind that some items are restricted or banned from being shipped via Royal Mail and Parcelforce.

Shipping medicines with Royal Mail/Parcelforce

You may ship some medicines and prescription drugs using Royal Mail and Parcelforce, as long as they are non-flammable, non-toxic and contained in sealed packages that do not exceed 50 ml or 50 mg per tablet or capsule, or liquids in small bottles of up to 50 ml. The total parcel volume must not exceed 1 litre or 1 kilogram. Your company’s name must be clearly visible on the parcel.

Parcelforce does not ship and medicines internationally if they contain substances that are toxic or flammable (such as aerosol sprays).

Banned items:

The following items are completely banned and cannot be shipped using Royal Mail or Parcelforce:

  • Poisons, toxic liquids, solids and gases
  • Radioactive materials
  • Solvent-based paints, wood varnishes and enamels
  • Waste, dirt, filth or refuse
  • Weapons (including explosives, firearms and banned knives)

Is it right for your e-commerce business?

As you can see, Royal Mail offers an attractive blend of benefits for e-commerce retailers, including: 

  • A strong, trusted brand with a great local presence across the UK.
  • Competitive pricing and personalised, volume-based offers for retailers.
  • Flexible shipping options.

If you’re in the market for a UK-based shipping partner to grow your online retail business, then Royal Mail is one of many options you can consider. 

Need help deciding?

If you’re in the market for a UK-based shipping partner to grow your online retail business, then Royal Mail is one of many options you can consider. But if you’re still not sure which courier is the best fit for you and your customers, then try checking out our other useful guides to UK couriers. Here you have the links: