Understanding Postal vs Courier Shipping Services

With our recent announcement that we have launched new lower-cost postal shipping options to complement our existing courier services, we thought it would be a good idea to explore the differences between postal and courier shipping for your Gift Boxes going abroad.

The basics

A postal service is normally operated by or on behalf of national governments to carry letters and parcels with a universal service mandate – i.e. they are obliged to deliver to every address in the country concerned and have international arrangements to deliver post to and from foreign countries. They are usually state monopolies and generally own and operate the national postal infrastructure. They include operators like Royal Mail, United States Postal Service (USPS), Australia Post, Hong Kong Post.

Courier companies are private, often global, businesses with distribution networks around the world. They tend to focus on delivering parcels and packages for businesses like ours to consumers and other businesses and offer a greater range of speed, delivery times and guarantees. There are hundreds of courier companies operating globally with DHL, UPS and DPD being some of the key players in the sector.

How do they do international shipping?

When you use a courier service to ship something internationally, they will be responsible for handling your parcel from the UK all the way to the recipient in the destination country…a true door to door service. This includes processing the exporting requirements before your parcel is allowed onto a plane/train/van to leave the country, to facilitating the customs clearance process when it reaches the destination country and through to managing the final delivery to the recipient. The courier may ‘subcontract’ the final delivery leg to a local courier in some countries where they don’t have a complete distribution network of their own but even when this is the case, the key feature of this service is total ownership from the courier throughout the process.

The process is slightly different for postal services. For example, if you use Royal Mail to ship something to USA, Royal Mail will handle the delivery up until the parcel is received in the customs department on entry to America. Once your parcel receives customs clearance, Royal Mail hands over responsibility for the rest of the delivery process to the recipient to the destination country’s postal service, the United States Postal Service (USPS) in this case. Ownership for the delivery is therefore usually split between two national postal operators.

Service standards and quality

Because of the full control and ownership of the international shipping process, courier services are better placed to ensure that your parcel is handled correctly and gets where it needs to be in the given timeframe. This means that shipping is generally faster, more reliable and delivery timings more accurate (subject to customs clearance). Good tracking facilities come as standard and will give you greater visibility of your parcel through its journey to delivery and signature on delivery gives extra peace of mind. When issues do occasionally arise during the shipping process, having a single process owner makes it easier to communicate with them to resolve problems quickly.

Postal services on the other hand rely on two national postal operators working together to deliver your parcel, with all the operational and logistical issues that this entails – e.g. different service levels, efficiency and security standards, etc. This often results in longer delivery times, a lack of or infrequent tracking and less predictable delivery dates. It’s also worth noting that not all postal services are created equal – some countries will have a more reliable service than others and there is always a small risk that parcels can be lost in countries with less developed postal services.

One of the biggest drawbacks of postal services is a lack of customer service. Once a parcel is posted, it is not possible to intervene in its journey, even where there is some tracking visibility. If there are problems with the delivery of a parcel, it is very difficult to get assistance and influence the outcome.

Using postal services can also be troublesome if duties and taxes apply to your shipment. The customs department will have to contact the recipient directly and wait for payment. Until payment is settled, the shipment will not be delivered.


Couriers services will take individual parcels up to 30kg for shipment internationally.

Postal services are only available for parcels weighing up to 2kg. As all our Nibbles Boxes are no more than 2kg, they all qualify for the Economy Post and Tracked Post options from Royal Mail. However, the postal options are not available for our larger Nibbles or Gastronomy boxes as they are all over 2kg.


Unsurprisingly, the higher service standards and quality offered by courier services means that it generally costs more than postal services, albeit competition in the courier sector acts to keep costs down as uncompetitive providers will lose business to more efficient ones. Ultimately, you get what you pay for, but we understand that not everyone can or will pay for it.

It you can live with the slightly lower service levels of postal services and your gift parcel weighs no more than 2kg, then it is more cost-effective to send your parcel by post. This is especially so if you are sending a parcel to distant destinations like Australia and New Zealand where the cost of courier shipment can start to approach the value of the Gift Box you’re sending.

This is the reason why we introduced the postal service options for customers wanting to send a small Gift Box in the most affordable way possible.


So now you know the key differences between postal and courier services, you should be in a better position to decide on what is the right international shipping service for your order where multiple options are available! Consider what your priorities are – such as speed, reliability, tracking visibility, security or cost – and make your choice based on what best meets your priorities.

For more information about shipping options we offer, see our International Shipping page.

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