Selling on Etsy comes with lots of strange requests from customers. Even though I’ve sold online for 13 years, the question of whether you should cover up the return address on an Etsy order if the customer asks you to (usually because it’s a gift) is a weird one that I hadn’t run into before it came up in my Facebook group.
The post office doesn’t like it when you cover a return address, but there are some more reasons why you shouldn’t do it.
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The strange request.
The scenario involved a customer who asked the seller to black out the return address on a package to keep the recipient unaware of where it was coming from.
The rationale behind this request was that the sender wanted to maintain an element of surprise, considering the item was intended as a gift.
They didn’t want the person receiving the package to know the name of the shop it was coming from before opening the box because they’d be able to figure out what it was before opening the gift.
However, this approach creates various issues, both practically and in terms of postal regulations.
Postal regulations and return addresses.
The main reason why altering return addresses is discouraged is because of postal regulations.
The post office requires a valid return address on every package for various reasons.
The most important one is that they would need to return the package to someone if there’s a problem with delivery, so if you black it out they won’t be able to do that.
You definitely want to be able to get the product back if something goes wrong, so changing the return address isn’t a good idea. You don’t want your undelivered products to end up in the dead letter office.
From a recipient’s perspective, receiving a package with a blacked-out return address can be disconcerting.
When is the last time that you got a package that you weren’t expecting? The first thing you’re going to do is look to see who sent it to you.
If I get mail or packages that I don’t expect, and there’s no return address, I can guarantee you that it’s going to make me nervous.
Nobody likes being freaked out when they get mail, and it would be weird enough to get a package from a business that you don’t recognize.
If the return address was completely blacked out, I don’t think I’d be opening it at all. That’s like getting a hostage note or something. Forget it.
I also know people who have had real-life stalkers, and they definitely aren’t going to want to open anything that has the return address blacked out. They would probably throw it straight into the trash.
So on a psychological level, don’t cross the return address out, and you might also want to put something on the package that indicates that it’s a gift for them.
That way they won’t have to open the package feeling suspicious about why they got it.
What to do instead of altering the return address.
Instead of altering the return address, a more effective approach is to communicate with the buyer about alternate options.
Ask if there’s a different location where the package can be safely delivered without spoiling the surprise.
This could include sending it to a neighbor’s house if there’s someone who can get the package and take it over to the recipient after removing the return address.
If they don’t know anyone who can do that, you could also put your own name on the return label instead of the business name by changing the return address in your Etsy shipping settings just for that one package.
If you do that, though, make sure to put “this is a gift for you” on the box somewhere, maybe with a cute sticker or little drawing, just to alert them to the fact that it’s a present. That way they won’t wonder who the heck you are when they see your name on the label!
Tampering with return addresses on packages is not advisable due to postal regulations, potential recipient concerns, and needing to have an address to return the package to if that comes up.
When sending gifts, open communication with the recipient about alternative delivery locations is a better idea if you want to go that route.
However, I would just tell them that I can’t change the delivery information, but I could send it to them and have them deliver the gift themselves! That takes care of your responsibility for anything related to the delivery.
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