Let's talk shipping today! I personally love shipping orders all over the world and often get questions from friends or family about how to ship, so I thought I would share some of the things I've learned over the years.
Years ago, back when we still had super-slow dial up Internet service, I started selling on eBay to make some extra income. I taught myself and followed the on screen prompts to list and sell my items. I would then print my shipping label from my home computer and ship out the package the next day. Fast forward a few years and I started an etsy shop and now I ship on a daily or weekly basis. Do not let shipping scare you into not starting your online business!
I try very hard to ship all my packages in a prompt fashion and my sweet customers often comment about my fast shipping, when leaving shop reviews. If the item is ready to ship, it usually ships the same or next business day. I ship Monday-Friday and occasionally on Saturdays (if I'm home and/or its a rush order). Most of the time, we ship from home, although sometimes I do drop off my packages at the post office.
I always print and purchase my labels online.
- commercial base pricing online is a little less than the post office counter price. Pennies and dollars add up folks!
- my customers automatically get a notification with tracking info emailed to them.
- for priority mail packages, I get double the amount of insurance online ($100 opposed to $50 for free) opposed to the post office.
- additional insurance can be purchased
- signature confirmation can be added for a fee (for PayPal purchases over a certain price, signature confirmation is one way a seller can protect themselves from charge backs or non-delivery claims. Refer to your account for details.)
A little pet peeve to add in here - it aggravates me to get a shipping notification and then the package is not handed over to the shipping service for a few days. What this means is someone purchased the label and marked it shipped that day, but didn't actually get it mailed off. Don't do that... just don't! With etsy shipping labels, you can schedule the post for today, tomorrow, or the third day. So if I am actually printing labels on a Sunday to mail on Monday, I will clicked that Monday is the day I'm shipping, not Sunday. Make sense? The customer will not receive shipping notification till Monday and I will hand it over to the post office that day.
Boxes and shipping supplies
My shipping assistant occasionally checks out the boxes and sometimes claims one for her new bed! She particularly likes to check out all incoming boxes and would never be happy if we purchased her a store bought bed and expected her to sleep in one place!
I get my boxes and shipping supplies from a variety of places.
- Free boxes from USPS.com - These are marked for priority or express delivery. There is more size options available online, than at the post office. I personally do not use the flat rate boxes or regional rate boxes. My experience is that overall, I can ship more economically by avoiding those two options. My favorite sizes from the USPS are 12x12x8, 15x12x3, and 7x7x6.
- WalMart - I get some standard brown boxes locally in assorted sizes such as 6x6x6, 12x12x10, 14x14x14, 16x16x15, and 18x18x18. These work good for shipping items First Class Mail (under 16 ounces online), Parcel Select Ground, and can be used for larger items that will not fit in the USPS provided boxes.
- Local Shipping Store - for me, this is in Longview (about 30 miles away from home.) I stock up on supplies when I am in Longview on other business, so I never make a trip just for a box. I get the large wreath boxes there, along with packing peanuts and any other unique boxes I need. The wreath boxes I use are 24x24x12 (which can be cut down- more on that later.) I previously ordered the big boxes from Uline in bundles of 10, along with packing peanuts. The boxes were cheaper there, but shipping a large bundle of boxes in not cheap, so they wound up costing me $7-12 a piece. The local store buys in bulk and I can buy single boxes at a more affordable rate. Same goes for peanuts - they are light weight, although they are bulky on a UPS truck, so they cost a lot to ship. The local store has a bigger bag for less! You can check your local stores or always order online at Uline.
- For envelopes, I can get them in small quantities at Walmart, although I've recently been ordering on eBay or Amazon and getting a better quantity price. My preferred sizes are 9x6, or 15x10. I'm currently liking the poly bubble mailers for some added protection and water proof. I need to reorder these myself, as I'm getting very low.
- I only use the EZ Start Duck brand tape. Strong, sturdy, and has never let me down. I tape three stripes on the bottom and top of the box, where the flaps meet and one over each end, so that all edges are covered. Some boxes or envelope are self sealing, although I generally add one reinforcement piece over them.
- Tissue paper - I get this at a variety of different places. Before Christmas, I was in SAMs Club and saw a package of 400 sheets for less than $10 (I think it was closer to $5, but I can't remember for sure.) After Christmas sales are a good place to stock up as well. I've also purchased or been given large boxes of old sewing patterns. You would be surprised by how many patterns have never been cut up and have big sheets of tissue paper in them! One thing I strongly encourage is to NOT use colored tissue paper! I used to, but after some pretty purple tissue rubbed off on some white fabric flowers and I had to replace them, I decided no more colored paper!
- This my friends, is well worth the money and will save you tremendously over the long run! Get yourself a box sizer. Let's talk about shipping wreaths here. I get the 24x24x12 inch box. I try my hardest to keep my wreaths under 6 inches deep, because if that box is 24x24x8 or bigger, its going to cost you a whole lot more to ship it. At that size, it is the balloon rate and cost goes way up, so you cut that box down to save on shipping. The customer pays shipping (unless you offer it for free, but we know that really just comes out of the cost of the item and nothing really ships for free,). If I estimate the size and weight as one figure and its actually larger, then the extra comes out of my pocket. Trust me, it occasionally happens. One time, it cost me almost $40 to ship a wreath and I had only charged $15. I had specified that I would ship Priority Mail and the customer lived in the upper west coast region and Priority was so expensive. I was accustom to that size shipping for $7-15 to most locations. Live and learn, although the shipping calculator on etsy surely helps now, if I put in the correct sizes ahead of time!
- A digital postal scale. This is the scale I use for weighing all my packages. For First Class Mail, the price is figured by ounces. For all other classes of mail, it is by the pound. For example: a package weighing 2 pounds 1 ounce ships for the same price as a package weighing 2 pounds 15 ounces. That would be considered the 3 pound category.
- A couple of other random supplies to have on hand - zip ties, wire, or pipe cleaners and an ice pick. You can wire/tie your wreath in the box to keep it from moving around and reduce the need for packing supplies. For most wreaths, I will use two wires, zip ties, or pipe cleaners to tie the wreath to the bottom of the box. I use an old ice pick to poke a hole on each side of the wreath and run my wire under the box and tie inside the box. Make sure you run a couple of pieces of tape over the exposed wire on the bottom of the box. (Think of how all the toys are tied into a box, when you are opening them up at Christmas!) Once I learned this tip, it certainly cut back my packing peanut use and made it much easier to ship wreaths.
- Occasionally we get the air filled bubbles or bubble wrap on incoming shipments and my family saves them out of theirs. We will reuse them, only if they are clean and in good condition. I occasionally buy bubble wrap, if I know I have some fragile items that will need extra protection while shipping. I seldom reuse boxes, as I prefer my items to be presented in new, sturdy, and clean boxes.
You've got your supplies and your item has sold, now what?
I sell predominately on Etsy, although I can (and have) purchased shipping labels through PayPal (if the customer paid with Paypal) or on USPS.com.
- On etsy, I can purchase First Class Mail Postage for items less than one pound. I believe at the post office, this option is only up to 13 ounces. It can not be purchased through USPS.com. This is great for most clothing, hair bows, and tumbler wraps in my shop. Average is 2-5 business days. First Class International is good up to 4 pounds and I believe, with box measuring less than 12 inches.
- Priority Mail is 2-3 business days to most locations. I ship with this option the most. As mentioned earlier, through Etsy shipping labels, I get $100 worth of insurance instead of $50 and I can get some free boxes. For items shipping in the general area and nearby states, I find that priority mail can often ship for the same price or within pennies of the Ground (standard) shipping price and I get the added insurance and sometimes the box. It always pays to compare prices, as it will surprise (and puzzle) you sometimes. I will often upgrade the shipping to priority, even if ground was selected. Everyone likes getting their package quickly.
- USPS Ground or Parcel Select Ground is 2 to 9 business day expected delivery and best for large boxes that are going the distance, such as big wreath boxes or custom wedding orders over 12 inch box size. I must use my own box, insurance is extra, although it is more affordable, especially when going west or east coast directions from here in Texas. Ground shipping can not be purchased directly through USPS.com and it seems to change names from time to time, as it was formally Parcel Post.
- Priority Mail Express - while most people assume this is overnight delivery, it is not guaranteed and the post office says 1 to 2 day delivery time and it cost much more. In a pinch, this method has been used a few times for rush orders, at the customers request.
If you need a shipping estimate, you can use the customer's zip code and figure the shipping through the USPS app or website. I personally use the app on my phone, all the time.
On the form above, I have some preset box sizes and info, so all I have to do is add the actual weight and it figures the cost of shipping immediately. The names and addresses are pre-filled in as well. You can compare prices with the drop down menu for the different classes of mail. Click "confirm and buy" and you are ready to download and print your label. As a home-based, small business, I print all my labels on white printer paper. I know that you can get special adhesive label paper or printers, but lets be honest, I don't have room for another gadget to set on the desk or the additional cost of paper. I print my label, cut it out and tape it on with the same tape I use to seal my boxes. Do not tape over the bar code though! That helps the post office scan it and track it better. I tape all edges and a swipe through the middle to protect names and addresses from getting smudged or messed up.
I also print a receipt for the customer and leave a hand written thank you note and a business card inside the package. I read a tip one time that said if the outside of the box or shipping label was ever damaged, a receipt with contact info inside would allow someone to get in contact with you or the customer, so the package could get where its going. I don't know if its ever saved one of my packages, but it can't hurt and my receipts have ways to connect with me on social media, etc. and they can remember where an item came from.
If shipping Internationally, the custom forms are usually prefilled and you just have to sign and date them and use a special sleeve (clear envelope, so the form can be removed) on the front of the box. Order at USPS online or pick up some at your post office. Not hard on etsy, although through PayPal, I had to fill out more of the forms and it took a few minutes longer.
Packaged up, now its time to SHIP the goods to the customer!
I love, love, love my rural route mail lady! She has been a blessing to this business and I can't sing her praises enough. She maintains the thought that the rural carriers are to be able to do anything that you would go to the post office for. We live about 12 miles from the post office, so I don't need the added time or expense of going to the post office daily. You can schedule a pick up, although Sharon tells me just to put a note in the box, leave the flag up and open the gate. She pulls in the gate, honks and I run out to meet her with packages. She scans the package into the system as we chit chat a second and then the packages are in route.
If I have business in town or won't be home when she comes, I take my prepaid packages and drop off at the post office.
Now this may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't. It's second nature to me now and I much prefer shipping items opposed to selling on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace and having to meet strangers.
- Shipping is safer than meeting strangers somewhere and we do not allow customers to come to our home.
- It's more time efficient as I can still be working instead of driving.
- It allows me more flexibility and convenience. If I have local events I am working on or we have farm work to attend to that takes me away from home, I can package my orders late at night or early mornings and have them ready to go out in the mail, instead of having to meet at a particular time. It allows me to serve my customers worldwide and still be available for some local work.
- I regularly see the complaints on the Facebook garage sale sites that customers didn't show up or were late and never let the seller know. I do not want to deal with that. Plus, I feel as if I have quality, handmade items I am selling and to me the garage sale sites are for selling discounted or used items.
- Many times, it's more cost effective than driving to meet someone. Some items ship for as little as $3 and I can't drive to town for that price. I've had others want to drive 3-5 hours to meet to pick up a single bouquet. Trust me, the shipping price will be cheaper than the gasoline for that trip.
- We can offer our products to customers all over the world, creating a larger marketplace. No matter the size of your town or your friends list, you can deliver to customers almost anywhere. That, my friends, is amazing!
On occasion, I will meet friends in town or deliver locally. It has to be someone I know and trust. Also, I try to schedule my time where this coincides with other business I have going on, whether it be going to the bank, grocery shopping, going to the feed store, etc, because the bottom line is that for self-employed small business, we must be wise and frugal with our time and efforts, if we are to be profitable. We must control our business, instead of letting it control us.
In all my years of online selling, I've only had to file an insurance claim twice for damages. One of those was a box marked FRAGILE all over it and it looked like it literally got run over by a truck. Seems like that ask for the box to get damaged and I don't mark anything fragile anymore! Only one package went missing and was never found. Fortunately, we had time to work with the customer and make new items for her wedding, at a reduced cost. The only times I've had trouble with orders is when a customer didn't provide the correct address. Even with a forwarding address on file, there have been a couple of occasions were it didn't get properly forwarded, such as the case with the one missing package. It was left at the old address and the new tenants said they left it out for the mail to pick up, since it wasn't theirs, and it was never seen again. Through online tracking, the other customer noticed the package was not forwarded correctly and we caught it in time. Inquire or report any issues immediately! A few times a package seemed to sit for a few days and after inquiring, it seemed to get moving again.
The USPS has a relatively new program called "Informed Delivery." I get a daily email or you can check through the USPS app or website and see all of the packages or letters that will be delivered to you that day. It has been beneficial to me and you can report if something wasn't delivered. You can also sign up for text messages to get alerts with shipping details.
I hope this information can be helpful to you and you will fill confident to start shipping your packages out!
*For your convenience, this post does contain affiliate links to purchase some shipping supplies. I make a few cents, at no additional cost to you, if you purchase through my link. These are all items that I use for my shipping business.