Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tips of the Trade #7: 5 Things I've Learned about Shipping on Etsy

Vintage Playskool Postal Station Toy $23 by AtticTrunk on ArtFire

When I started my Etsy Shop a few years back, trying to figure out shipping was a huge puzzle. I mean, how was I supposed to know how much it would cost to send a poster to Timbuktu? And would it cost more or less to send the same poster to London? It gave me a headache just trying to wrap my mind around the whole thing. But I just decided to jump in and see what would happen. Here's what I did and what I've learned so far:

1. Start simple. A great way to start out is to use the free Priority Mail boxes and triangle mailers from the USPS. This will get you up and running very quickly, and at virtually no cost to you. You can order the free boxes and supplies and have them delivered right to your door for free, people. The rates are easy to determine on the USPS website. Shipping using Priority Mail is more expensive (especially internationally) but it is a great way to get started. To determine the rate I should plug in to my etsy shop for international shipping, I looked at the International Priority Mail rates for Great Britain, Canada and Europe and just came up with an average. Not an exact science, I know - but it is how I got started and it worked fine.

2. When your are ready, streamline. One day while standing in line at our crazy post office with a tired and cranky assistant (my 3 year old) the woman behind me mentioned buying postage online. She was a former ebay seller and touted how much easier it was to ship this way. I knew I could be saving my US customers a lot of money by shipping via First Class mail, so I made the leap. I bought a postage scale, stay flat mailers, a box of 50 mailing tubes, a huge box of bubble mailers, and started printing and purchasing First Class postage through my PayPal account. Now I simply drop my bubble mailers and stay flats into the drive-through mail box at my local post office, and leave the large tubes on the counter inside. It is so worth it. After I had all of my shipping supplies I packaged up each one of my items and noted the weight of the package (if you do this don't forget to include any extras you normally send with these items, business cards, notes to the customer, freebies - these all add up). Then I used the shipping calculator on the USPS website to determine shipping rates for each item and applied those to my Etsy shop. Don't forget that you are really charging for shipping and handling (the time it takes to package orders, write invoices and notes to your customers).

3. Fix Up Your International Shipping. My new method of shipping via First Class Mail within the US did not address the headache of international shipping. After more research, I found a great forum on Etsy that talked about saving money on international shipping. Now I ship using First Class International Mail and insure it via a third party, like U-Pic. I recently shipped a package to Great Britian via First Class International Mail for about $10. It would have cost $23 via Priority Mail. Insurance via U-Pic was only about $1.50. As it is still nearly impossible to figure out shipping to every single international country, I know after a year or two of experience that most of my international orders come from Australia, Great Britain and Europe. I still look at the shipping rates to those countries and average them. Maybe someday I will sell a print to someone in Timbuktu - that would be pretty cool.

4. Weigh and Weigh again. Recently I shipped an envelope that weighed 7 ounces by my postage scale. Just two days later it reappeared in my mailbox for insufficient postage and a note from the USPS saying it weighed 7.1 ounces. UGH. My scale still said 7 ounces. When you buy postage via PayPal you can only plug in rounded numbers (7 ounces, or 8 ounces for example). So now I add one whole ounce to each package. It costs about .20 more, but is so much better than having a package returned to you.

5. Give your customers the option to upgrade to quicker shipping.
If you make the switch to money saving First Class shipping, know that it may mean slower delivery times, especially internationally. Let your customers know this up front, and give them the option for Priority Mail shipping by asking them to contact you for a quote. Using your scale and the USPS postage calculator you should be able to give them a spot-on price adjustment. I'm finding that most orders I ship within the US via First Class mail have been arriving to their destination just as quickly as Priority Mail with the exception of the packages I sent at Christmas. Internationally, I find that most customers would rather pay $12 for shipping over $25, and are willing to wait it out.

Shipping Materials:
Here is a list of my favorite shipping material shops. Uline has everything you'd need but you have to really watch their shipping rates. I've found ebay to be a great resource for purchasing smaller quantities of supplies, and many sellers include free shipping.
Stay Flat Mailers: UPackNShip. A great Ebay seller who includes free shipping on most of her items
Bubble Mailers: Uline
Mailing Tubes: Uline
Pay Pal Shipping Labels: esupplystore Another Ebay seller with free shipping!
Postage Scale: I bought mine from Ebay like these


Birger Jansen said...

Good tips! I used to run a small online poker-chips shop with some friends and really enjoyed figuring out the optimal shipping process. Once we had this figured out everything went very easy and saved us lots of time and money.

We also learned that we always had to check what we shipped for defects (we got all our goods from China...). Getting complaints or having to ship an item again because it was d.o.a. would turn a profit into a loss.

Miss J said...

Thanks for the comment Birger! Figuring stuff out like this is one the part of running a business I really like. I never knew you ran a poker-chip shop! That's awesome.