Navigating the options for small business shipping can be a nightmare. There are plenty of tips and tricks to help keep things simple and get the cheapest shipping rates for you company. Don’t go to the post office without reading these tips for small business shipping first. Whether you sell on Ebay, Etsy, Amazon or your own website, save money by comparing shipping rates and getting organized before you go to the post office.
Small Business Shipping
What’s everybody’s least favorite part of selling their crafts and handmade items and running an online shop?
Besides dealing with the occasional unhappy customer, I would have to guess it’s standing in line at the post office or UPS store. Long lines, grumpy people, no bueno. Have no fear. I can help. I have over 7 years experience in the shipping industry. Here are my credentials:
I worked at a Mailboxes Etc. type-of-business for 2.5 years. I helped customers’ ship packages all around the world. I also did pick and pack and drop shipping for private companies.
I was also employed by the world’s largest parcel delivery service that I will only refer to as “Big Brown” for 3.5 years, two of those years was as a supervisor making sure all the daily tasks by drivers and clerks were completed and I dealt with customer issues over the phone.
During this time I also ran my Crafty Little Gnome Jewelry business shipping my jewelry to customers worldwide.
So yeah, when it comes to shipping- I know my stuff. Whether you are just shipping out a few items sold on EBay here and there or are running your own small business with drop shipping, let me fill you in on my best hacks to survive the lowest level of hell known as the post office. Don’t ship anything until you check out my best shipping hacks.
Who has the cheapest shipping rates?
FedEx, UPS? USPS? Carrier Pigeon?
If you’ve shipped with any of the major couriers and had problems you may be tempted to start training your own carrier pigeons or pack up a mule and make the trek yourself.
I typically use USPS for small packages and letters. UPS and FedEx for boxes larger than the USPS large flat rate box. You can compare all the prices online before you purchase the shipping label.
The cheapest and fastest is usually USPS Flat Rate Boxes.This is what I recommend for small business shipping.
Be prepared for the Christmas rush
Even if your business is slow all year long, you are pretty much guaranteed to make some sales during the holiday season. There’s a good change you will be headed to the post office, just like everybody else!
Know your dates. If you are shipping internationally you need to ship early in the season to make sure your packages get delivered on time for Christmas. In general, I would make sure international orders are shipped by December 1st to alleviate all worries.
For US orders I would ship by December 14th to ensure timely delivery. You can stretch these dates, I mean, technically you can ship something on Dec 22 priority mail and have it delivered on Dec 24th but you will being playing it risky. What if there is another giant ice storm this year? Parcel delivery companies don’t guarantee delivery for inclement weather. They can’t control the weather.
By being organized and planning your small business shipping ahead you will alleviate so much stress and your mail carrier will thank you.
Other major holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day may have higher than normal package volume so make sure you don’t leave shipping until the last minute.
Print your labels at home
You do not have to stand for an hour in line at the post office, I repeat, you do not have to stand in line for an hour at the post office. Print your postage at home!
My mom and dad always used make fun of me because I buy everything online and print my postage from my computer. One day a couple of winters ago they were visiting me and we all went out for lunch. I told them I needed to pop in to the post office on the way home to drop off a package. They were expecting me to be in the post office for a long time waiting to ship but instead I popped in and out in about 30 seconds. I already had my label printed and just had to toss it into the drop box.
They didn’t make fun of me anymore after that.
It also feels good to walk into a crowded post office and breeze past the long line of people waiting to ship, place your package on the "ready to go" counter and saunter off as the rest of the customers stand there wanting to rip their hair out, shooting daggers out of their eyes into your back because you didn’t have to wait in that line.
Print your postage online at USPS.com or the UPS and FedEx websites. You might have to sign up for an account but it’s usually free. These companies have lots of tools for small business shipping. I use Stamps.com and have used Endicia.com in the past. They work well for small business shipping as well. You don’t need a fancy label printer either. Print off your label, tape it on and you are good to go.
I sell a lot through Etsy and Amazon and they now have the option to buy shipping labels through their website. I almost exclusively use this service (it’s actually cheaper than the in-store USPS price)
Avoid damage. Pack like a pro
Make sure your item is packaged properly to avoid damage. The courier will only take responsibility if they damage it by say, running it over with a truck. If the item is damaged by normal shipping procedures it is your problem. When packages get delivered they go through conveyor belts, get stacked on top of one another and shift in moving vehicles. Realistically, it needs to be packaged well enough that it can survive a fall from the top shelf of the truck onto the ground. When in doubt, over pack.
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Skip the line. Schedule pick up, go after hours, and hit the drive through
My local post office has an area that is open after hours. You can drop packages off in the mail drop and they have a kiosk to print labels or stamps. It’s super handy. If you hate crowds as much as I do then find one of these post offices and go in the evening when it’s quiet. Most post offices also have a drive through mailbox. I almost exclusively use this as it is a huge hassle to get my daughter out of the car and into the post office with me.
If you are shipping UPS or FedEx you can schedule a pick up (FYI it will cost you a couple bucks) and if you ship out large quantities every day you can schedule a daily pick up.
The cost will depend on how many packages you have to go out and the size. Set up an account online with one of these couriers for more details. Normally you print the labels and have the boxes ready to go and the delivery driver will roll up at about the same time every day to pick them up.
Know the restrictions for small business shipping and personal shipping
If shipping domestically or internationally you need to make sure that you are not sending anything illegal through the mail. For example, USPS will not ship alcohol, cigarettes and a ton of other stuff. FedEx and UPS also have restrictions about a lot of things too. In general, no live animals, firearms or hazardous chemicals unless you have the proper paperwork filled out. (If you are trying to send any of these weird, prohibited items in the mail let me know where the final destination is because there is obviously a party going on over there).
Every country has items that may be prohibited. Make sure you do some research and make sure you aren’t accidentally breaking the law by sending your cousin in Yemen some chocolate.
Get a tracking number and insurance
Always get a tracking number. It’s usually included unless you are sending something with just stamps. If you are sending something valuable definitely make sure you get a signature required, especially if it’s something you are selling online. Some people are mean scammers and will claim they never received your package. Protect yourself as a seller and pay that little bit extra for a signature. Also make sure you purchase insurance if the items you are sending are valuable.
Buy your supplies in bulk
If you sell online and plan to ship a lot of merchandise this year do yourself a favor and order boxes and envelopes in bulk from a place like Uline and save yourself a bit of money. If you are buying your shipping supplies at the craft store you are paying too much.
Don’t forget, small business shipping fees can be expensive
Shipper beware. When I worked as a shipping clerk there were many, many times that customers would come in to ship something that they sold online and when I calculated the shipping costs they would be furious that a pair of shoes (or whatever widget they sold on EBay) for $12 cost them $20 to ship. They would be losing money when they had to ship it off.
These days’ people are used to getting free shipping when they order things online. They are also used to express shipping thanks to Amazon Prime. These larger companies are able to absorb some of the shipping costs and they build the cost of shipping into the product price. If you sell online you should take this into consideration.
Every company that offers free shipping has added the cost of shipping into their merchandise sale price. You should do this too and don’t feel bad about it- It’s just the way it works. Please, please don’t be that guy who causes a scene at the post office because you weren’t expecting your package to cost a fortune to ship.
Okay, did I miss anything? Let me know your best small business shipping hacks in the comments!
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