12 Things I’ve learned from shipping over 10,000 orders

Waiting in line at the post office is the worst. Stop waiting in line at a post office if you can. 

I hate waiting in line at the post office so much. Years ago I remember waiting in so many lines with a newborn and a toddler. Talk about torture. But there is a better way my friends (at least for most of you living in the US)

Print your own shipping labels from home. Yes, you can! Currently, I sell on Etsy and my own website (on Shopify, which I highly recommend if you’re looking to build your own e-commerce website) which allows you to print a label with a few clicks of a button. Most other bigger online sites will allow you to print it as well such as eBay or Amazon.

If you are not selling on one of these platforms you can print labels through PayPal using this link. Then just fill out the info and you’re good to go. You do need to have a PayPal account to do this, though.

To print your own labels at home you just need a postage scale, half sheet label paper, and a PayPal account. Easy peasy.

Then all you need to do is drop it off at any post office, leave it in your own mailbox or schedule a USPS mail pickup (free!)

Remember to include handling in your shipping price. A lot of people forget to add packaging like bubble wrap and boxes into the shipping price. This stuff ain’t free! And maybe you don’t want to have high shipping prices so that needs to be factored into your items price somewhere.

 

 

Always underpromise and over deliver.

This is my mantra when working with customers.  If you know at minimum it will take you 3 days to get the item made and in the mail don’t say your shipping time is 3-5 days. Because when customers see that 3-5 number they are probably thinking and almost expecting it is closer to the 3 (people always want things fast). It is better to say 5-7 days or even longer just to give yourself some wiggle room in case something comes up.

It is better to say 5-7 days or even longer just to give yourself some wiggle room in case something comes up. My own lead time is 1-2 weeks because I have 3 kids and a pretty busy life so I just need that buffer even though it really only takes max 5-7 days on most items. Some items I can actually get out in a day or so. I can’t tell you how many people contact me and let me know how fast it arrived. This happens because I underpromised (longer timeline) and over delivered (shipped it in a couple of days)

 

Make sure your shipping times are EVERYWHERE. 

We are living in an Amazon Prime world where many people purchasing online expect fast delivery not really understanding that handmade takes time and not everything is ready to ship. In my Etsy shop I have my shipping times in each listing, in my shop announcements, in my policies, in the outgoing message people get after they order to help the understand the timeline and when to expect their order to arrive.

 

Shipping two-day priority does not guarantee it will get there in two days! 
Be realistic about shipping times. And never guarantee things are going to get there by a certain date because after it leaves your hands it is all out of your control. USPS could go on strike, or the whole state of Minnesota could be covered in 10 feet of snow and no one can get in or out. Or things just take longer than expected. Make sure as you’re communicating you never guarantee anything as far as delivery times goes and let them know that the post office will do their best to get it there as fast as possible.

 

Ink is expensive!

Seriously it’s crazy how much it costs. Ounce for ounce it is more expensive than champagne or Chanel No5.

To combat this steep price refill them yourself. That’s right you can refill them yourself.

When I was in college I remember needing to get my ink refilled and in the bookstore, they had a little kiosk where you could drop it off to get refilled. When I asked how long it would take he said only a few minutes and since I had nowhere else to go I watched and it looked so easy! He used a syringe and was able to just fill it in a matter of minutes.

Fast forward as I began my business I quickly saw how much ink was costing me and I thought back to that guy at the kiosk being able to refill it in minutes. I hopped online and began researching and found out you can buy refillable ink cartridges for just about any printer. (you can find some here, and here’s an idea of what a kit would look like with syringes and ink) . Then go to youtube and start looking up about refilling ink cartridges for your printers model number. Most of the popular ones are on there.

Now it was a bit frustrating at first trying to get it all figured out after watching some tutorials but once I did I have refilled mine dozens and dozens of times and over the course of 8 years with several printers. Shipping out that many orders I have saved thousands, yes thousands on ink.

Oh and remember if you’re doing it I highly recommend using medical gloves to keep the ink off your hands which it always does.

Disclaimer: refillable ink cartridges, especially after they’ve been used a lot (which mine have) aren’t the best quality but they get the job done in printing papers and shipping labels which is all I need. 

Another alternative to the high price of ink is buying a laser printer which has more expensive toner cartridges but you get a LOT more pages printed on it. I have a number of seller friends who have them and LOVE them. I still have lots of ink left for my current one and it’s still going but once it bites the dust I’m switching to laser.

Or you can get a DYMO thermal label printer which I hear is amazing! I actually have one but I am finishing using up all my half sheet label paper.

 

 

Don’t let customers see the actual cost of shipping.

I’ve found showing the price only leads to frustrated customers because say they paid $3.99 shipping for a necklace but then when the time comes to get it in the mail it only cost $2.50 they’re going to feel shortchanged. This is especially true as the shipping prices are higher and the difference is bigger. What they don’t see and always forget to take into account is that price includes all the packaging as well as the time it takes to get it all packaged up. Add in label paper. And ink for the printer. Then there is

What they don’t see and always forget to take into account is that price includes all the packaging as well as the time it takes to get it all packaged up. Add in label paper. And ink for the printer. Then there is gas if you have to take it to the post office…. It’s best to just hide it if you can which when your printing labels yourself you are almost always able to.

 

It’s important to treat your mailmen and women right.

They do a lot! I ship all of my packages from my home studio and do regular porch pickups. My mail man goes above and beyond every day. He has been with me through a couple pregnancies and is so kind to bring my mail right to my doorstep instead of leaving it the mailbox even if he’s not picking anything up.

So say thank you often, give them a gift (legal limit is $20) or even call their supervisor to let them know that they are doing a great job. It is a kind thing to do but also when you’re good to them, they’re good to you and you’ll probably need some of that kindness during a busy holiday season or unexpected delivery.

 

Be considerate to your post office and postal workers.

If you have a large number of packages, especially big ones, please call your post office manager and ask to talk to them about what can be arranged. Let them know what you are planning on shipping especially during the busy season. Please don’t surprise a post office with a van jam packed with packages, even if they are labeled and ready to ship. They might not have the manpower right then to sort through it. So give them a heads up.

True story: Last year I had to wait in line at the post office (which I almost never do and hate) and a lady ahead of me had a big armful of what looked like books in manila envelopes. When she got to the front of the line to drop them off said she had some more in the vehicle and she’d be back. Well. Turns out her entire station wagon was full of them. Full. It took the only 2 workers on hand and almost a half hour to take care of it. All the while a line of about 15 very frustrated people had formed. Please don’t be that person.

I’ve had friends who have had so much inventory with large packages going out during the busy seasons that trucks (that’s right trucks) were sent to their house to pick it all up. So if you know that this might be you, give them a heads up, they will appreciate it.

 

Order USPS boxes online and remember to stock up before the holidays.

Sometimes shipping USPS flat rate is cheaper than other packaging (sometimes not so double check) but one of the great things about shipping USPS priority or express is they give you the boxes free. Free! You can order them here or find them in just about any nearby post office. If you have busy holiday seasons remember to stock up because sometimes they run out. Sometimes around November some sizes completely run out so get it while you can!

 

If you ship fragile items use stickers 

It might be a glass mug or a ceramic vase but if you’re shipping something breakable I suggest using a ‘fragile’ or ‘glass’ sticker or stamp somewhere visible so that it easily seen as they are being transported. It’s not always a surefire way to prevent damage but it doesn’t hurt!

 

 

 

If you are able to have a separate shipping area (or at least a box with all your shipping supplies)

This helps you to be much more effective with your time. Batch what you do. Maybe for two days you make your items then on day three it’s packing day and you can quickly pack up all your items because all your shipping is ready to go. Also as you grow having a separate shipping area allows you to have someone who helps you come in and work in that area. Which leads me to:

 

Packaging and shipping is the easiest thing to outsource

Not everyone can do what you do and make what you make. But one thing that most people can do is package up a box or a mailer. So when you feel time getting tight and you are stretch to your limits and need some help with something consider having someone help out with packaging. I know packing might not seem like a big task but when you combine all that time getting everything ready to ship it adds up and as a small business owner the one thing you probably don’t have a lot of is time.

This was one of the first thing I had someone else do less than a year ago and I love it. I’ve also trained my sister and husband as backup packers so they can help when things get busy and then I can focus on the making. You could have a spouse or even an older child do the packaging.

 

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