I have wanted to post a blog on this topic for a long time because it has been the source of so much frustration for me as an Etsy seller. I’ll just say that I’ve learned everything about shipping the hard way.
But I did benefit from several forum posts and online articles about shipping, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned here for the benefit of anyone else who needs it.
First, I should say that I’m still learning and I don’t claim to be an expert on this. And second, I am only giving tips on using the US Postal Service. I can’t speak to the experience of someone using UPS or FedEx. But I would LOVE to hear from others on your experiences, whether you are using USPS or not.
Since my business tagline is ‘recycled and rescued’ I try to use recycled packing materials whenever possible. This also means that I spend almost nothing on boxes and stuffing. Whenever I order candlemaking or other supplies I toss the boxes in the basement and save all the peanuts or bubble wrap. Same for anything I buy from other Etsy sellers, which I do more than I should. Darn PayPal account!
What I do spend money on is good packing tape and the occasional roll of bubble wrap.
I discovered from some items that broke in transit that glass must be wrapped very well AND separated from anything else it could clank against with cardboard. Sometimes I create my own dividers with cut up pieces of boxes. Then I fill the remaining space with packing peanuts. This has been the only formula that works for me.
If you don’t have peanuts you can try running newspaper or junk paper through a paper shredder to get good packing material. Sometimes I just use wadded up newspaper, too. We have a lot of that around here.
Unless you are using all priority mail flat rate boxes, you will need to get a digital scale to weigh items. You should actually weigh your items prior to listing them to get a rough idea of how much shipping will cost. I’ll get into it more later, but weight is crucial to pricing when you ship.
I have stolen the scale from our kitchen, but I hope to get a bigger scale at some point. The post office sells official scales, too. I discovered that mine weighs things a teensy bit heavier than the post office, but that works out well for me since I never underestimate weight. You definitely don’t want to send a package and then have it come up postage due because you weighed it wrong.
For most packages, if you have your own scale you can actually weigh them, pay for them online, print out stickers and have your mail person pick them up at your house (usually the following day). If you’re using PayPal, you can do this through their site and have the money deducted straight from your PayPal account. Very convenient, but I’ve found this only works for certain types of postage and flat rate boxes.
Labels and decoration
One of the best ways to make your product memorable is to send a pretty package with a personal touch. When you print your own shipping labels, sometimes you have less room for embellishment. But you can still tuck something nice inside. I usually print out a color copy of the Etsy receipt and fold that up with with a business card.
My designer friend had these tent cards made with the biz card on the outside and room to write a message inside. They fit inside their own tiny kraft envelopes.
She also designed full address, return address, and fragile labels for the outside of boxes. Since I’m usually reusing a box, these labels pretty them up a little.
If I have a really dingy box, I will wrap it in another layer of kraft paper. I’ve thought about doing that for every one, but that’s a lot of wrapping!
Get yourself a package of 100 sheets of sticker paper to print out all of these labels. I am also looking into getting a laser printer because the quality of my inkjet one is just not that great.
I’ve seen people draw on the outside of packages or wrap their business card and some coupons with cute ribbon. Tucking in an extra little gift like a votive or bar of soap is nice, too.
If you plan to use priority mail (a faster but more expensive option) for some or all of your shipping, you can order free boxes from the post office. They will deliver them to your house in a few days. I have ordered a few of these just in case I don’t have the right size box already, or if I want to use a flat rate box.
Here’s the complicated part, and why you need to know how much your item weighs before you list it. Shipping costs are just all over the place depending on weight and how far away you’re shipping the package.
To use First-Class mail, your item must weigh less than 13 ounces. But the maximum price for that is just over $3 – very affordable. For items over 13 ounces (which is just about everything in my shop) your options are Parcel Post or Priority Mail. Express is also an option but I can’t imagine using that for Etsy because it’s crazy expensive.
Parcel Post starts at $4.90 and is based on weight and distance. Use the USPS web site to see the chart. I use their charts constantly to check prices. For example, if your item weighs no more than 4 pounds, the price could be anything from $6.05 to $11.57 depending on what zone you’re mailing it to. Yeah. That’s a big difference. If I send a package to Chicago it costs way less than if I send one to New York.
So how do you price shipping for an item like that? It’s really up to you. You can price it at $11.50 so that no matter what you won’t lose money. With that option you could always refund the difference if it ends up costing $6.05. Or you could price it somewhere in the middle and take a little hit if it turns out the person lives far away. I tend not to want to scare people away with a larger shipping cost if I don’t have to.
I actually don’t use Parcel Post often because the mailing times are longer and the post office workers have told me that packages are not treated as gently. If I’m shipping a breakable item, which I often am, I use Priority Mail.
Priority mail gives you two options: regular or flat rate boxes. In a perfect world, a flat rate box would work for everything and you would never have to worry about calculating shipping costs. But in my experience, the flat rate boxes don’t hold much and are pretty expensive. I only use them if I have a very heavy item that could be expensive to ship. Or, if someone orders multiple items and I want to put them all in one box for a lower price.
Usually I put the item in a box and weigh it (not all the way wrapped, just plain to get a rough idea) and go to the priority mail price chart to see how much it might cost to mail. If it’s less than 13 ounces, I go to the first-class mail chart. That’s how I determine the shipping cost.
For international shipping, the rules are a bit different. First-class international goes up to a package of four pounds. Again, it’s zone-based. So I would definitely recommend looking up separate prices for Canada, Mexico, and Europe for your shipping profile if you’re offering international options.
If your package weighs more than four pounds, you have to use Priority mail international and the price goes waaaay up. You also have to fill out a longer customs form. I recently repacked an order that was bound for Canada because it was 4 pounds 6 ounces, and I needed it to be under 4. But that’s risky when your item is breakable.
One option is to just make a note on your welcome message that asks people to convo you to inquire about international shipping prices. That way, you can look up the price specific to their location, then add that to the listing and they can go back and purchase the item.
Discounts and pickups
If you buy your postage online though Click-n-Ship, you will usually get a discount from the regular price, and free delivery confirmation. This also saves you the hassle of waiting in line at the post office (and there is always a line).
But, if your package is over a certain size, you still have to take it to the post office and have a person look it over. Once I had the person tell me I did not put enough postage on it (even though it was a flat rate box and there was only one option) because she didn’t know about the online discounts.
So, if I’m not in too big of a hurry, I prefer just to schedule a pickup at my house. I leave the package at the front door and they come get it. If you don’t want to leave a package sitting there a long time and risk it being stolen you can arrange an exact time.
-Pack super carefully and don’t let any breakables clank into each other.
-Pretty up your package and enclose a personal note.
-Weigh your item before listing it to get a better idea of what it will cost.
-Get free boxes from the post office.
-Print your own labels and schedule a pickup to avoid standing in line (and get the online discount).
-Know that it takes a while to get the hang of all this.