Monday, July 25, 2011

School of Hard Knocks - Shipping & Handling

There's a lot to be learned in the scary world of shipping, and a lot to screw up.  I have to admit that when I first started selling on eBay nearly ten years ago, I did a lot of screwing up.  It's a lot more complicated than just throwing something in an envelope and slapping a few stamps on when you're selling items online. 

1.  Tracking.  ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use a tracking number!  I don't CARE that it costs an extra dollar -- use it!  This is probably the one thing that will always come back to bite you.  Just when you think it's safe to send that teddy bear to a buyer with no tracking number, that will be the unsavory buyer that says, "Hmm...  no tracking number?  PAYPAL DISPUTE!"  A hard lesson I've learned more than one time that it is absolutely playing Russian Roulette shipping out an item without a tracking number.  I have had all sorts of buyers on all sorts of selling venues dispute receiving the item, and without that tracking number, you, as the seller, will LOSE every single time.  Do you really want to be refunding someone their full purchase price because you didn't feel like spending an extra buck?  Trust me, this is one thing you don't want to skip!

YAY Delivery Confirmation!!!

2.  A Scale!  If you ship from home, like I do, or even if you don't, an invaluable tool is a good, accurate digital scale.  In the early days of my eBay selling, I would "guess-timate" the weight of an item, and stick all sorts of stamps and send the item away.  Not only was I not getting a tracking number, but I was also either overpaying on shipping or underpaying.  Overpay by a dollar a hundred times, and well, you're out a hundred dollars.  Underpay, and you have items being returned or the buyer needing to pay more money to get their item.  Both ways are horrible ways of losing money, either directly or indirectly through angry customers.  I bought my scale off of eBay many moons ago.  I think I spent $20 on it.  It measures up to 30 pounds, and shows pounds and ounces, even fractions of ounces. I can't imagine how much money my little scale has saved me over the years!

My little powerhouse digital scale!  Might not be pretty, but he's a good worker!

3.  Good quality tape.  Sure you can use the cheapo clear tape that's meant for packing up boxes when you move, but do you really want to waste your time like that?  I used to use the real cheap tape.  After wasting about a roll of it because it rips down the middle every single time you try to get a piece off, I realized that I wasn't really saving any money!  I highly recommend Duck brand and Scotch.  They both work really well, and don't stick to everything but what I'm trying to package up!

Duck Crystal Clear High Performance, Scotch Mailing and Storage Tape, USPS Priority Mail Tape.  Good stuff.

4.  United State Postal Service.  I do all my shipping through USPS.  There's a lot of good reasons for this.  PayPal and both allow you to mail from home, using your scale and printer to print labels right at home.  If you print your labels at home, Delivery Confirmation (tracking) on Priority Mail items is FREE.  It costs $.19 for First Class and Parcel Post, versus something like $.80 at the post office.'s store allows you to order tons of Priority Mail shipping supplies FOR FREE delivered FOR FREE.  I have a closet full of flat rate envelopes, boxes, packing tape and stickers.  It's so convenient always having the right box or envelope to ship my items, and since the Priority Mail items are free, it saves my other supplies for when I don't need to ship Priority.  The postman will pick up what you're mailing FOR FREE!  If it's over 13 ounces, you have to run your items down to the post office.  But, it sure beats having the post office guy having to weigh all your items and print labels!

5.  Priority Mail Flat Rate.  Hand in hand with number 4, USPS's flat rate shipping supplies are INVALUABLE!  I highly recommend the flat rate bubble mailers and small boxes.  For $5, you ship whatever you can stuff in there up to 4 pounds.  It might not seem like a lot to actually look at the boxes and envelopes....  I've had items that I would have had to charge $15 for shipping, and I shipped for $5 due to flat rate supplies.  They also offer larger boxes, and their new game board box looks like a winner, too!

6.  Getting it to the post office.  Don't believe for a minute that just because you value your online business and feedback rating that others around you do the same.  I have negative feedback on my eBay account because a long time ago, I trusted a couple people to simply drop things off at the post office when I couldn't.  It didn't happen, I didn't know it for WEEKS, and I had to refund money and face the brunt of negative feedback.  I have a rare jewel now in my husband who has run to the post office numerous times so that I can continue working on my online shops.  If you don't have someone you can trust, do it yourself.  Even if it's out a day later than you wanted because you couldn't get to the post office, it's better than putting it in the hands of someone who just doesn't care, and then dealing with the aftermath.

This is not a reliable way to get your mail sent out.
7.  International shippinglooong number on it, and a postmark from the post office.  KEEP IT!  This is your insurance against a PayPal dispute!

8.  Supplies.  Don't feel that you need the fanciest bubble mailers and brand new boxes around.  The best things I've found that work for me are a variety pack of bubble mailers I bought from eBay, buying a large number of a mid range bubble mailers in bulk, and brown mailing kraft paper.  Just about every shipping supply that comes into my home I reuse in shipping other items out.  I cut apart bubble mailers to wrap around items, I reuse boxes in good shape.  If I have a box with a lot of writing on it, or one that was part of retail packaging, I wrap it up in the brown shipping paper.  Reusing packing supplies is not only good for your wallet, but good for the environment, too!

Can you tell what household item came in this box?  Nope!  Brown shipping paper to the rescue!
In short, don't cut corners when it comes to shipping, and it'll be smooth sailing.  Good luck!

--Molly H. (and Vienna, too!)


  1. I love this blog post dedication to shipping - I have been pretty lucky so far - touch wood. The biggest gripe is how expensive Royal mail costs to ship - as they are our national service in the UK, we don't get a choice - but at least they do a good job, so that counts for alot!

    Following you from the EBT - hi!

  2. I'm already following your blog, SisterBatik!
    I'm glad that your mail service at least does a good job. We have more options than USPS here, and sometimes they *can* be cheaper, but I've found that they can also be very lacking in service :( So I don't use them. I've never had a problem with UPS, it's all been with FedEx, though.

  3. Great info! =) Stumbled this, and now following your blog. Found you from EBT today.

  4. Such great advice. I must admit I have shipped without a tracking number.

    Found you from EBT, too.

  5. Thanks for this informative article!

    I recently made the switch to using DC on ALL orders, as well as shipping through paypal. I don't know why I wasn't doing so sooner.