Tuesday , 25 June 2019
Because I've grown so comfortable using the post office after three years of business, it's hard to trace back to the day when the post office intimidated me with all of their options, sizes, prices, and packages. I am most experienced with USPS due to the size and weight of my packages.

31 Days to Build a Creative Business: Packaging 101 – Shipping {Day 8}

31 Days to Build a Creative Business: Packaging 101 {Day 8}

Welcome back to the Build a Creative Business 31-Day Series! This is Day 8 of the program, and I’m discussing the basics of shipping with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

You can find all the 31 Days articles HERE.

Because I’ve grown so comfortable using the post office after three years of business, it’s hard to trace back to the day when the post office intimidated me with all of their options, sizes, prices, and packages. I am most experienced with USPS due to the size and weight of my packages. At only a few ounces, I’m able to get my jewelry into the mail using First Class service (the cheapest and fastest way to mail).

Here’s what to expect when shipping your product:

Shipping Speed

There are several ways to ship your products, and it is nice to have a knowledge of all your options beforehand.

Express Mail. Every once and awhile, a customer might ask you to overnight or express mail a package. Typically customers who request such a service offer to pay for it (if they don’t, the expense is almost always too much to take on). When this occurs, it’s easy to pull a quote from USPS.com. Most customers don’t realize how much this faster service costs, so I’m happy to offer a quote, but people rarely go for this option.

Bottom line: Ships overnight or next-day. Smallest of packages (letter mail) start at $13.09 online and $14.10 at the post office.

Priority Mail. This option arrives in “about” two days. (Yes, the official USPS site actually says you’ll get your mail in “about two days” :), meaning it can take 2-3 days to arrive.) In my opinion, it is no faster or better than the next option, First-Class. However, with Priority Mail, you get free tracking which can be shared with your customers and used in the event of a lost package.

When shipping Priority, be sure to choose “Flat Rate” packages. Most postal service workers will advise you of this rookie mistake if you don’t, but at that point, you’ll be at the post office and ready-to-ship. If your order is shipped in your own box or a USPS package that only has “Priority Mail” on it, it will get priced according to weight (and it’s almost always much more expensive than the flat rate). Find free USPS flat-rate Priority Mail packages in-store or online.

Bottom line: Generally ships in 2 days, 3 at the latest to the continental U.S. The smallest of packages starts at $5.05 online and $5.80 at the post office. This is the best option if you ship packages that weigh more than 13 oz.

First-Class. First-Class mail ships at the same speed and rate as a stamped letter. Domestic (within country, except to Alaska and Hawaii) delivery is three days or less. In my experience, most packages arrive within two days. In my opinion, this is the best-priced option if you ship light envelopes or packages.

I learned about shipping packages First-Class from my ebay-ing days after I’d sold a movie online and wanted to ship my Kraft-wrapped DVD case to the winning bidder. I asked for Priority mail, and the postal service told me it would go faster and cheaper First-Class … and then charged me less than $2 to do so. I was hooked!

Bottom line: Generally ships within 2 days, 3 at the most. The smallest of packages starts at $.46. If you qualify for this rate, do it.

Parcel (Standard) Post and Media Mail. The cheapest, slowest service (estimated arrival between 2-8 days). Standard post is typically the best way to ship larger, heavier packages as standard post can accommodate up to 130 pounds. However, if you’re shipping a reasonable weight in a standard box, faster shipping is usually less than a dollar more.

Media mail is meant to ship items like DVDs, books and CDs. Most of these items weigh less than 13 oz., so in my opinion, First Class mail would be the better deal. If you ship a lot of heavier books, media mail is an option to explore.

Bottom line: Packages typically arrive within a week, 8 days at most. If your products are heavier or bulkier, this will be your best bet via USPS. However, if you’re shipping items like that you should definitely price compare with FedEx and UPS. Standard post packages start at $5.60, and Media mail starts at $2.53.

Advanced Options

Tracking, Insurance, Confirmation. Tracking, insurance, and confirmation are available (at an additional expense) for most packages. However and let me say in advance of this section, that you’re talking to a woman that’s lived and traveled through third-world countries (such as Zambia, Africa). I know what it’s like to need tracking, insurance, and confirmation because mail systems are corrupt and thieved regularly. It’s very nice to offer your customers this added documentation, but for the most part, I see it as an unnecessary expense.

I’ve been shipping packages frequently for three years, and I think I’ve replaced or refunded lost mail two, maybe three times. Starting at $1.95 per package, the cost of insurance and/or upgraded shipping service would have costed me thousands of dollars more than 3 lost packages.

Tracking starts at $.20 online and $.90 at the post office, but if you’re using “Click-n-Ship” to buy and print your postage online with USPS, it comes as a free option for Priority, Standard, and First-Class Mail. You simply check a box at the bottom of the address forms, and both you and your customer can receive email tracking on the package. One of the great new features on Etsy allows you and the customer to track packages for free by using the printable USPS postage that’s connected with your account (US residents only).

Finally, there’s shipping confirmation, and it’s my least favorite thing as both the sender and receiver. The additional service fee starts at $2.20 online, and it’s available for Priority, First-Class, Standard, and Media Mail. This level of protection requires your recipient be present and sign for the package you send. If they’re not home when the package arrives, they get a card in their mailbox letting them know they have a certain number of days to claim the package at their local post office. In most cases, it’s an unnecessary expense for the shipper, and a hassle for the customer.

International shipping. A major issue I run across is sellers not wanting to open up to international shipping. However, if you’re located in the United States, this couldn’t be easier or cheaper to do. If your package qualifies to ship First-Class or Priority Mail in the States, all you need is a customs form to ship internationally.

In general, Priority Mail takes 6-10 business days to arrive to international locations. Flat rate packages start at $28.25 and up. Here again, you can ship up to four pounds via First-Class mail (the cheaper option), but it takes longer to arrive (typically 10-14 business days). This is the option I always choose when shipping overseas, and it starts at $2.05.

To see how much any type of shipping costs to anywhere in the world with USPS, you can visit their price sheet online.

Customs Form: Very recently, USPS added the option to ship internationally online! Therefore, I’m able to show you the electronic version of the customs form you’ll be using. To ship overseas, all you need is the sender and recipient’s information and the package’s weight and value. You’ll need to calculate the cost of shipping overseas, and then simply add this option to check-out. You may under- or over-charge slightly in the beginning, but the trial and error shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.

There’s nothing like opening up your business for global expansion!

Getting Familiar with Your Post Office

One of the most intimidating things about going to the post office is being amongst customers that seem to already know what they’re doing. Explaining to any post office clerk that you’ve never shipped a package this way or that you’re not sure of your shipping options will help them identify you as an inexperienced customer. They should be more than happy to help you out, and if they’re not, find another post office in your area. You don’t have to dread this errand, so work to make it as pleasant as possible.

Woah, buddy! I had a lot more to say about shipping than I realized! On a final note, I’ve lived on a few different continents, and I want to throw in that opening a creative business in the U.S. could not be easier or cheaper to do anywhere else on this Earth. Not only are shipping costs competitively low (of all the places I’ve ever been, I’ve never seen less expensive or more reliable shipping), wholesalers and suppliers are always more than willing to ship to you here. Get familiar with your shipping options, and you’re already on your way to building a successful, online creative business!

That does it for Day 8 of the series!

P.S. Tim and I mean business when it comes to helping you build yours.  In fact, we’re launching a course to help you do just that: Build a Better Creative Business. Join us in this live classroom where proven experts in the field will show you how to expand your business to its full potential. Click here to learn more.

31 Days

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  1. Shipping can be quite a pain and a place where much profit is lost. Recently, I did an audit of my company and found that I was throwing money away. I would purchase shipping at the counter of the Post Office–worst move EVER, as the prices are incredibly high. If you have the option of purchasing online postage DO IT. When (not if) your shop starts selling a lot of products then you might want to consider a company like Ship Station who offers Commercial PLUS shipping prices. Mine went from an average of $6.55 per order to $5.09 for the same package! That’s pure profit…BUT you have to purchase a printer and scale to be sure that the postage is correct. It worked out for me because I am not selling in volume. I love that all of the labels are printed for me, the emails go out notifying the customers and I schedule pick ups from the USPS instead of stand in line. It’s worth the investment.

    • Thanks, Donna. *ALSO, since I wrote this article, I have started using Etsy mailing labels to ship my products. SO CONVENIENT and CHEAP! Etsy now offers all sellers a commercial rate on postage *AND* bills your account monthly so you don’t have to keep track of all the daily transactions. I’m loving it.

      Appreciate your comment!

  2. Great information Lisa! Shipping is one of those hurdles a retail business must overcome to be profitable and efficient that is for sure you have such great advice for everyone! I run into hang ups every time I sell a large painting…..perfect example this week where my box alone started of at 26.00 and that’s without even being shipped, then because it was over sized, and going to California (I’m on the East Coast)…the package was going to cost me 110.00 to ship. I charged the customer less then 25.00. So yes, knowing what to package in, how to ship, what constitutes over sized etc can mean the difference between profit and loss very quickly unless you get it right the first time. Or at the latest, the second time around ;)!!!

  3. great article filled with tons of information in one spot. Love the 31 days series, look forward to reading each one. So helpful, and thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

  4. Thank you! This is the most informative article about shipping. I can certainly sympathize with Jodi Ohl. For awhile there I thought I was going to have to fill out an application to work for the USPS to understand it all. Still learning Shipping 101. Can’t Wait for Day 9. Thanks again.

  5. I must say that I find it interesting that you have been able to ship jewelry internationally. Canada will NOT accept jewelry at the border via USPS. I also inquired about shipping jewelry to Australia – nothing doing. If you fill out the custom slip with “earrings” or anything that insinuates “jewelry” the post office (in my experience) will refuse it. If it somehow gets through but is lost or stolen, your loss. Just saying.

    • Good LAWD, I love your jewelry, Lydia. I know exactly what you mean, and I don’t write “jewelry” on the package or custom form … I usually just list materials, and I can get away with simply writing “beads.” I can imagine that must be much trickier for you!

  6. I am loving this series! Excellent material and so well written. I am sharing the link with all of my friends and Followers. I so appreciate your generosity and willingness to help others. I am taking notes daily and sincerely believe that this will have a huge impact on my New Business!

  7. Lisa: Thank you! I’m flattered! For what I do, it IS very tricky. It’s worth paying FedEx or UPS if the pieces are over a couple of thousand $$, even then, few clients are willing to pay the charges (not to mention taxes and duty!) I no longer ship outside the U.S. Headache in an envelope.

  8. I use USPS First Class exclusively (unless a customer requests Priority Mail) since my packages are small and light, and I have had very few problems. I love that their Electronic Delivery Confirmation service has been expanded to 16 countries and so now there’s free tracking to most of the places I ship. Between Etsy labels and the peace of mind resulting from electronic tracking, international shipping (for me) doesn’t feel like any more work than domestic. However, I do understand that a seller dealing with lots of different types of items and weights would face more issues than someone like me who only has to calculate shipping when I design a new product or the postal rates change.

    • I agree, Melissa. It seems like in the last two months, shipping has gotten ALL KINDS of convenient – especially if you can fit into First Class mail! Thanks for your input!

  9. I wish you could do a similar article for shipping from other places! I live part time in the UK and part time in Spain and you are so right the shipping from both is really expensive – I think it may be the reason I’m not selling very much – my items are mosaics – therefore heavy!

    Really envious of your shipping and postal service!

  10. I am sucking in all of this information and it is very helpful. Shipping does seem to be one of those overwhelming things as a rookie. I’m scheduled to meet with a post office representative next week to go over all the details and options. This post gives me some knowledge to work with. A question I have is on Etsy when you print your labels do you need your own scale and equipment and just drop your item off at the post office? Can you shed some light on that please Lisa or if anyone else is knowledgeable in this area? I would really appreciate it. Thanks a lot!

    • You do need a scale, but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. For printing Etsy labels, you can use either a regular inkjet printer & label sheets or a thermal label printer–either the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL or Zebra GC 420d. I drop my packages at the post office without waiting in line (since they’re all ready to go), but when I was sending fewer, I just put them right in my mailbox with any other outgoing mail.

    • Hi Lakia,
      Agreed with Melissa, it doesn’t have to be fancy. I use labels with my inkjet and a scale I bought at the usps.com store. I’ll give you some more options in a Q&A post later this month. Thanks for your question!

  11. Thank you so much for doing this series and especially THIS topic!! I have struggled with shipping for a long time and I always wished I could find a source for the answers I needed. For so long it seemed so overwhelming and I just knew I was loosing money. Thanks again!

  12. I have found using the USPS office self-service machine to send product packages in the USA First Class includes the tracking number.

  13. I am so going to buy a scale now!

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