If your homebased business involves shipping products to your customers, these tips will help you set up a system that works for you.
September 14, 2004 4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The Internet is changing the retail landscape, enabling hundreds of thousands of people to make a full- or part-time income from selling merchandise of all kinds via their own websites, auction sites like eBay or online malls. One of the most critical elements of this business-the one that can make or break you-is the shipping.
Shipping products from home involves satisfying your customers, maximizing the use of your time, and, of course, minimizing your costs. To make sure you get this right, we interviewed eBay PowerSeller and author Skip McGrath to discover the secrets to successful shipping.
If you ship only three or four items a day, says McGrath, you can easily handle your shipping manually-that is, hand addressing labels, taking items to the post office and standing in line to arrange delivery confirmation.
If you ship ten or more items a day, however, you’ll want to invest about $300 in a label printer and postage scale that connects to your computer’s USB or serial port so you can weigh your packages. Then using a service like Endicia, you can type in a ZIP code, and your postage will be automatically calculated for you. The advantage of using a label printer instead of a regular printer will help you save time because regular printers require that you insert labels sheet by sheet which most likely means you’ll be getting up from your desk for each batch.
There are numerous sources for this type of equipment. Endicia, for example, sells a starter kit that includes a postage meter and label printer that complement its services. Stamps.com offers a free postage scale with its $15.95 monthly service. And you can almost always find postage scales and label printers for sale on eBay.
When you get to the point where you’re shipping 30 or more packages a month, it’s also time to think about getting an account with UPS or FedEX Ground, so that you can scheduled them to pick up your packages as needed.
For most items, shippers still generally choose to use the Priority Mail option from the U.S. Postal Service because it’s usually faster than other standard delivery options (for example, two to three days via the Postal Service vs. five to six days with UPS Ground). For packages under five pounds and weekend delivery, it’s also cheaper. But for packages over five pounds, you’ll do better with UPS or FedEx Ground.
If you ship high-priced items like artwork or jewelry collectibles, McGrath says you should probably use overnight or two-day air freight: Your merchandise will arrive sooner than shipping via the U.S. Postal Service, and you’ll increase the certainty of your deliveries. Despite the post office’s delivery confirmation option, they’re simply not as reliable as UPS, FedEx or DHL. And with valuable merchandise, you just don’t want to take any chances.
If you ship via the Postal Service, the post office’s Priority Mail supplies, including boxes, envelopes, tape and labels, are free. McGrath points out that another free source of supplies is retail stores because most cities have ordinances requiring stores to recycle their shipping materials. Gift shops and kitchen and hardware stores receive shipments daily so you can arrange with these type of local stores to pick up supplies from them on a regular basis.
If what’s available for free doesn’t meet your needs, entering the phrase “packaging supplies” or “shipping supplies” into a search engine will generated results for suppliers offering thousands of shipping material options.
To keep your shipping process orderly, it’s a good idea set up a special area of your home office or garage for shipping activities. This way, you’ll have an organized area where you can keep your tape guns, boxes and other supplies at the ready so you can efficiently box things up.
While customers love free shipping-some even search for it-if you decide to go this route, you’ll still need to either charge for handling or build a handling cost into your product price. eBay sellers routinely charge more than the actual shipping fee to cover both their supplies and their time.
Authors and career coaches Paul and Sarah Edwards’ latest book is The Best Home Businesses for People 50+. You can contact Paul and Sarah with your questions at www.workingfromhome.com.