Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My shipping station...

A conversation I had with a woman this morning inspired me to write a blog post about shipping for online sellers, and to share my setup with you. Packing and shipping can be overwhelming for new sellers, but it's one of the most important aspects to selling online. Being able to get products to customers quickly, safely, and preferably cheaply (although that's getting harder and harder to do...) is key to running an online business.

In a home rearranging project several years ago I was able to acquire this potting table (I think from Restoration Hardware?) that used to be the computer table my husband and I shared (way back when in the days when we shared a computer). It looked great, but it was less than ideal as a computer desk - it's way too high. It makes a great shipping table though! It has a drawer where I keep tissue paper, I can fit a selection of boxes and envelopes below, and the top shelf is great for tape, smaller envelopes, customs forms etc... I also have a cutting mat on it for trimming cardboard.

If you're brand new to shipping the first thing you should know is that the Post Office will give you FREE delivered to your door Priority Mail shipping boxes. You can order them from www.usps.com. They take about a week or two to get there, so plan ahead if you need to order more. The catch is you have to use Priority Mail shipping which I usually do anyway. I keep a selection of the boxes I use the most often on the table, but I have another storage room that's filled with extra and larger boxes, plus a bunch of plain cardboard ones for International and non-Priority Mail shipping.

The post office website has an easy calculator for checking shipping prices by zip code. The cost will vary a lot depending on how heavy the item is and how far it's going. Make sure you have an idea of how much the item will cost to ship. It stinks to sell an item and lose all the profit because you priced the shipping too low. For heavy and breakable items I often go with FedEx. It tends to be a little cheaper and you get up to $100 of insurance included. Both offer discounts for printing shipping labels online. Which brings me to the next section...

If you are not printing your shipping labels online, you're crazy! It's so quick, and it saves you time and money.
Invest in a digital scale pronto. I have an 11 pound digital scale and a 25 pound old school scale.

For PayPal payments you can print labels directly from the payment - including First Class postage (which the regular USPS website doesn't allow you to do). The only thing you can't print is International First Class postage which is a major sticking point with me. For that you have to use stamps and a green customs form. Don't drop international packages in the mailbox - you have to take them into the post office. Happily at my post office they let you cut the line to drop off prepaid packages. Some nicer post offices (generally ones in the suburbs) will have drop boxes for prepaid packages. If it has a preprinted label and can fit in the mailbox you can drop it there for domestic mail.

A bit about packing... I sell a lot of different types of products from clothing, to glassware to framed pictures. Needless to say depending on the types of products you sell, you'll need a variety of packing products. I always wrap clothing in tissue paper before putting it in a box or envelope (nicely folded of course...). I used to use colored tissue, but several years ago I had an issue when the package got wet and the colored tissue bled onto the garment :( Now I stick to white.

Anything breakable gets wrapped in bubble wrap, and the box gets completely filled with packing material (usually peanuts). If your breakable item can move in the box it isn't packed well enough. Remember that crumpled paper can compress in transit, so it normally isn't a good choice unless you have tons of it. If you have to use crumpled newspaper, put it inside of grocery store bags so it doesn't get newsprint on the merchandise.

I try to use recycled materials when possible, and a few of my friends save boxes and bubble wrap for me. Sometimes stores will save packing material for you if you ask. If I have to buy packing material I always buy in bulk - it's so much cheaper!
I have an XpedX near me where I get bubble wrap and packing peanuts. These packing peanuts are made from recycled material & are biodegradable in 5 years :) I usually order tape and bubble mailers from Staples online - they deliver free (and quick) if your order is over $50. I keep a box on the floor for scrap paper recycling from when I cut labels.

I found this box of horse stickers at the thrift store which I sometimes use to decorate the boxes.

I also always include a postcard and a button with my orders. Hopefully they'll keep it and remember me :)

I hope this was helpful!
Feel free to comment with additional tips if you have them.
Happy shipping!


  1. Wonderful post! I'm planning a similar post on my blog- shipping intimidates new and old sellers alike, but I feel that USPS is a small business owners best friend! They do try to make it easy for you. The key is to figure out what your needs are and then do a bit of research. It pays off!

  2. Your shipping station looks so organized it's making me jealous. Your desk is pretty amazing! I love that you can store packaging supplies on the bottom. Thanks for the tip about newspapers, I never thought of them compressing. Something to definitely think about in the future.

  3. Fabulous station! Never thought about a potting table. Great idea. Hahaha I have the same vintage 25lb scale only in brown. Works like a charm and was cheap.

  4. Alas, I don't make enough sales to have my own little shipping station. But these are some great tips that I will keep in mind. Thanks!

  5. Wow! So organized and professional. Makes my table and process look so...sad :(

    I think it's time to invest in a scale and print my own labels! That will save a lot of time at the post office.

    Thanks for the post! Very helpful and inspirational.

  6. Thanks so much for a great and informative post!

  7. i am major jealous of your shipping station! it's inspired me to grab one of my old tables that's in storage, set it up in my spare bedroom and create my own shipping station.

    also, great idea about putting the item in a plastic grocery bag if you are using newspaper because of the ink.

  8. Just found your blog and I LOVE it, so inspired by your organization and your lifestyle surrounded by vintage treasure. I shall link your blog for sure!

  9. wow! what a lovely organized shipping station. I will be celebrating my 10th year in business, and haven't taken the 'time' to set up a dedication station. crazy, I know! well this week I'm determined to tackle this project - your photo has inspired me!

  10. These are really awesome tips.

    I just started a blog a couple of weeks ago, & I like to write about everything, and this is going to help.

    Custom Crates

  11. You have a very lovely shipping station inside your home! This is a very inspiring idea especially to those people who frequently ship various items. Thanks for sharing.