Is it worth all the trouble to give my customers multiple shipping options?
Well, that all depends on what you mean by “options.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend offering multiple carriers but it’s okay to offer multiple speeds. In other words, choose just one company to ship with, such as UPS, FedEx or the US Postal Service. If your web site’s shopping cart automatically calculates shipping costs, you can offer multiple delivery options such as First Class or Overnight, but if you have to enter those prices manually it may not be worth it to have to stay current with rate changes. Some sites, like Etsy, never let you choose more than one service or delivery option to a given destination. That’s fine. Just add a line to your FAQs, policies, or product pages that asks customers to contact you if they need expedited shipping or prefer a different carrier.
Can I charge for “handling” if I ship products myself?
Absolutely. I think it’s crazy that people believe their customers won’t buy from them if they charge more than the cost of postage to ship something. Packing materials aren’t free and neither is your time. Charge your normal hourly rate plus the cost of your shipping materials and postage. For example, if it takes you five minutes to ship something (i.e. look up the order, pack it, address it and print out shipping labels) and you pay yourself $25/hr., you should charge $2.08 in addition to the cost of the box and the stamps. This is not unreasonable. If you still feel funny about it, though, feel free to lay out the charges in your FAQs or Policies page. Don’t sweat it if a customer refuses to buy from you because of this. You don’t want a relationship with someone who thinks your time is worthless anyway.
How can I keep the time and cost of shipping as low as possible?
Whoa. Big question. Let’s tackle time-saving first. The most important thing is having the right supplies around. I keep all of my shipping materials in one place, including a postal scale, address stamp, padded envelopes in sizes that fit my most common items, and the most common denominations of stamps I use. I order most of these in bulk from places like Quill and Uline. The shipping is usually free and my order often arrives in 1-2 days.
My postal scale is a regular spring-loaded Dymo scale with the postage prices printed right on the dial. I place my package on top, and the needle points to the correct First Class postage price so I don’t have to look it up. The Priority Mail and Express Mail prices are also printed on the front in a grid. My only complaint is that the replacement dials they send when the price goes up are slow in coming and expensive ($15). I looked into postage meters, too, when I was first starting up, and I determined that they are not worth the monthly rental fee unless you send hundreds of First Class envelopes each month.
I keep tons of $0.44, $1, $0.17, and $0.20 stamps around because any First Class package can be mailed using just those four denominations. It’s often much quicker to address an envelope by hand and use stamps than it is to go online and print out the shipping label. On the other hand, if you’re mailing something that has tracking info or doesn’t fit in your corner mailbox, it’s usually better to create the label online. The shipper will send the tracking info to the customer for you and you can drop off your shipments at the post office or hand them to your driver/mail carrier.
Now for cost-saving. Firstly, the more you can store, the better. Having space to save shipping materials allows you buy in bulk and and to reuse the boxes, bubble wrap, etc. that you receive from other senders. Secondly, become familiar with shipping classes and delivery times. For example, what the USPS defines as a “letter” can be surprisingly large, thick and heavy. Just beware of uneven or weirdly-proportioned envelopes. USPS machines can’t handle them so they require a $0.20 “non-machinable” surcharge (hence my stash of $0.20 stamps). In another example, UPS always delivers Ground shipments within the Bay Area in 1-2 days. There is therefore never any reason to pay the overnight rate on a local shipment. It arrives just as quickly at the lowest price.
Thirdly, I’ll reiterate that you should use online shipping labels for any package that uses tracking info. Most carriers will give you a discount on postage bought online. You can also schedule a free pickup for most online shipments, which allows you to save on gas money.
Lastly, make friends with your delivery people. Learn the names of your UPS driver and your mail carrier. Ask them how they’re doing. Leave them tips or gifts at the holidays. Not only are they competent human beings who deserve to be treated as such, they are often happy to do you favors and help you solve problems with your shipments.
Most of the complaints I receive from customers have to do with shipping. How can I avoid this?
Shipping issues are by far the most common complaints I receive from customers as well, but I’ve been able to reduce them significantly by posting clear and specific shipping policies to my website and Etsy shop. If an issue ever comes up that isn’t covered by those policies or falls within a grey area, I solve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction and then update the policy page so it never happens again. In addition, I sometimes put the answers to the most common shipping questions on the product page itself.
You can also reduce the number of complaints by offering fewer shipping options. This may sound counter-intuitive (customers prefer choices, right?), but it ultimately makes for less confusion and frustration. You can always let the customer contact you if they’d like special shipping arrangements. If you’re able to provide them, great! Your customer will love you for being so accommodating. If not, you can always return a polite explanation that references your shipping policies and leaves no room for argument.
Finally, always pack your items well. Like, to withstand being run over. It doesn’t matter whether or not your customer opts for insurance, you’re an A-hole if the product breaks in transit and you refuse to replace it.
What are some common shipping issues you’ve faced and how have you dealt with them? Please share your experiences in the comments section.
Thanks for the article. I have a dilemma with shipping options/prices. I posted a blog (http://kronengold.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/online-retail-stores-shipping/) regarding the issue and wonder if anyone can provide some insights to this. The main question is that the cost of shipping is high relative to the product cost and the options, I see, are: (1) add shipping per location (varies), (2) add flat rate shipping (average may be OK but some pay more some pay less), (3) offer free shipping (thus increasing the product price to compensate for this – otherwise you lose money on every shipment) or (4) have a free shipping upon reaching a threshold (thus encouraging buying more).
I’ll appreciate your suggestions.