Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shipping your Crafts

The most economical way to ship the crafts or art that you sell is through USPS - the United States Postal Service. The rates for small parcels are far lower than rates at U.P.S. and Federal Express. If you are shipping furniture-size items you will want to check the rates and requirements of a transporter such as UPS that is equipped to better handle large items.

Many craft artists starting to sell thief crafts though the Internet or by catalog are confused about how to know what an item is going to cost to ship. Many just estimate what they think the item should ship at by looking at a chart and eyeballing the item. These craftspeople are always shocked when they get to the post office and find out that their item ships for twice the cost that they had estimated and have collected.

There is no reason to lose money shipping an item if you know exactly what to do. You can know the EXACT SHIPPING COST before you list your item for sale.

First, buy a good, digital postal scale. They are available in every chain office discount store. You will not pay a lot for one and without one you cannot know what your item will cost to ship. Trips to the post office to weigh your package in advance is going to annoy your post office clerks. I knew one person who would take parcels to the supermarket to weigh on the produce scale. This all can be avoided by spending $50 or less. You can even buy one at the post office.

Next, go to the USPS website and find the rate charts for both domestic and international mail. These charts are easy to print out to keep as a reference. When you get to these charts on the website you will input your home zip code so that you will get charts from your ZONE to all other ZONES. These vary, so be sure you are looking at the correct chart for your zone. Print out all of the charts and put them in a folder to refer to when you are determining shipping costs. Priority Mail over one pound changes per zone. All international mail changes by country zone. First Class mail - letter or parcel is one price across the US varying only by weight , thickness, and size.

Next, take the item that you intend to sell, take the box or envelope that you will ship it in, take all of the packaging that will go into the box or envelope along with the item, and take as many sheets of letter paper that you will use to create packing lists or invoices, and put all of this together. Weigh EVERYTHING together. Write down that exact weight. If you are between two whole ounces you must go UP to the next whole ounce. Make a note for yourself and keep it someplace where you will find it detailing exactly how this particular item will be packed and shipped.

Now, take out those charts and decide how you are shipping - First Class, First Class Parcel, Priority Mail, Express Mail, or International - which also has different classes just like Domestic. When you have the correct chart look at the weight of the package and the rate on the chart - THIS is you EXACT cost of postage. To decide how you are shipping you must know a few other things. If your envelope is larger than 6" x 9" or is over one quarter inch thick, you are shipping First Class Large Envelope. You cannot add Delivery Confirmation service to any First Class envelope rate. The only way to add Delivery Confirmation to First Class is to make the package thicker than three quarters of an inch or make it totally rigid and unable to bend - and you are now shipping First Class Parcel. If your package weighs 13 ounces or more you must ship by Priority Mail (and, by law, you may not put the package in any mailbox - it must be handed to a postal clerk or carrier). IMPORTANT TO NOTE - Priority Mail is NOT faster delivery than First Class. Priority Mail is for heavier First Class packages. If you look at the USPS statement about Priority Mail it says "Arrives in 2 -3 days*" Look at that * and you will see that it says AVERAGE. There is no guarantee and in fact it travels along with First Class and will be delivered at exactly the same time. I have this on the authority of several postal clerks. The post office will be happy to take your money for the additional postage for Priority for light packages, but your package WILL NOT get there any sooner. The only way to guarantee (well, maybe guarantee) a set delivery time is by using Express Mail. This arrives in one or two days - if the person is there to receive it when the mail carrier arrives at their door. If they are not there a notice is left and the package goes back to the post office. If the receiver does not call the post office for re-delivery or go in person to the post office to pick up the package, that package will be SENT BACK to you in five days. Express mail costs a minimum of $16.00. That is a lot of money to pay and have the package sent back. If you are listing an item that must travel by Priority Mail because of weight you must be aware of what the furthermost zone is from you that this might possibly ship to (the same holds true for any International destination). You must look up that zone on the chart and use that zone to determine your total shipping cost - you can always refund money to your customer if they live in a closer zone, but it is bad form to ask for more money to ship - and on some craft sale sites (like Etsy) you are not permitted to do that.

International mail is done in the same way. The weight and the zone and the way you will ship. The charts are just as easy to follow. More about International Shipping later.

Now that you know the exact cost of the postage, what do you want to add in postal services. Delivery Confirmation is a way to track the delivery of your package, but it only really can be relied upon to tell you when the package is actually delivered. If you are using Paypal to handle your transaction Delivery Confirmation is required to be able to use their Seller Protection plan. If you print your postage labels at Paypal you will save a lot on the cost of Delivery Confirmation. At the post office it costs 75 cents. On Paypal it costs only 18 cents - and only on Paypal (and not on USPS Click and Ship) can you add Delivery Confirmation to a First Class Parcel package. Another feature that you can add is Postal Insurance. This starts at over $1.5o for up to $50 insurance and then increases from there. Insurance is the ONLY way you or your buyer is going to get the cost of the item back if the package is lost or damaged. If this is a one of a kind item - always include insurance in the rate that you calculate. Express mail automatically includes insurance in the rates listed. No other mailing rate does. If you want to guarantee getting your money back if something goes wrong in transit, include the insurance. Add these the rates for these features into the total cost of shipping the package.

At this point you have the exact cost that your item will ship for and you know exactly what to list as your shipping cost for the buyer to pay for your item. Remember - if there is any uncertainty add a little more to the cost that the buyer will pay. It is easy to issue a refund for excess postage paid. You cannot ask for more money from the buyer later if you miscalculated too low.

Follow this method and you wil never pay anything out of your pocket to ship an item to your buyer.


Mountainside Crochet said...

Thanks for this article. I've mis-calculated on nearly every item I've sold to date, and ended up out-of-pocket, mainly because I used a 'kitchen' scale' instead of a REAL postal scale, which has now been corrected! This will be a big help in the future.

Judi FitzPatrick said...

Sorry to be so late leaving my comments. I thought I had done so a couple of weeks ago.
Thank you so much for sharing this information, very generous of you to take time to do so.
For the most part, for items I've never shipped before, I usually over-estimate the charge and then issue a PayPal refund if it is a lot less than my estimate.
Thanks again. Peace, Judi

Skyblue said...

I have a question for you. On the first class requirement about being in an envelope "no more than 6-1/8 inches high X 11-1/2 inches long X 1/4 inch thick" (from USPS website)... Does this 1/4" mean when it's squished? or when it's just sitting there? I mean, you know how it "gives" a little when you press down on it, right, I suppose because of air inside. So does the 1/4" refer to the squished thickness? Thanks!

Writer said...

For Mockingbird1954 -

Sad to say, the thickness factor of a flat envelope is going to depend on the postal clerk. They have a card with a slot in it that is 1/4" high. They are supposed to push the envelope through and if it goes through without getting stuck then it is ok. Some do this. Many don't bother and squeeze around the envelope and decide for themselves. If the envelope obviously bulges over 1/4" then it is not going to be allowed at the FC flat rate. If you can squeeze the air out and it goes flat all over you should be ok.

I would love to get hold of one of those cards with the slot - many things are available on the USPS site -this is not one of them. You could make your own. Just make sure the slot is exactly and consistently 1/4".

SarahBeeCreations said...

Thank you for the article. I've had quite some difficulty figuring out exactly how to ship different items.

Anonymous said...

Could anyone tell me the how to get to that chart once i'm at the home page of the USPS it would help me a lot since i'm about to start selling my products online. Thanks in advance.

Writer said...

Link to the USPS Domestic and International Postage Charts

Snoozepossum said...

Thanx muchly for this! I also put a notice on my Etsy that I was estimating shipping to cover a wide range, and would do Paypal refunds if the shipping was substantially lower than the buyer paid for.

Have an easy day!

Portable Weirdness
Questionable Art & Primitive Bling

sanmarnastyle said...

Thank you so much for this article. I finally know how to calculate shipping