I don't often do business related advice on my blog (actually, this is probably the first time), but I suddenly felt the desire to chat about this. Since I'm in the throngs of shipping, I realized I might have some valuable info for some of you. Shipping charges can be quite the heated debate on the Etsy Forums and I think it will be clear what my position is.
Many of you may agree with me- perhaps some will disagree. I don't mean to offend anyone's sensibilities, but I would like to state that from my experience, this is what I hold to be true. At the same time, this is my business advice- you don't have to take it!
Thanks to a lovely nod by SouleMama the other day, I've been busier than a busy bee. This is not my first occurrence with higher volume shipping. Last year my supplies shop kept me incredibly busy throughout the holiday season. It was then I learned my lesson the hard way. Today's post is aimed to offer what I learned. I don't profess to have the best way- as a matter of fact, I don't, because in a perfect world, someone else would be doing this for me...! Also, what applies to me may not apply to you, but I only have my own perspective, so here goes.
What's involved with shipping for every order I receive:
1. Printing the invoice. It all starts here: time and cost. Anyone who thinks that the 10 seconds it takes is not worth counting is not being fair to themselves. 30 seconds x 10 invoices= 5 minutes of your time + 10 sheets of paper + ink used. This just keeps building as more orders come in. Etsy just added a "printable invoice" feature, which I love. I'm visually oriented, so to see a picture of what I'm shipping practically ensures that I will make no errors in packing of items. Costs a little more to use full color, but the amount of time I save in rereading and cross-referencing more than evens out.
2. Marking down the information in a spreadsheet journal. I add all pertinent info regarding the tracking of the process. Etsy doesn't have a "check off" system. I've had to create a spreadsheet on which I handwrite all the info I require to make sure my packages go out on time and properly. I could type it in, but it's better to have a hardcopy and it's also easier to make notes and changes. This whole process is vital in order to keep track of progress because it's not often I can do an assembly line packing. Every order is different. And when a package goes missing (it's been known to happen) I can easily spend double the time and efforts in going through paperwork to find out the answers. And talk about a waste of time!
3. Create a shipping label. This can be done through PayPal or it may be generated as a sticker. I do this because it's clear and easy to read and it's professional-looking. Time and cost again. I've found excellent deals on shipping labels, but they aren't free!
4. Gather the items. This can be from all different areas of my house. Inventory space is a luxury and most of the time, it's stored wherever a safe, untouched place may be found. If I could afford to house it all in a designated closest, my business overhead would increase as my personal home space decreases. I can't get something for nothing. Inconveniences are costs, no matter how you look at them. This whole process of gathering, sorting, double checking and triple checking is probably the most time consuming aspect of shipping.
5. Package the items. I refuse to simply toss something in an envelope and send it on its way. Each order is packaged professionally and with care and in the appropriate packaging material. I do not charge "shipping" for my product packaging, but I do include the cost of my shipping materials- the bubble or board envelope, tape, filler and packing materials, labels, etc. USPS packaging is only good for Priority Mail orders- this would drive up the shipping even further most of the time.
6. Go to the post office. Everyone in the world complains about the lines at the post office. I wish I had a quarter for every minute of my life I've spent in waiting on a long line. My time- everyone's time- is worth something, even if it's resting for a minute to look at the sunset rather than the slow postal worker behind the counter, or the customer who is buying 3 money orders and paying with coins and staring at the back of someone else's head who is also waiting impatiently. As this is business- and it's that business that brings me to this, I treat it like business and I have to include this in my shipping charge. I use the postal kiosk whenever possible. Unfortunately, there are a number of times it hasn't worked- and every International sale must go to the counter. However long the time I spend there takes, I still have to hop in my car and drive across town. Pennies in gas add up fast- particularly these days. I go to the PO armed with my journal and I write down every order as it passed into the mailbox noting how much the shipping costs in the end. There are plenty of times, when people order multiple items where I can give them a refund.
*Don't get me started on Etsy's poorly designed "cost of shipping second item" figures. I can't tell you how often I've wound up paying for orders to be shipped as the result of undercharging on this. It's definitely a flawed system.
7. Contact my customers. This is a step I had neglected in the past. Now I do it. And it takes longer than you'd think. Scrolling through emails or convos is not always a simple process. While my main purpose for writing is to say, "YAY, your package has shipped!", each individual order requires something specific to them. I let people know if it shipped First Class or Priority, if I didn't generate it through PayPal. Sometimes I owe my customers a refund and I let them know they can expect it. Again, time, time, time.
Now, there is the thought that a lot of this should be included in the price of the item. The thing is- IT IS NOT THE COST OF THE ITEM- it's the cost of shipping and handling. So that's where I put it. Come tax time, this can become even more evident. *See DaisyJanie's comment below for more on the tax realities of what I stated here.
Be fair to yourself and your time- you cannot afford to give yourself away for free on any level of a transaction. The resentment you will feel when you could be hanging out with your kid or kicking back and watching the telly while you work to get all your packages out will eat away at you. Also it's not healthy for your business. Your business needs to make money. It cannot thrive without it. Before you think "but it only takes a second" pause and ask yourself- Is it really a second? How many seconds total have I given up? What would I rather be doing with this second? How will my donating this second support my business, even if it means my customer may benefit from a .25 savings? Will my customer even realize the gift of my time that I've afforded them?
I don't mean to sound nickel and dimey... and I'm all for offering multiple item incentives or adding a free tidbit now and again: I don't charge for my tissue paper and logo stickers- I gave away free note pads with $20 orders, I'll include free swatches of other patterns... all this is the cost of growing my business and I put that under "promotion" which is built into the price of my goods in one way or another along with overhead, cost of goods and should also include my own salary- which I have yet to see! I am working on that. See, I don't know everything! Even if I spout off like I do. If you made it this far, thanks for reading!