Shipping Your Products

Dropshipping and shipping products

For some reason this part of e-commerce seems to give many people concern. It’s not really that big a deal, as we’ll see shortly. We’ll compare the big 3 shippers and discuss best practices for shipping and supplies.

Choosing your carrier

What carrier you use will depend on your own requirements. If you are primarily dropshipping, you will use whatever service your dropshipper is using. If you want to do some shipping yourself, your choice will depend on both your market, and your items:

  • Do your customers expect quick fulfillment? Use UPS or Fedex to make sure it gets there fast.
  • How big are your items? Different carriers have different maximums. Bear in mind that extremely large boxes will ship “dimensional weight”, meaning that you will pay based on the size of the box, not the weight.
  • Do you ship everyday? You’ll want to schedule a regular pickup.
  • There’s no reason to think you have to just use one. We use UPS for daily pickup, and also ship Fedex when our customers request it.

USPS

United State Postal Service

Consider using the Postal Service if your packages are normally small and don't weigh much, and they have a low value - well under $100.00

This is the easiest for most people, and lots of eBay sellers swear by it. Your mailman picks up the packages, and many of the boxes are free. The Postal Service will even mail you free boxes to use. Setting up an account with the USPS is a snap. Just go to http://usps.com and click “register” in the upper right hand corner.

Their new website is logically set up and intuitive, and you should have no problem finding what you need.

There are some down sides to the Postal Service. Tracking can sometimes be problematic, and most people expect UPS or Fedex as an option at least. But you can do everything from the USPS web app with no investment on your end. If you have a printer and a PC, you can be up and running in minutes.

FEDEX

Federal Express
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I recommend that you set up your Fedex account by phone. Get confirmation that you will have an account rep and get their name and email. Call or email them immediately and establish a relationship.

Make sure they know that you need a label printer, and a box of labels. The beginning of a professional relationship is just like any other: Everyone wants to put their best foot forward. Use this to your advantage.

The real decision with Fedex is whether you want to print shipping labels and take your packages to a Fedex store, or schedule a daily pickup. There are pluses and minuses to each approach:

Scheduled Pickups

  • A Fedex truck arrives at your home or business each day. Be sure that this is permitted where you live, and that your driveway can accommodate a Fedex truck. I used to live in a sub-division where daily delivery trucks were prohibited, and had to take my shipments to a drop-off location.
  • Fedex, unlike UPS, uses separate trucks for ground and express shipments. This, quite frankly, is a pain in the butt. It is just easier to set up a “ready by” time for everything and make sure all your items are at the pickup point by then.

Drop-off

  • If you do not ship every day, this may be the choice for you. Fedex has a LOT of drop-off locations. They bought Kinko’s, so those are all Fedex stores now, they already had their own network of stores, and there are a ton of independent businesses that are Fedex drop-off points.
  • All you have to do is print out the shipping label, put it on the box, and drive to the drop-off. Hand it to the guy behind the counter, and you’re done. Shipping charges are billed to your account or to your customer’s, whichever you specify. Easy.
FedEx locations

The result above shows 500 locations near me. It is worth your while to check out the Fedex / Kinko’s nearest you. You can run a business from one, including all printing, promotional materials, trade show displays – just about everything you need.

Software

The Fedex online shipping software is not the most intuitive, but you’ll be able to figure it out with a little practice. Their help files are good, and you can always call for help if you need to.

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If you have your Fedex bills auto-paid with your AMEX card, you can get 5% off all of your shipping. Ask your account rep to set this up for you.

UPS

Since DHL shut down its US operations, Fedex and UPS are pretty much the only games in town. One thing you can do is play them off of each other if you want to set up daily pickup. They will discount to get your business.

If you choose UPS, and you are not good with computers, get a promise that they will send someone out to install their shipping label printer. Their software is problematic at best. Last time I installed one I had to go to a third party company online and download their driver. Once installed, though it works perfectly.

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I recommend that you set up your UPS account by phone. Get confirmation that you will have an account rep and get their name and email. Call or email them immediately and establish a relationship.

Make sure they know that you need a label printer, and a box of labels. The beginning of a professional relationship is just like any other: Everyone wants to put their best foot forward. Use this to your advantage.

Scheduled Pickups

  • A UPS truck arrives at your home or business each day. The same considerations apply here as for Fedex.
  • UPS uses one truck for everything. You can set up a “pickup window” to have them come and get all of your packages. We have them come no earlier than 3:30 and no later than 6:30.

Drop-off

  • Like Fedex, UPS has multiple types of drop off locations, ranging from UPS stores down to places like small hardware stores, and everything in between. UPS stores are nowhere near as comprehensive and useful as a Fedex / Kinko’s for full office support, but they do just fine if all you need is to drop off a box.
  • All you have to do is print out the shipping label, put it on the box, and drive to the drop-off. Hand it to the guy behind the counter, and you’re done. Shipping charges are billed to your account or to your customer’s, whichever you specify. Easy.
UPS locations

Software

UPS has an online app just like Fedex – but I recommend you download their Worldship software and use that. The interface is easy to learn, and you can do ground, next day, international – everything from one interface. It’s also really easy to re-print labels and reports.

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When scheduling your pickup time, take your time zone into account. We are on the east coast, so by having our driver come no earlier than 3:30 PM, we can ship next day for customers on the West coast – so long as they order by 12:30 PM. If we get a Next Day or 2nd day order later in the day, we just toss them in the car and drop them off.

Shipping Supplies

With one exception which we’ll discuss below, always use new clean professional packing materials. There is a big difference between getting a battered old box with shredded newspapers in it and a nice clean box, properly taped that has peanuts for packing material. The first looks like some dork in his basement has a “hobby business”. The second could have come from a Fortune 500 company.

The best place to get your shipping supplies is Uline.com. They have everything you could possibly need, they’ll keep your info on file, and delivery is lightning fast. Don’t be surprised if the shipping is expensive for bags of peanuts – they can take up a lot of room on a truck.

The only thing I buy locally is tape. Warehouse stores like Costco and BJ’s typically have the best prices on tape. Please don’t go cheap on the tape. Scotch packaging tape is the gold standard. Cheap tape loses its “sticky” in temperature extremes and breaks easily.

We like to order 3 bags of peanuts at a time, along with a 3 month supply of boxes. The peanuts are the only things that take up a lot of room. If you can, order the 20 cubic foot bag and get a lot more for your money. Use the green static-free peanuts. Peanuts and static will leave you with peanuts stuck to your hands, arms and clothing.

uline shipping supplies

Best practices

Packaging

Re-using boxes is permissible under these circumstances:

  • The box still looks OK – no stains or tears 
  • No company logos are on the box (Why is my iPod cover in a tomato box?)
  • The box is not dirty
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One technique for saving money on boxes is to appeal to the environmental sensibilities of your customers. Especially if your niche is something like “alternative medicine” you can put a sticker on your (slightly) used box like this:

“Here at Acme incorporated we are dedicated to reusing, repurposing and recycling. By accepting your shipment in this reused box, you are helping us to keep paper out of landfills, and reducing the need for box manufacturing. Thanks!”

Make sure you are using enough tape to help the box hold its shape. This means that the heavier the item, the more securely you want to tape the box. If you are shipping liquids make especially sure to secure all the box edges with tape.

Fill the box with peanuts. Make sure that you have peanuts on all six sides of the item, separating the item from the box sides if possible. Delivery men can be rough sometimes, and a broken product is no use to anyone.

Shipping Options

Limit them as much as possible. Unless your niche seems to require it, see if you can ship ground only. Next Day and 2nd Day are nice for the customer, but can generate service issues for you. If you are using a dropshipper for fulfillment, this can be especially problematic. You’ve promised your customer that they can have their tomato bender tomorrow – what if your shipper isn’t fast enough?

If you do offer expedited shipping, make sure there is a cutoff time. Your customers should understand that if they order at 4pm EST they can’t have it in California the next morning.

A compromise is to offer ground only except for the Xmas season. If your item is any kind of a consumer product that be given as a gift, your customers will want to be able to get it fast. Lots of people (like me) wait till the last minute to shop.

Dropshipping on your account

If you are using a dropshipper, try having them ship on your account for a month or so, then compare your costs. Some companies treat shipping as a profit center, and upcharge everything. Others simply charge you what it costs to ship the box.

Here’s where the potential savings come in: The more you ship the better rates you can negotiate with carriers. If your dropshipper is charging his cost only, he may be able to ship less expensively on his account than you can on yours.

The advantage to having everyone that ships for you use your account is significant: You can log into your UPS or Fedex account and instantly see where all of your customers packages are. People love it when they send an email asking where their box is, and you respond with a tracking number.

(You may wonder why they didn’t just look at the email they got from you or your shipper when their package went out. Me too.)

Now you have a product source, you know how to deal with your suppliers, and you have your very own shipping department set up. Here comes the fun part: Customers