May 26, 2018

Shipping for Beginners: How I Ship Greeting Cards & Paper Products with the USPS

Photo by Ethan Hoover on Unsplash

When I first started my Etsy shop I was always super confused about shipping, so I thought I’d talk a bit on my experience shipping specifically greeting cards and paper products (stickers, prints, or essentially can be applied to all flat, lightweight items) for beginners or anyone else who’s interested!

Here’s a quick recap of what I’ll be talking about:

  1. Shipping First Class Letter vs. First Class Package, what’s the difference? I break down my thoughts (the pros and cons) on using both.
  2. I’ve included links to all the products I use throughout my entire shipping process and ways I saved on costs when starting out.

Shipping Methods & Tools I Use after the jump!

USPS First Class Shipping Methods

I ship all of my domestic orders First Class Package. For International card orders with 1-2 cards I ship First Class Letter. I talk about some of the differences below. Keep in mind everyone’s preference and circumstance is different and I encourage you to use the method that works for you!

Pros and Cons of shipping First Class Package:

  1. Pro: Tracking Number. Blame this on my paranoia with lost mail and frustration with dealing with USPS customer service (on the phone and IRL), but having a tracking number puts my mind at ease and is your proof to the buyer that you shipped it. Having a tracking number also covers you under Etsy Seller Protection. First Class Letter does not have tracking.
  2. Pro: You can purchase postage online. I started getting busier with my full time work and I didn’t have the time to go to the Post Office anymore. In the beginning I shipped First Class Letter, however, I felt with the rates by purchasing postage online it was worth it to me because of my current availability and schedule.
  3. Pro: Packaging matters a lot to me and I like the look of kraft rigid mailers. They are also sturdy and I can breathe easy when I drop them off in my local blue bin down the street.
  4. Con: Cost. Shipping First Class Package starts at $2.61 for up to 4oz (as of May 2018), so once you factor in packaging supplies it comes out to closer to $3.00 to ship a single item. Meaning the buyer is looking at paying anywhere from $6-$8 for a single card.

Pros and Cons of shipping First Class Letter:

  1. Pro: Low costs. It’s cheaper for the buyer and might bring down your [the seller] costs for packaging materials. We all know we hate to pay for shipping especially when it comes to things that are already low priced (like greeting cards or stickers) and bringing up a single card to over $7 can be expensive to some. I think this method works well for products that have lower costs to produce (i.e. 1-2 stickers packs) where you have a bit of cushion and can afford to eat the costs if it gets damaged in the mail and you plan on resending it to the buyer at no additional costs (this wouldn’t be all the time, just for those unique instances, you can also even account for this in your shipping costs if your margins are good).
  2. Pro: You can use stamps! Purchasing First Class Letter postage is done by going to your local post office and waiting in line or using stamps, keep in mind it does not include a tracking number. In the beginning I had time to stop by the post office, but as my full time work picked up it took too much out of my day to walk over and wait in line. I also didn’t invest in a scale yet because I was testing the waters, but if you have a scale on hand you can easily buy the right amount of stamps you need (they sell $1, $0.01/5/10 cent stamps, etc) and drop them in your local blue bin. I think stamps make packages feel a lot more personal.
  3. Con: Added labor. This adds an extra step to your order fulfillment process, but I think it’s a good idea to back your mailer with a sheet of cardboard to avoid your cards or smaller prints from getting bent around the corners or in half in the mail (also, writing “do not bend” doesn’t guarantee anything). This adds a non-machinable $0.21 surcharge to the cost (meaning it can’t go through their regular sorting machines for letters and needs to be hand sorted because it’s rigid), but is a small price to pay. To save time finding cardboard around the house you could invest in letter size sheets of chipboard, which makes it easier to cut down to size with a paper cutter and looks more professional.
  4. Con: Too rigid? Too thick? I’ve had good and bad experience with different post offices in my area (and I’ve read a lot of people’s varying experiences in Etsy forums), but because of the confusion around this issue your shipment might get looked at as a First Class Package because it is too rigid or too thick, and will get returned back to you even if you paid the extra non-machinable fee. The most frequent issues I’ve read where people had their shipment returned is that it was greater than 3/4″ thick. Here’s a few articles I’ve read that might help: 1 2 3 4, and see size and weight restrictions here.
  5. Technically you are not allowed to ship merchandise via First Class Letter, which are meant for personal letters and documents. However, realistically from a seller (and buyer) standpoint if you’re sending one or two stickers it doesn’t make much sense to charge up to $3 to ship (which is probably close to the cost of the product) when you can put a 49 cent stamp on it and it’ll more than likely reach them with no problems.

Conclusion: All in all, from my personal experiences, First Class Package has left me and my buyers with the least amount of headaches for domestic orders. For international orders, I have noticed an increase once I switched to offering First Class Letter at $3 a card (vs. close to $14) and I have only had one returned back to me.


Products I Use For Shipping

Scale
There are tons of different scales you can purchase on Amazon or at your local Target. This is just one I found to be a good size, decently priced, and it hasn’t failed me since I bought it. It comes with a power cord or just use a battery (which has lasted me forever).
Amazon: Weighmax Shipping Postal Scale

Shipping Labels
You can do away with Shipping Label sticker sheets if you’re just starting out to save a few extra dollars. I used to print them on regular computer paper, cut, and tape them onto my mailer for months. It’s definitely not the prettiest looking, but as someone starting out every penny you save helps, especially if you’re just testing the waters. However, if you can justify spending a few extra dollars on shipping labels they are a time saver.
Amazon: Best Print 200 Half Sheet

Paper Cutter
If you plan on printing labels out on computer paper a cutter can help speed up the process. It’s not necessary, but I wanted to include it because this has been a tool I use ALL the time. I use it to cut all my greeting cards and notepads, as well as things like business cards (I print and cut mine myself) and other collateral/packaging material.
Amazon: Fiskars Recycled 12-Inch Bypass Trimmer

Mailers
These are easy to find online and it’s up to you which ones you prefer, but they can get pricey depending on the weight of the mailer. I started out with these affordable white mailers below and sometimes I added another thin sheet of cardboard (I’m paranoid, yes), but I never had anyone complain about it arriving damaged. Another option is bubble mailers or regular paper mailers backed with sturdy cardboard/chipboard.
Amazon: 6×8″ Stay Flat Mailer / 6×10″ Bubble Mailer

Printer
Any affordable all in one desktop printer will do for this. I do not use a shipping label printer, I use a standard inkjet desktop printer that fits Letter size paper. You can also pick up a black & white laserjet (similar costs) if you feel you’ll strictly be using it for labels or black and white documents. I chose this particular model because I was planning to use it to print other things for my shop and since it takes multiple ink tanks it makes for a nicer color output. You can opt for a printer that just has two ink tanks (color + black) and it’ll work just fine!
Amazon: Canon MG5720 Wireless All-In-One Printer

I could never find something that answered the questions I had when I first started (the USPS website is scary), especially with stationery items, so thought I’d offer some insight. Also, it helps to visit different post offices to get opinions, sometimes you run across a grumpy postal worker who tells you the wrong things (not nice!). Hope this helps someone!

Amazon affiliate links are used, but you can also just google the names that I provide if you prefer 🙂