To date I've shipped hundreds of packages of handmade items through my Etsy shop. I've learned a lot along the way and I see so many people, both sellers and regular folks, wasting time and money when they ship because they simply don't know any better. It genuinely bums me out. So I'm here to do something about that.
Here are four tips to save you time and money on shipping your precious packages.
Before I begin...!
Shipping online used to be cheaper than in store via the USPS website, but rates went up in January 2016 and now you pay the same for USPS postage online via their website or in person at the Post Office.
So if you ship often and regularly you might look into a paid subscription with a service like stamps.com for discounted postage or the ability to ship USPS First Class from home. (This is not something you can do online through usps.com.) But for more sporadic shipping, or if you want to avoid monthly fees read on.
1. Don't buy boxes.
For shipping flat or rolled prints I buy my own flat mailers and tubes from EcoEnclose and Uline. But if you're shipping packages USPS Priority Flat Rate (my favorite domestic option, it comes insured and with a tracking number and takes less than a week to arrive) or Priority Express you can swing by the post office and raid their Priority Mailing section. These boxes are 100% free, sturdy, and self sealing. The boxes range in size from small (think DVD's and paperbacks) to large enough to ship a folded coat. They're sized to cover the vast majority of shipments and ship flat rate, too. And you can leave with a stack of them and nobody will care. But you must use these boxes for their intention - Priority mailing only. Otherwise you're a thief. Please don't be a thief.
I spent more than I care to say on basic brown shipping boxes before I realized that if I use Priority boxes for Priority shipping not only would I not have to buy boxes, but shipping was actually cheaper and simpler with their Priority Flat Rate option. Such a light bulb moment.
2. Don't go to the Post Office.
You're saying, but you just said to go to the post office! Yes, if you're in a rush and you need those Priority boxes NOW get down there and snag a few. You won't even have to wait in line. But if you're not in a rush go online to https://www.usps.com/ship/welcome.htm and have them shipped to your house for free. Free boxes, free shipping. All you have to do is set up a free account so they'll know where to send your goodies.
You can also order stamps and such while you're there but you'll have to pay for those of course. Still, you don't have to go to the post office.
3. Don't go to the post office.
So now you've got a big box or a large shipment that won't fit in your mailbox and you're ready to take it down to the post office. Well put your keys down and get back on your computer.
If you're a seller you should have your shipping notifications set to let your customers know that it will take 24 hours for their tracking number to update.* So go online with that USPS account you set up earlier and ask them to pick up your order tomorrow when they drop off your mail. Choose the option of leaving it by your door, or even ask them to ring the door bell and they'll snag it for you the next time they come by. Seriously, they will even send an extra truck if your shipment is that big. All at no cost to you.
*Tracking numbers update as soon as an item is scanned by your carrier, so once it's picked up/dropped off at the mailer of your choice it will be scanned and the tracking number is activated. Letting your customer know that it takes 24 hours for their shipment to update buys you time to get it to the post office or have it picked up the next day. This is standard procedure for all businesses, so add this to your shipping policy and relax.
I'm telling you, the US Postal Service is awesome.
4. Really, don't go to the Post Office.
If you do need to visit your post office in person, unless you live very, very close to a strangely vacant location you likely have better options. Did you know that places like The UPS Store, FedEx, and the smaller similar chains that hide in the shopping centers down by the grocery store can do basically everything your post office can plus much more? And by that I mean they can do what their company does, ship via their carrier, plus ship via the USPS. So you can compare rates and delivery times in person and ask for either the quickest, the cheapest, or some happy medium. And while you're there you can rent a mailbox (which, unlike a PO box can accept most, if not all of your shipments), ship locally and internationally, buy packing supplies you can't get at the post office, make copies and prints, have your order packaged by pros, etc.. All after you've waited in typically what is a much shorter and faster line than the one down at the post office. Especially around the holidays.
Basically I want you to understand that unless you need something you can only do in person with The United States Postal Service you really don't need to go to the dreaded post office. You can do most everything quicker and for less money online or through a different retailer.
If you have a computer you can ship nearly all of your packages, domestic and international, from the USPS website. And if you have an accurate scale you can package using your own boxes, tubes, and envelopes. Simply package your shipment, input the details at USPS.com, and print your label either directly on a printable shipping label or on a regular piece of paper you can tape to the package. Let them know what's up, and USPS will pick up your shipment the next time they swing by. It's so, so easy.
It's almost as if they don't want you to go to the post office.