Q: I have merchandise I need to mail. I’ve never had this much stuff to mail out at one time before, but my local post office reeeeeeally sucks. So, it would be better for my sanity to do as much at home as possible (weighing/postage/labels).
A.: Congratulations on having great problems to solve! Here’s a quick primer on getting your shipping in ship shape…
I use Endicia, and I find it indispensable. Stamps.com is another option. Either requires a subscription for around $15-17/month, and they both have virtually the same features.
Features of Endicia that I appreciate include…
- Reduced prices on postage
- Scheduling package pick-up at my front door
- Automatic address verification
- Package tracking
- Customs forms for international shipping
- Automatic synchronization of new postage rates
- Flexibility in shipping dates
Looking at their site, it looks as if these features are also available with Stamps.com.
Unfortunately, neither Endicia nor Stamps.com seem to be offering any specials that include the hardware you’ll need to set up your shipping station. You will need to buy a scale and a label printer. I recommend Dymo for both — especially if you choose Endicia. Dymo and Endicia are both owned by Newell, so their products work together nicely.
Go with the slightly larger Dymo M25 digital postage scale.* You can get a cheaper version, but it tops out at five pounds. You’ll need more than that for orders of multiple books. Rest assured, if you, like me, like to ship boxes of books to comic conventions, you can always use a bathroom scale for packages greater than 25 pounds. Just remember to round up to the next pound!
You can’t go wrong with the Dymo 4XL. It prints an all-purpose shipping label — and it works nicely with other back-end crowdfunding solutions like Backerkit.
ULine sells shipping supplies. I prefer East Coast Packaging. There’s also Agrov, PackingSupplies.com and several others. You can find the right-sized boxes for the things you ship most. Do a search for the term “bookfold.” These are special boxes designed to ship different quantities of books. Here are a couple good starts.
- 12⅛” x 9⅛” x 2” — Great all-purpose bookfolds for 8½ x 11 books.
- 8¾″ x 2¾″— These are incredibly cheap, but sturdy, corrugated boxes at around $0.37 each, no matter how many you buy. They come in bundles of 25 as well, so there’s not a huge investment up front. Why I choose this size is, not only can I fit multiple products, but if I go down to a more form-fitting box, I have no room for “crush” and the cost actually goes up.
- 12″ x 8″ x 6″ — I order much fewer of these boxes, but at only $0.43 each, they provide me a cheap alternative for shipping things that are too big to fit in my standard size box.
Protect Your Contents
Boxes serve as the first line of defense for protecting your contents. So having quality corrugated boxes certainly serves that purpose, however as your boxes travel, one of the biggest sources of damage will actually be the book banging against the inside of the box. The extra space in a package is important, because if/when the box gets damaged; you want that cushion in between the outside world and your cargo.
Before boxing-up your goods, seal them in an air-tight plastic bag. This does two things:
- It offers a “mint condition” impression to the recipient.
- It protects the contents from the dirt and water it may be exposed to along the delivery route.
Water is a particularly important concern. There are several way s your package can be exposed to water damage in transit, and even a little moisture can ruin paper-based merchandise like books and prints.
You can buy “Zip-lock”-style bags from companies such as Uline, Clearbags, Agrov, PackingSupplies.com, and probably about a dozen others.*
Filling the extra space is important as well. I investigated numerous filling options, such as bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and even the type of inflatable cushioning systems like you get when you order from Amazon.
While the air cushions are cool, they’re also expensive. The inflator will run you about $129, and the air cushions are $73 for 250 5″ x 8″ bags. If you use 2 bags per shipment, that’s nearly $0.60 per box. That’s too expensive for my tastes.
Bubble wrap also becomes too expensive for me, when you measure out how much you’d need to adequately fill and wrap your books.
So in this case, simpler proves to be better. U-Line offers a 20 cubic foot bag of packing peanuts for around $25-$26. I’ve filled hundreds of orders and only used a quarter of the bag so far. That puts my cost per package at roughly $0.03 each.
And pick up a good tape dispenser. You’ll need it — as well as a few rolls of tape.
You mentioned having a lot of items to ship. In the past, I’ve used Backerkit to fulfill Kickstarter orders. It has its own postage system, and one if its core strengths is the ability to assemble orders into batches. Endicia does have instructions on batch-printing labels, and so does Stamps.com.
- If you have 4-6 weeks for delivery, use “Media Mail” when shipping books (and books only) — but only when you have about 4-6 weeks for delivery. (This is also useful for shipping a large number of books to a distributor or comic-convention.) Delivery Confirmation is available for Media Mail.
- You can schedule a home pick-up. Go to USPS.com and click on Schedule a Pick-up. (It’s in the red bar across the top.) Choose Carrier Pick-up, and follow the directions. You can leave your packages at a predetermined place (and even leave a note for the postal employee to guide him or her to where you put them). As long as you notify them before 2 a.m. CST the day of your scheduled pick-up, you’re in the clear. Just make sure your packages are sealed and ready for shipping (including postage).
- Free supplies! Yup, the United States Postal Service will send you Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes and boxes and even Priority Mail tape at no charge. Fair warning: If you use the Priority Mail tape on a package, they’re going to insist that you ship that package Priority Mail. It’s kind of a thing with them.
- Don’t wait in line. You can handle a lot of your postage online. You can print and pay postage at USPS.com and at Paypal.com. (Through Paypal, you can ship using either the post office or UPS.) And, of course, there are systems such as those sold by Endicia (Webcomics.com members are eligible for a special price) that enable you to print postage in your studio.
Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes
As one Webcomics.com member points out, you might benefit from Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes:
- They’re free from the Post Office
- They’re sturdy and offer good protection
- If your item fits inside the box, it ships at one, flat rate.
*Disclosure — These are associate links. I will receive a stipend if you purchase using these links.