Craft Venture: ship globally without fear

happy holidays - tree pattern, set of 8, by in-vita paper studio

Welcome to Craft Venture ““ business and marketing tips for indie online business owners.  Like me!  Im Brenda, owner of Phydeaux Designs on Etsy and 1000 Markets, and Phydelle Designs on Etsy.  This week, we continue our focus on the busiest retail season:  the holidays.  In particular, this week is about shipping around the world ““ key to a strong retail season!

I’ll  never forget the intermingled joy and terror I experienced when I saw my first order from outside the United States.  Joy and glee, because WOW, people on the other side of the globe would be wearing my scarves!  Absolute terror, because I had no clue what to do next.  What I did was to immerse myself in an international shipping crash course.  That lasted until the point that I finally broke down and signed up for Endicia so that I could more easily ship first class, and thereby changed my entire life as a small business owner.

Guess what?  Shipping, even around the world, isn’t that hard!  I am going to share a few key tips and tricks for you, along with resources that you may continue to refer to.  If I can do this, trust me, you can do this!

I should start by apologizing to our international readers, because I don’t know about your postal and shipping systems.  I can only talk about the USPS (United States Postal Service).  I would love it if you would talk about your country’s system in the comments!

Unless your business is entirely digital or service based (e.g., digital downloads, online consulting, graphic design), chances are, you will need to ship products to customers. Step back one moment and think from a buyer’s perspective.  How do you want your package(s) to arrive?  Unbroken?  Secure?  Do you want a pretty and unique package?  Do you want your jewelry in a well padded box?  How do you want your glass items to arrive?  Do you want your prints and photos to arrive unbent?  Do you want cheap shipping or are you more interested in fast/express shipping?  Is signing for a delivery a nightmare for you, with workday obligations?

vintage black postal scale by hindsvik

Now back to your seller’s perspective.  Did thinking through the previous questions change your current thinking about shipping at all?  I think about shipping as a goal: where do you want your item to go, and how do you get there?  If you know how you, as a buyer, would want your item to arrive and know, as a seller, where you need to ship to, then it’s just a matter of doing a little research about your shipping options so you know how to get from point A (sitting in front of your computer, looking at an order that just came in) to point B (a safe arrival of your item plus a happy customer).

What do you need to know in order to ship outside the US?  The weight of each item (for the customs form) and the overall final weight of your package.  If you use priority or express shipping, you don’t necessarily need the final weight of your package, as long as it doesn’t exceed the weight limit of the priority package/envelope you’re using.  Here are two key things related to your item weights:

Weigh your item before you list/upload you r item!  In response to my call for shipping tips and tricks via Twitter, Kate from girlsavage said, “Get a digital scale so you can weigh packages & look up postage on USPS.com before listing.”  Postal scales, whether digital or non-digital, are essential.  Unless you ship priority only, your item’s and package’s weights determine the cost of your postage!  You can find an inexpensive scale at any office supply shop or on good old eBay.  You don’t need a huge or expensive scale, just one that weighs at least as much as your packaged item(s).

Regularly test your scale’s accuracy.  Find an object with a known, unchanging weight.  Weigh it using your scale – if your scale is off a little, adjust it so that the weight matches that object.  And round up if your package looks like it’s a little over the ounce mark.  Better to be safe than sorry!

So you have your weight.  What now?  Go to the USPS website, which you should bookmark and refer to often.  Then look for “calculate postage” on the top toolbar.  Now you can check domestic and international shipping rates, and even compare rates based on service used.  Below are the rates for an 8 oz. envelope shipped to Australia.

USPS shipping options for Australia

Oh, look!  Each service has a different price, depending on which column you’re looking at.  Why’s that?  If you purchase your postage online, you pay less. I’ll say it again.  You pay less.  I don’t know about you, but being able to do all my shipping, including paying postage, from the comfort of my home, is invaluable!  Add in discounted shipping for doing so?  I’m there!  Plus, I save money on gas, reduce wasted time waiting in lines, and have more time to create and market!

You will save the same amount of money by service using the USPS’ Click-N-Ship, Stamps.com, Endicia or Paypal.  Well, that’s not really true, because only Endicia includes international first class shipping!  You may use the others for international priority or express shipping, but not first class.

When you calculate postage for your item’s shipping expense, base your shipping on several zones:  US (domestic), Puerto Rico (also domestic), Canada, Mexico, and for many items, the rest of the world can be based on Australia’s shipping rates.  Check the rates for your particular items, based on type of service and weight.  In my Etsy shop, I’ve set up my shipping based on weight:  2 oz, 3 oz, 4 oz, all the way up to 8 oz, then 12 oz (the next level in Endicia).  Since doing this, I’ve not yet ended up losing money on shipping.  I sometimes refund a customer a dollar or so, but I’m on the mark 90% of the time!

Using Endicia saved my life as a small business owner.  With a fulltime day job, I don’t have the luxury of being able to go to my post office in order to ship.  I was shipping priority in order to ship internationally, which is expensive for my customers!  I now weigh my final package using my trusty non-digital scale, open up Endicia, fill in the details, including my customs paperwork, triple check that I’ve not made a mistake, print, slap it on my package, and then do one of several things:

. Schedule a pickup via the USPS (they’ll pick it right up from my front step)

. Drop it off in the blue USPS mailbox that’s on the way to work (you can do that for international orders under 13 oz and with purchased postage – if you put a bunch of stamps on there, it will get returned – I’ve learned this before the hard way)

. Drop it off at the APC that’s on the way home from work if it’s too large to fit in the drop off box or heavier than 13 oz.

. Drop it off at my local post office on my way to other errands.

Still on the fence?

Also in response my call for shipping advice, Lisa Souza, said, “Endicia for Mac makes it super easy for the USPS. They will handle the insurance at a better rate.”  Good to know you can use Endicia for both Macs and PCs.

Lisa Salamida, from Savor Soap, graciously gave me permission to let you all know about some great tutorials she created for using Endicia (you’ll find these helpful even if you sell on a venue other than Etsy).   Click on the screen shot or link below to go watch!

international first class shipping video by savor soap

Oh, there’s so much more I want to tell you about shipping internationally!  Please be sure to read the customs regulations to new countries that you’re shipping to!  And please please fill out your customs forms accurately ““ don’t mark your wares as gifts or at less than what a customer paid, in order to save your customer duties and taxes.  If you break postal regulations, you’re breaking federal law ““yikes!

Let me know what other questions you have about international shipping in the comments!  We may need to do a part two next week!  Also, please share with us your own tips and tricks.  Do you print your postage from home?  Is it worth doing so?  And let us know if you ship internationally now – or if you don’t!  If yes, has doing so increased business for you?  If not, what’s holding you back?


Image credits:  1.  Happy holidays – tree pattern, set of 8, by in-vita paper studio; 2.  Vintage black postal scale, by hindsvik; 3. Video tutorial for using Endicia for first class shipping, by savor soap

18 comments | Click here to reply

This is a great topic! I find that calculating shipping for international items is actually easier than for domestic. The problem with domestic is that USPS wants a From zip and a To zip. If you are trying to calculate shipping prior to listing an item, it winds up being a guessing game. I live on the East Coast, so I would use a West Coast zip to try to figure out a shipping rate. But this method has lost me money on shipping more times than I care to count.

I’m an Etsy seller, and I really wish that Etsy would introduce a shipping calculator in the same style as Ebay. It allows buyers/sellers to determine a rate based on weight and actual location – no guessing involved. The buyer can calculate shipping by simply entering their zip, and a price breakdown of the shipping methods used by the seller is shown. No need to contact the seller for shipping. It really is an invaluable tool.

I have a digital scale, I have an account with USPS and I’ve mailed plenty of items from home (I love that!) I just wish there was an easier way to figure out a shipping rate for domestic packages that doesn’t leave me losing out because I short-charged.

And one more thing – the priority flat rate boxes are great, but if the sizes don’t work, you’re out of luck. They can also wind up costing more in some cases. One time a postal clerk helped me to wrap a flat rate box in brown paper because it would have cost more to ship flat rate than regular rate.

Please more on this topic! This continues to be a bugaboo for me.

Audrey

Wow, I always thought that I had to go to the post office for my international orders to use first class! I think it would be soooo worth it to pay for Endicia! Looking at their site I see you can print out custom forms too, good lord that also saves my ass as handwriting them all out kills me. Hooray, thank you for this info!

Kate

Such a fabulous in-depth look at shipping Brenda. I have been thinking about getting a digital scale myself, but needed this extra push. And I am almost ashamed to mention I didn’t know about Endicia until now. What would I do without you Brenda? 🙂
Brittni

papernstitch

It’s funny you say “get in the buyer’s shoes” when it comes to shipping. I didn’t do that at first, but then I received a package one day when it was raining and my porch door was unusually locked. The carrier left it outside and everything inside was soaked.

It was then that I changed my entire packaging plan. I never wanted to do cellophane bags for packaging, but though they’re not entirely waterproof, I began to think more about how the weather affects my packages. This is particularly important since I ship mostly paper goods. Seeing the movie Castaway really made me think about what packages go through too! 🙂

Thank you for mentioning Endicia – I used it years ago but found the fees way too high for personal use. But, I definitely ship first class whenever possible and I don’t mind going to the post office once a week or so to get those packages out.

All of my other packages I just pop in the mailbox and flip up the flag!

Natalie Jost | Olive Manna

I love Endicia, too! It totally changed my life – I haven’t waited in line at the post office in almost a year. It also helps in the accounting department since you don’t have to individually enter each package, you just enter your bulk postage purchase which is less time consuming. I have also not had a package go missing since I started using Endicia – since the post office standardizes the address, it makes it so much easier and more reliable!

Freshie

I have a question about that cute holiday card in the photo – where can I buy that? 🙂

Freshie

Freshie,
You can buy that card here: http://www.supermarkethq.com/product/happy-holidays-tree-pattern-set-of-8

papernstitch

Hi everyone! Great comments, thank you! Endicia has regular webinars to help you learn to use their service. And, I see they also have great video tutorials: http://www.endicia.com/GettingStarted/ .

I’m not employed by Endicia, honest! I just think it’s so brilliant to be able to do first class shipping from home. And, I think global shipping is so crucial for those with online businesses! Anything to take the fear out of shipping internationally is worth it. 🙂

Brenda (phydeaux)

Cool! Thanks!

Freshie

Wow, I had no idea postage was so complicated from the USA. I don’t live there but this article made it very clear and easy to understand.
I’m in Japan where we have a world class postal system. I am pretty sure all sellers from Japan ship internationally as it is really easy and not very expensive.
If you are shopping on Etsy try the “Shop Local” page and buy something from Japan!
Thanks Brenda, this is a very informative and well-written article.

Jacqui Mee a Bee

Hello from Russia!
Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

Polprav

[…] Designs on Etsy and 1000 Markets, and Phydelle Designs on Etsy.  Last week, we talked about international shipping as part of our series for the  retail season:  the holidays.  This week, we’ll talk about […]

paper n stitch – Craft Venture: shipping for the holidays – packaging - A daily dose of handmade, design, and style inspiration

wow brenda! thank you so much for this information!! will definitely check out endicia. to be able to first class ship from home…wonderful! thank you!

naomi

I’m so gad to find this article! International shipping has scared me since the day I opened my Etsy shop back in May. But, now that the holiday season is starting, I really want to offer it. Can anyone share some info about theses custom forms? Where do I get them? Does customs affect rates for international charges i.e.) duty fees/rates?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated 🙂

Kate (Birdcage Cards)

of course you can quote us polprav. thanks for asking.

papernstitch

Hi Kate!

If you use an online postage service, you’ll fill out the customs form online, which makes it a snap. Then the label that you print will be a combined label with customs form and postage! By online, I mean Endicia, Click N Ship, Stamps.com or Paypal. Customs doesn’t affect the cost of your postage, but your customer or recipient may be assessed a duty (fee or tax) on the package. The key thing for you, as a seller, is to not succumb to the temptation of marking your customs form as a gift in order to avoid being assessed customs duties.

If you’re going to fill out paper customs forms, rather than purchase and print your postage online, you can pick up a stack at your local post office OR, better yet, order them online from http://www.usps.gov (free!). I’d recommend picking up a small stack and ordering a stack in addition. You don’t know how long your order will take to arrive.

If you watch this video that Lisa from Savor Soap created, you’ll see how to fill out a customs form/shipping label for first class international! http://www.youtube.com/user/savorsoap#p/u/1/rFyX4N9-EWs

Hope this helps you, if not, let me know! 🙂

Brenda

I am an American, but I live in China and I run my Etsy business from China. I have been here for a year. I almost closed my Etsy business altogether when I came here because the Chinese postal system is, unlike that of Japan mentioned by Jacqui Mee a Bee, completely incomprehensible and not at all reliable. I went to the Post Office with an interpreter to get a chart of standard international delivery rates. I left in tears an hour later because the rates they quoted were astronomically high and they had no standardized rate chart so I would never be able to predict how much I would pay for shipping. As a last resort, I emailed an Etsy “friend” in Shanghai and he directed me to a shipping agent that skips the Chinese system altogether and uses the Hong Kong postal system, which is many times more reliable and half the price. Since then its been a breeze…thank goodness for Etsy friends helping each other out!

Kiley Gogovivi

[…] for the holidays?  Do you understand some of the basic terminology and dates?  Did you read up on international shipping and you’re now ready to expand your business with global sales with first class shipping?  […]

Craft Venture: holiday marketing on the web | papernstitch
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