25 Ways to Avoid eCommerce Shipping Horror Stories

jewelry boxes

I recently stumbled onto a not so funny (but kind of funny) article called 6 Shipping Horror Stories that outlined some of the worst shipping mishaps that have happened to people, such as stolen goods, lazy postal workers and mishandled fragile packages.

It got me thinking, how can eCommerce sellers avoid similar situations? Simple, follow along for these 25 tips on Hassle-Free shipping:

1. Budget for losses

Every year, be sure to include a small budget for postal errors as part of your expenses. Having one in place means your profits will stay intact and you won’t feel as sick any time an unexpected loss comes about because of a shipping error. Once a year has gone by, you can easily compare your actual shipping losses to the budget you created and tweak it for the following year. You can also use the budget as a goal by aiming to make the amount smaller and smaller (and in turn, your losses smaller and smaller) every year.

2. Stock up big time

Isn’t running out of shipping supplies just the worst? You have a bunch of packages to go out and you realize that you’re out of bubble mailer #4 which means you have to run out to the store and grab a few packs in order to get your next set of items out. That’s no way to live, especially when you’re running a business, because the extra gas and time costs add up quick. Instead, try the following:

–> always have a huge stock of shipping supplies on hand
–> do a physical inventory weekly to see what you’re running low on
–> factor in supply shopping during weekly outings (grocery, walmart, dollar store) with your family to save on time
–> for high volume sellers with a ton of different shipping suppliers, try a spreadsheet to keep track of supplies and watch it weekly to keep on top of low amounts.

3. Include handling costs

Instead of running constant ‘free shipping’ gimmicks, try not only having the proper shipping prices in place, include a small fee for your extra costs such as packaging materials and gas to the post office. If your products are top notch and something people want, they’ll be willing to pay the correct shipping cost to get the goods in their hands.

4. Always overdo padding

It doesn’t matter if your items are fragile or not, treat every item the same and ALWAYS overdo the padding with extra bubble wrap, tissue paper and/or foam peanuts. The one time you skimp (tisk tisk, maybe because you ran out of supplies!?) you’ll hear some horror story about the mailman triple shoving the item in a tiny window and your customer will not be happy. By ensuring your package is well padded, regardless of the item inside, you’ll never have to worry that your latest customer will find fault with the way you handled packaging her precious item.

5. Find cheap supplies

I’ve run into several sellers who seem to think that the price of shipping materials is outrageous but even living in Canada, where we aren’t offered free shipping supplies through our shipping carriers like many in the U.S. are, I’ve always managed to find cheap supplies. While some of the following ideas don’t really support the ‘handmade’ mentality, it can be awful costly (and/or time consuming) to create your own shipping materials using PDF envelope templates and eco-friendly materials all the time:

–> Try your local dollar shop for packs of bubble envelopes, mailing labels, packing tape and bubble wrap. The big chains seem to have the best selection at the lowest prices but do keep in mind that since dollar stores have a little bit of everything, you may need to try more than one location to get the amount of materials you need for say a months worth of shipping.

–> Another great source of lower priced shipping materials (while not as cheap as a dollar store) would come from places like Wal-Mart and Target. While they don’t have prices as low as dollar stores, they usually have larger pack sizes (think envelopes in packs of 10 and gigantic rolls of bubble wrap) and more stock on hand meaning you don’t need to try more than one location to get everything you need.

–> Sales abound after every holiday or special event, so be sure to keep your eye out for discounted tissue paper, tags, boxes and ribbon during this time for super discounted pricing on your supplies.

–> Check with your local post office to see if they have any cheap supplies. While most are overpriced, some carriers do offer very cheap supplies (think 1 cent envelopes) online to get you using their online shipping tools, so it’s worth asking about.

6. Find free supplies

There are loads of ways to get free supplies, here are a few ideas:

–> Grocery stores: next time you’re grocery shopping, grab a handful of well picked boxes (most stores keep them at the front near the cash registers for customers who want an alternative to plastic bags) that have solid lids and closed bottoms for your next large and custom orders.

–> Friends & family: during my days as an Etsy and eBay seller, friends and family members were a huge help in allowing me to gain tons of free supplies because they were more than willing to hang onto any materials they came into contact with. Spread the word by sending out a quick email to people you see often enough asking them to keep materials from any online and offline purchases they make so you can use them for your business. They’ll all be happy to help and it will save you tons of cash.

–> Recycled materials: just like with friends and family, you and members of your household probably do a fair bit of online shopping so be sure to save all the materials from these purchases for your own business. Same goes for packaging materials from birthday parties and holiday gifts, the tissue and ribbon in particular are great touches when sending out your packages in style.

–> Check with your local post office to see if they offer free shipping supplies. Many will offer free boxes, labels and envelopes, especially if you plan to use online shipping tools.

7. Offer recycling incentives

I’ve seen several sellers successfully implement a recycling initiative in order to gain some of their shipping supplies back. This type of program works best when you have a high volume of items being sent out OR your products are in a higher price range. For example, if you sell metal jewelry that costs a minimum of $200, anytime a buyer sends back their packaging, you’ll offer them a 10% discount on their next order. Be sure to do the math though because I worry about sellers losing profit on their items (because of discounts offered) just to get a $1 envelope back in the mail.

8. Create a shipping center

Regardless of if your business is full or part time, with it’s own studio or cramped in your dining room corner, you need to have a small shipping center. Even if you have limited space, it’s so essential to set this up so you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re not going to misplace sold items, run around the house looking in different bags for different packaging materials (been there, done that, not fun) and wracking your brain trying to figure out if you already shipped out an item from last week you can’t find the receipt for. To cover all your bases, include the following:

–> a handy bin to store sold goods before you package them
–> another handy bin to store sold goods after you package them
–> a binder to make notes and staple receipts
–> a place to keep all your shipping materials in one spot (a large bin, a big drawer etc)
–> an ‘in tray’ to place printed shipping labels and other important papers

You can always take this area one step further by keeping it close to your computer to allow you to print labels quickly, watch over you shipping supply spreadsheet and tally up costs in one space. If you have enough space, you may also have room to store all your listed items in the vicinity, creating a product & shipping center that meets all your business needs.

9. Pen shipping instructions

This may seem silly if you’re the only person that does shipping duties right now but why not type or write out a checklist of everything that needs to be done when you ship an item out. In the case you get sick and need to enlist the help of older children or your spouse to do it for you, or if your business gets so big you have to hire some help, you have it all set out in writing so people can come in and follow your automated instructions with ease.

10. Use proper materials

Scotch tape is not ideal for taping up large cardboard boxes and handmade envelopes made from lightweight paper are not a good idea for mailing notecards to your latest customer. Ensure you are using the proper materials when shipping goods to avoid headaches for both you and customers. A good list of materials would include:

–> packing tape
–> cardboard boxes
–> bubble envelopes
–> cardboard backed envelopes
–> bubble wrap & foam peanuts
–> tissue paper and other pretty embellishments

11. Insure everything if possible

Even if your customers don’t want to pay for insurance, fork out the extra cost yourself or better yet, include it in the price of shipping so anytime there is a postal loss or issue in transit, you’ve covered your butt and will gain your loss back through the post office.

12. Always go above and beyond… even when it’s not your fault

I for one am not the type of person who likes to kiss butt when something happens that’s not my fault. But if you’re in the business of selling goods to people, you have to be nice and go above and beyond even when you don’t want to. It doesn’t matter if it’s the post office, your customer’s pet cat or plain old bad luck that caused something to go wrong, just apologize, be polite and offer an incentive for them to shop with you again, like a free item or shipping next time around.

13. Special touches can increase sales

I’ve received a countless number of handmade items from Etsy and most times I did, they were packaged beautifully, as if I was receiving a present. From the carefully selected ribbon, tissue, tags and embellishments, these packages made me feel special and I immediately¬†noted the seller and made a point to return when the time was right.

If you want to make your customers feel special, using leftover embellishments from a scrapbooking layout or ribbon and tissue from a birthday gift can truly knock their socks off. It will surely increase sales down the line as these customers will remember your shop and want to return asap.

14. Invest in little time savers

When I sold on Etsy, I spent a little bit of money on a custom stamp from Etsy seller zoopri and it was worth every penny. Not only did I save major time on writing out my return address on every package being shipped, I also cut down on the cost of return address labels. There are several little things you may have considered investing in to help with your shipping and I say go for it, if it’ll save you time and/or money, it’s the right choice to make for your Etsy business.

15. Save time with online tools

This is a no brainer, use Paypal shipping tools or go with your local post office’s online system, to print shipping labels for your packages in a flash. Besides the obvious benefits, you can avoid post office line ups by dropping the prepaid packages off in a nearby mailbox, save by not having to buy mailing labels and be able to keep the price of your shipped package private.

16. Include flat rate incentives

People everywhere love the idea of unlimited shopping online without added shipping costs. If you can factor the costs in, why not offer a flat rate shipping price so customers know the most they can be charged for shipping when shopping with you is capped to a reasonable sum like seven dollars max.

17. Wrap items in plastic first

Regardless of what you sell and before you package it up, wrap it in plastic. This could mean simply dropping your jewelry box into a ziplock bag or wrapping a ceramic ashtray with saran wrap a few times. In the case your package runs into water during it’s shipping journey, you can be sure the item won’t get damaged and your profits will remain intact.

18. Don’t skimp on package information

Recently I heard the post office had been cracking down on nicknames and short forms for packages being sent out. For example, if you ship your item out and are tired of writing out your return address over and over again, you might try J. Smith instead of Justine Smith. But turns out the post office may decide on a whim that J. Smith should have written their full name out and send that package back, causing massive delays for your customers.

So when you’re writing out the addresses, be sure to have the full names and proper information included every time. I bet that shipping stamp is looking pretty good right about now!

19. A shipping scale is a must have

If you’ve been weighing yourself on the bathroom scale to get an idea of what your package weighs or worse yet, going into the post office and getting the items weighed there, save yourself the time and hassle (if your bathroom scale is off, the post office could send your prepaid item back!) by investing in a shipping scale with a decent maximum weight to meet the needs of your products.

20. Ensure package sizes meet shipping standards

Make sure you know the shipping standards set out by your local postal service (or through Paypal) so you can be sure the pricing you quote your customers will be in line with what you’re going to get charged. For instance, if you quote $2 for the light shipping option and your post office allows packages 8×6 inches in length for that option, be sure to buy envelopes that are the right size or smaller otherwise even with the online shipping tools, you could get the package returned to you or a bill with the added cost you now owe the post office. If you can’t find packaging in the right sizes, tweak them yourself using scissors and tape.

21. Watch the postal workers carefully

You don’t have to be deputy inspector but anytime you drop packages off, just make sure the workers are putting them in the right shipping bins when they have received them so your packages don’t have to get rerouted part way through their journey. You also want to keep an eye out for post offices that are really busy with a disorganized staff so your items don’t end up going into one of many piles that likely won’t get sorted for a long while.

22. State more in your policies

Most eCommerce sellers have very thorough shipping policies set out in their shop but just as a reminder, include a few extra details like your location (especially if you are not in the U.S.), the average shipping time frames your post office outlines, the number of days custom orders take you to create BEFORE shipping and how many days/hours/minutes it takes you to get the post office after a paid order has been received. That way the next time your customer sends a message demanding to know why her package has still not arrived after 3 business days, you can quickly point out your shipping policies and have her simmer down a little.

23. Be vocal with the post office

Don’t be shy about calling up the post office when a major mistake has been made to get a refund for the mishap and an apology for the trouble. Many outlets also offer a business membership which means you can jump the line ups and get priority customer service to deal with all the needs your business has.

24. Refund major shipping overcharges

If you quote a customer at a specific amount and by some stroke of luck end up paying just half that, be kind and refund the extra bit to the customer. While you still want to keep a little amount for your handling and packaging costs, giving them back the extra dough will ensure they remember your honesty and want to shop with you again.

25. Include free shipping incentives for repeat business

Offering free shipping is a very good way to gain sales, especially when you’re just starting out, so think about it if you think it’s a viable option. You could factor in some of all of the cost into the product prices so you don’t lose any profit and you can also channel your inner Amazon by stating that free shipping is for orders over a specific price amount.

{Top image via Notable Notions}

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