A Guide to Shipping Your First Order
One of the most exciting moments as a shop owner is when your first sale comes through.
Someone decided to spend their hard-earned cash on something you’ve made? That’s a validating, motivating, and maybe a little intimidating feeling. But never fear, we’re here to help. Grab a roll of packing tape, and let’s get started.
Pack your products
Didn’t plan in advance? No problem. Let’s figure out what shipping materials you’ll need to get the job done.
- The first priority is to make sure the order arrives undamaged. For fragile items, have a nice sturdy box and some bubble wrap or other padding on hand.
- With the product safe and sound, keep the package as small and lightweight as possible. This keeps your shipping costs down.
- And speaking of weight, you’ll need to know the weight of that package. If you don’t own a scale, try your local post office’s self-service station.
- Look for price breaks. For sellers in the United States, those Priority Mail boxes and envelopes you’ve seen at the post office are not only free, they’re cheaper to mail than an unmarked package of similar size. USPS also offer a large number of free shipping supplies online.
A little something special
Packaging is one more place you can tell your story and reinforce your brand. As customers get to know you, they’ll become faithful fans. Start things off right by including a personal touch.
- Write a thank-you note (you can even just write “thank you” on the packing slip if you’re short on time).
- Use packaging with your logo, put a sticker on it, or draw a funny picture so it’s not a plain, dirty old box arriving at their door.
- Make your shipment special. Wrap that shirt in tissue and tie it with a bow, or slap a great-looking sticker on the box.
- It’s always fun to find something extra with an order. Include a piece of candy or a card with a discount code for their next order.
Choose a carrier
Deciding between UPS, FedEx, USPS, your country’s postal system, or other options? Consider speed, price, and how easy it is for you to get to a drop-off location (or whether they can pick up the packages from you). Those will all impact your costs.
- You’ll almost always save money if you pay for shipping and print a label online.
- Look for price breaks for specific sizes, weights or types of items. For example, if you’re in the U.S., USPS Media Mail is a lower rate specifically for items like zines, CDs, books, and vinyl records.
- Most carriers offer package tracking or delivery confirmation services at no extra charge. Take advantage of that so your customers can stay updated about when their package will arrive, and so you’re alerted if an issue occurs in transit.
- Spring for extra insurance if your item is valuable, fragile, or one-of-a-kind.
- Avoid using express services, unless you charge extra for it or can afford to take the hit. The cost for speedy shipping adds up quick!
- If you’re feeling lost, some places like The UPS Store or other full service shipping stores are more hands-on. Bring your product and they’ll sell you a box, pack it, and ship it for you. You pay more for this service, so once you’ve got more orders under your belt, try to handle packing on your own.
Pro-tip: It’s no fun to talk about, but be aware of the risk of fraud. Always use a carrier you trust, not one your customer requests. A request like that can sometimes mean it’s a fishy order, so be on the lookout for warning signs.
Mark as shipped
Don’t forget to keep your records neat and tidy, and check that order off your to-do list! Keep a reference of the shipment date and tracking number, if needed. If you’re using Big Cartel for your shop, you can save tracking numbers and other details about the shipment in the private notes section of the order detail page.
What did you learn?
With the package on its way, think about what you’ve learned. Ask yourself some questions, and be ready to make adjustments.
- Do the shipping prices in your shop cover your expenses?
- Should you order shipping materials in bulk and keep them on hand?
- How can you simplify the process?
- Could you help your customers more efficiently by creating an FAQ page in your shop to answer common shipping questions?
Shipping is a living, breathing process. Postage prices change, a new product will need a larger box, or maybe you’ll switch to a new carrier. You might not need to change a thing right now, and that’s great. But when order volume skyrockets in your shop, it’ll be time to look at shipping integrations, scheduling pickups, and maybe even hiring someone to help pack up those products for you. Don’t be afraid to keep refining your shipping prices and process as your business grows.
Dan Christofferson, Anna Brozek, Sarah Anderson, and Andy Newman contributed to this guide.