May 7, 2010

Ecommerce: Beginner's Guide to Shipping


Hostway Team

By Monique Martin

If you’ve just set up your first ecommerce store, you’re probably chomping at the bit for the orders to start rolling in. But, if they do, are you ready? Shipping is one of the most important aspects of any ecommerce Web site. Making sure your product is shipped quickly, securely and for the lowest rate possible can make or break a business. Here are a few tips to help you start shipping like the big boys.

Supplies, Supplies

The very first thing any new store owner needs to buy is a digital shipping scale. You can buy an inexpensive digital scale for $25-50. Most will weigh up to 50+ pounds. Being able to accurately weigh your packages will save you time and money by cutting down on standing in long lines at the post office.

Like everything else in the world, shipping supplies like bubble mailers, tape, labels, boxes and packaging materials are cheaper when bought in bulk. Online stores like Uline or even sellers on eBay offer a large variety of sizes and types at reasonable prices.


Both USPS and UPS have pros and cons depending on your business model. Be sure to compare rates online (both sites have shipping calculators).

  • USPS is generally cheaper for smaller, lighter items (under two pounds). Items under 13 ounces can go First Class, which is pretty inexpensive. You can ship qualified items Media Mail (the cheapest rate around).
  • If your product is heavier or oversized, UPS is probably your best bet.
  • If you sell small, heavy items, flat-rate Priority from USPS is a great option. As they say, if it fits, it ships.
  • USPS offers delivery confirmation (a must for any eBay seller) and insurance for an additional fee.
  • UPS includes tracking and up to $100 of insurance in the price of shipping.
  • USPS offers free Priority and Express mailing supplies, including boxes from their online store.
  • UPS offers free labels and some materials for account holders at the UPS store online.
  • USPS offers free carrier pick-up as long as one of the packages is Priority or Express.
  • UPS offers daily pick-up services for an additional fee dependent on volume.

Both offer discounts for volume shippers, but you’ve got to be turning out a significant number of parcels a day to qualify.

Print Postage Online

USPS offers online postage services. If you print your postage online, you get a small discount and save on extras like delivery confirmation. You can print the shipping label and the postage at the same the time. Whether you create a UPS account, or use the USPS’s Click ‘N Ship program, you’ll be better able to keep track of your shipments and automate notices to customers.

There are other online services (Endicia and that offer discounts, but most charge a monthly fee. Whichever way you go, make sure you have a reliable printer.

About the Author

Monique Martin served as chief operating officer for a successful online insurance marketing firm for five years.

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