Last week I wrote a blog post with some thoughts on customer service and what I've learned from selling Mood Sprays™ over the Internet. Today, I'd like to share what I've learned about shipping them!
When I started out, I had no idea that packing and mailing costs cost make or break the business' bottom line. Because of the size of my business (small), I use the USPS to ship my orders and over the past three years the USPS has broken my heart. Here's the short list of my frustrations:
- Inconsistent pricing. I ship the same size and weight boxes every week. But the postage is cheaper if I go to one USPS office vs. another in my town. It is more expensive if I get one postal worker at the counter vs. the other two. For example, shipping the Mini Mood Spray pack is sometimes $2.05; unless they decide it's $2.35. Or $3.50. Which I learned the hard way when a customer complained she received the package with "postage due." Online "Click n' Ship" only gives me Priority options, not First Class, and for liquids, I have to bring it to the post office anyway. What this costs me is not only money but time. Short summary: I cannot reliably ship them from home. I have to physically take them to the post office and I'm still not sure how much I'm going to wind up paying.
- Inconsistent delivery. Imagine my frustration at Christmas when I shipped customer orders 2 Day Priority and they arrived five days late. Imagine my frustration when I shipped other boxes standard Parcel Post and they arrived next day. Imagine.
- Damaged packages. The USPS' own 2 Day priority boxes do not meet the crush-proof "200 lb. test." They promise you insurance but honestly? There is no reasonable way to make a claim when your package arrives damaged. At Christmas I ate 20 percent of my earnings re-shipping to unhappy customers. Claims to USPS went ignored. So don't even bother. Now I know. You've got to pack it like it's an Egyptian artifact or your customer won't be happy. I started out committed to minimal packaging but I totally get it now. If you are shipping something liquid or fragile, you need extra space and extra packaging to protect what's inside. I use biodegradable cornstarch peanuts that will dissolve under running water, fyi.
- Zero choice for small business. I've done quite a bit of research into shipping costs and determined I might be eligible to negotiate with USPS for business pricing. Except...I can't. I went to speak to my post office's business representative and he had no idea. He printed out several online options for printing postage (like Stamps.com and Pitney Bowes) which just add more expense. UPS is easily twice what the USPS charges at my shipping volume. I feel stuck.
- Random rules and requirements, both randomly enforced. After shipping Mini Mood Spray packs in a small box, for $2.35 for six months, with stamps they provided in a one-on-one conversation about the box, my local post office decided the box was too small. Specifically, too small for their postage sticker. After our frustrated conversation, they printed out a minimum size that had to be met and I ordered new boxes - writing off the cost of nearly 100 now unusable boxes sitting in my work room. The new, larger box ships for about $3.50 and though you might not think that extra dollar is a big deal; it's a big deal on a hand-made product that costs $7.50.
I've just completed my 2013 tax preparations and I can tell you that shipping costs were 50 percent of the money I took in via sales. That's not even taking into account the costs associated with MAKING the products themselves.
When I started out, I wasn't thinking about how the costs of postage would affect the bottom line or what an important role it would play in keeping customers happy. I've learned so much! And I keep going.