You Got Your First Order, Now What?
Yay!! You opened your shop and got your FIRST sale! Exciting, isn't it? I've been at this for several years now and still get that feeling of euphoria knowing someone out there liked my art enough to support me. Supporting creators is a fantastic feeling! Now that you have that sale, it's time to think about how you'll ship your product. This can be especially daunting with how many shipping options there are out there- and then there are international orders to worry about too! Take a deep breath, we're gonna get through this.
You have a few options before you. Let's get into it;
- How shipping works
- Shipping via a marketplace site
- USPS, UPS, FedEx - What's the difference?
- International shipping
How Shipping Works
A customer placed their order, now what? Well, you'll need to figure out how you're going to ship your product! This can vary based off of a few different factors. You'll have to factor in what the product is, the size of the product and package, and the overall weight. Shipping a sticker is going to be way different than shipping a backpack.
For prints, stickers, and other thin paper goods you have a few options. You can use double-walled corrugated cardboard pads, shipping tubes, or a plain paper envelope. Of the three, the first option is the safest in my opinion because of the durability of the cardboard that can protect your work. Tubes are second best, but they do have the downside of leaving your prints slightly rolled up. (Not a huge deal if your customer plans to frame the artwork). Lastly, a paper envelope is a cheap and effective method if you're just starting out. Granted, because of the thin nature of paper envelopes, your artwork may not be as safe in transit.
When I was starting out, I would sell stickers and mail them via plain envelope because shipping simply cost the price of a US postal stamp. Pretty simple, right? The biggest downside to this, however, is the lack of tracking made available to your customers. For some, this may not be an issue, but it is something important to consider.
For slightly larger items like enamel pins, keychains, etc. it's pretty standard to use a bubble mailer. You can find bulk poly bubble mailers available on Amazon, Uline, and so on. Ideally, you want something that's going to be padded with bubble wrap on the inside to keep your product safe in transit. The size of the mailer will be entirely dependent on the size of your product. If you're not into the plain look of a bubble mailer, it's also common practice to use custom sized boxes. Boxes can cost a little more to ship, but they are much more secure due to their durability. Boxes come in many sizes and can be used for something as small as an enamel pin or as large as a giant stuffed plushie!
For larger items like clothes, backpacks, plushies, etc. I recommend looking into poly mailers. Similar to the poly bubble mailers, these come in larger sizes and are comprised of moisture-resistant polyethylene film, which is a kind of lightweight plastic, making them incredibly durable. As long as they're sealed securely, these bags will protect your products en route, so they arrive in perfect condition at every customer's doorstep.
Anything that is large, heavy, or awkward I highly suggest looking into boxes. There isn't an "easy" way to ship a bulk order or something large/fragile. It's best to bubble wrap your product, stuff the empty space of the box with packing paper, and insure your package.
This is the perfect opportunity to add a little bit of flair to your package! Take time to study your branding and presentation. Remember, this is the very first thing your customer will see! How do you want that experience to feel? How do you want to make your work recognizable so that when that package arrives your customer can be like "Oh YES! It's my ____ product here!"
Basic presentation is being able to offer a business card and nice wrapping of your product. Even it's something as simple as wrapping up your sticker with colored packing tissue and sealing it with a little "thank you" note. You could customize your packaging online with your branding, a mascot, a specific color- the only limit is your creativity and imagination!
Many small business will throw in extra "goodies" to spoil their customers as a way to thank them for their business. This can be something small like a freebie sticker, hard candy, or a coupon for their next purchase. If you do go the route of sending out candy to your customers, be mindful of allergies and the possibility of the candy melting.
Shipping via Marketplace Sites
If you use sites like Shopify or Etsy to host your business, they both have convenient options to purchase shipping labels. A shipping label is going to be the address information you slap onto your package to make sure it gets to your customer safely! Both of those sites also have discount options via USPS so that you can save money printing and pre-labeling your package vs going into your local post office and paying at the counter.
These websites have pretty straight-forward ways to purchase labels through the creator side. You'll just need to make sure your shipping settings are solid and you're good to go! This is where you'll input your return address and the package weight + dimensions.
USPS, UPS, FedEx - What's the Difference?
USPS is the most common shipping service in the United States. It offers some of the cheapest rates for shipping is the most popular service for small businesses. Most storefront websites and PayPal shops offer discounts for shipping via USPS- so why would you want to consider another service?
Well, UPS offers the best overall mix of fast delivery, affordable rates, and reliable service. UPS is also the go-to carrier for large, heavy packages. Think products like bulk orders, giant custom framed art pieces, and more. While USPS only allows for a maximum weight of 70 pounds per package, UPS has a maximum weight threshold of 150.
FedEx specializes in express and overnight shipping, when you need to send something fast, but it’s not quite an emergency. Their standard overnight delivery services are typically marginally less expensive than UPS. FedEx is also the premier carrier for business-to-business deliveries. Of the three, however, FedEx is the most expensive option.
Below is a breakdown of some cost difference using the example of a 1lb package traveling locally;
All of that being said, USPS is the most common shipping company used for small businesses and has the best options for basic shipping. USPS also provides free package pick-up, a great option when you start to make lots of orders and lugging them to the local post office can become a hassle. They also provide free tracking to give to your customers and free insurance with their Priority Mail options!
I'm going to be honest. Dealing with international orders definitely overwhelmed me when I first started. Especially since some countries deal with something called a VAT tax.
What's VAT? VAT varies by country, but it is generally between 7 and 20 percent of the value of the merchandise. For imports, VAT is based on the customs value of your goods. You will likely have to pay this tax if you import goods into the European Union. If that sounds confusing, trust me, you're not alone.
This is where using a marketplace shop comes in. For e-commerce marketplace sales, the marketplace is responsible for collecting and remitting the VAT to the proper UK customs authority. So, setting up an Etsy (even if you don't use it as your main outlet for business) could be a great way to not have to deal with the headache of VAT taxes on international customers. Plus, it's never a bad idea to have multiple streams of income when running a small business. Etsy does all of the heavy lifting and work for you! It's the main reason why I still have both an Etsy and Shopify shop to this day.
If you go this route, just be sure to keep a tab on what you have in stock in both storefronts so that you don't oversell! Since I use both Shopify and Etsy, I found that an effective way to keep a master list of my stock in both shops was via an app in Shopify called Trunk. Trunk connects all your sales channels with Shopify including: other Shopify shops, Squarespace, Shopify, Etsy, Faire, eBay, Amazon, QuickBooks Online, WooCommerce and more. I HIGHLY recommend using it if you plan to go this route.
If a product is sold and exported in an ecommerce environment outside of a marketplace sale (ie. your own personal website), the overseas seller might be required to register directly with the HMRC (the UK Customs Authority).
Ah, Pirateship. One of my favorite tools in my small business arsenal. It's a free-to-use third party shipping site that offers the deepest discounts available to small businesses. The best part? You can upload a spreadsheet of all of your existing orders to create bulk labels for your business utilizing your discounts. I use Pirateship when I'm sending out giveaway orders, orders made off of my storefront sites, PayPal orders, and Kickstarter rewards! Their customer support is also literally the BEST service I've ever had the pleasure of working with.
There's a lot that goes into shipping your orders and getting your goods to your customers in a timely manner. I hope this little guide offers some good starting points and that this topic has become less daunting for you! Now go out, and fulfill those orders!