The internet is a wonderful tool to advertise your homemade products. Whether you have your own website, sell through social media or online classifieds, or run a shop through a site like eBay or Etsy, making the sale is only part of the process. You still need to find the best way to get the item from your hands to your customer’s doorstep! Shipping can be intimidating, and it’s very possible to erase all your profits with improperly calculated shipping. I started out as an eBay seller years ago and now run a successful Etsy shop and have learned a lot along the way.
I use the United States Postal Service exclusively. While my post office is a 10-mile round trip, my mail carrier comes right to my house 6 days per week and can help me with everything I need. The only equipment I need is a computer and a printer (to print postage). The first thing to know is that you can order free Priority Mail shipping material right from the USPS website. There are no hidden fees, and your mail carrier will deliver them to your doorstep, all for no charge. We sell a wide variety of products from tiny tins of homemade salve to heavy hand-forged metal work, so I keep a good selection of boxes on hand at all times. Small, light items can be sent at the lowest cost via First Class mail. You must provide your own packaging, so for that I also keep manila padded envelopes in a couple sizes as well as boxes from packages I’ve received.
To determine the best shipping rate, a few factors come into play: size, weight, and destination. Padded Flat Rate envelopes & small Flat Rate boxes are a great way to ship anything small enough to fit in these packages. It’s a great choice if your item exceeds the 13 ounce weight limit for First Class or you need delivery in a few days. If your item is a little bigger, but is under 15 lbs, my go-to is Regional Rate A. This rate is good only with the supplied boxes, and cannot be done at the post office. It’s usually the cheapest rate, but it will vary from about $6.50-$10, depending on how far away from you the package is traveling. The RRA box comes in two sizes, depending on whether the items are square and blocky or long and thin. I keep both on hand.
If your item is a bit larger, then the Regional Rate B box is my next choice. Again, this is good only for packages under 20 lbs, in supplied boxes, which come in two sizes. RRB rates are a bit higher, expect $10-$20 depending on distance. For longer distances (from Pennsylvania to California for example), sometimes a medium Flat Rate box is a better value. It often pays to check. It’s also the way to go if your item is over 20 but under 70 lbs. Large Flat Rate boxes are often cheaper than rate by weight for items between 20-70 lbs. These boxes also come in two shapes for differently shaped items. Small & medium tubes are nice to have on hand for extra long items. They are actually a flat piece of cardboard (easy to store!) that folds into a triangle-shaped tube.
Parcel Post is another way to ship packages. I seldom use it because it is a slower shipping service and you must supply your own boxes. Plus, it’s frequently more expensive! Media Mail is a great way to ship items if the buyer is not in a hurry, and the item is considered “media” by the post office. This includes books, sound recordings, recorded video tapes, printed music, and recorded computer-readable media (such as CDs and DVDs) . But these packages are subject to inspection, so be sure the item you’re shipping qualifies. It’s generally the cheapest of all rates, but also the slowest.
To safely pack what I’m shipping, I generally cushion it with newspaper. We have a daily subscription, so it’s something I always have on hand. For fragile items, I use bubble wrap. Be sure to calculate the added packaging cost into either the shipping cost or the item’s price. Packing tape is required for some of the boxes to assemble, but I secure all of them just to be safe. I order mine online in packages of at least 6 and find it is a great savings. I recommend getting quality tape of at minimum 50 microns thick. While it costs more, you’ll use less of it than the cheap stuff. I also worry much less about trouble in transit with secure packing tape.
When you print postage, whether it is through the USPS website or a large seller platform like Etsy, PayPal, or eBay, a tracking number is generated. This allows both you and the buyer to know when the package ships, where it goes, and when it arrives.
The USPS site allows you to request a free carrier pickup anytime you have packages. This is free during your regular mail stop. You can note that the item is in the mailbox, on the porch, or somewhere else. It also gives your carrier a heads-up if you have a number of things. However, I like to think I have the best rural carrier and she makes my life simple. I leave things in the mailbox, or hang from the mailbox using a grocery bag. I leave things on/in/under the mailbox to save her a trip to the house, but she will cheerfully come to the porch if need be. In this case, I just leave a low-tech note inside the mailbox with the flag up. She leaves my packing supplies on my porch if I’m not home. She and the USPS enable me to run my Etsy business efficiently from my homestead.