What do you mean? This stuff doesn't ship itself?
June 2, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Opening an online store shipping physical products. You've been there, done that. What tips, tricks, and advice have you learned about handling the actual order/shipping workflow that you wish you knew starting out?

We're getting ready to (finally) launch an online store in the next few weeks. We've got a brick and mortar store selling the same products, but haven't done online shipping/order fulfillment before. Everything is shipped from our in-house inventory - no third-party fulfillment houses. We'll be packaging/addressing it in-house as well. After considerable thought and analysis we've decided to ship using USPS only (no UPS/FEDEX) for a variety of reasons having to do with the nature of our product.

What I'm most interested in are things that you've learned, didn't-consider-but-wish-you-had, ways to make things go smoother, and other such things relating to the handling, packaging, shipping of orders. The behind-the-scenes back-room sorts of things that relate to getting the order out the door ASAP.
posted by webhund to Work & Money (7 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A few things in my business. They might be super obivious, sorry:

Have your checkout directly connected to USPS. I use paypal and I can print my labels from there. The boxes that I have to label by inputting data takes up a lot of time and leads to errors.

Keep your shipping area ergonomic, separate, and stocked.

Ship on certain days of the week, so you can do it all at once.

Use a tall cart to save your back.

bonus: give them something extra. I just received some pet meds and they included a cookie for my dog. I remember them.
posted by Vaike at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: Careful packaging is important -- I have a wee eBay side hustle and also constantly mail-order stuff, and I'm amazed at how many businesses, big and small, do not know how to pack. Do stuff up and throw it down the stairs a few times; if it can't survive that, it's not good to go out. Things shouldn't be loose in a box. Envelopes shouldn't hold something capable of tearing the envelope.

I put everything in plastic bags (from restaurant supply stores); more than once I've had a "Oh, thank you! My mailman left it on the porch and it was raining and the box was soaked but the X was fine..."

With inclusions, everything from free samples to invoices -- be alert to how easy it will be for the customer to not notice it and pitch it out, or not want it and pitch it out. If an order generates five pieces of paper in your shop, is it a good idea to mail out all five pieces? Maybe not.

Befriending the post office staff = lots of help and tips.
posted by kmennie at 9:39 AM on June 2, 2011

You're going to want sticky labels (either the half sheet stickers that work with paypal/usps) or get a thermal printer that prints onto stickers. You do not want to tape labels on. No really, never tape a label on, you will go crazy.

Paypal is fine but if you are going high volume you might want to invest in endicia, you can customize your labels to your company (instead of it saying paypal and ebay all over it). It is a monthly fee but totally worth it if you have the shipping volume. It also helps with repeat customers and international shipments.

If something is small and going in a big box, can it be attached to the invoice or something? Like put in a little bag and stapled? Little things in big boxes go missing really easily.

Set up: once you've gathered everything that is going to ship you want to be able to stand in one place and reach: boxes, invoice, scale, tape, label. Have it set up so you don't need to walk for anything.

Decide on a cut-off time: Like any order that arrives after 3pm counts as arriving the next day. If you have time, sure pack up an extra or two but don't feel like you need to pack and ship everything that comes in at the exact moment it comes in. At first you will want to because it is exciting but you'll burn out.

Good luck! Have fun! I love mailing things :o)
posted by magnetsphere at 12:18 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: Never get yourself into a situation where having Paypal freezing your account activity would put you into a cash flow crunch. Don't leave large balances hanging in Paypal for more than a couple of days.

Set up 2 bank accounts at your bank - one linked to Paypal and one not linked. Paypal funds get withdrawn from Paypal into the linked account, and then transferred via the bank to the non-linked account.

This way, if Paypal wants to try claw back funds due to a dispute they can't immediately suck away all your cash.
posted by de void at 12:23 PM on June 2, 2011

Make sure the software the calculate tax is modular and easy to change as tax laws change. If you'll be shipping to Europe make sure there's someone on your staff (or a remote contractor) who can help you make sure you've got the VAT right for each country.
posted by colin_l at 5:24 PM on June 2, 2011

Will your website be dynamically updated to reflect current inventory? If not, I would recommend maintaining a separate stock specifically for online sales. Selling things you don't have wreaks havoc on inventorying, and chargebacks suck.

My personal rule after 7 years of shipping wine is to never again sell anything online that is fragile, perishable or regulated.
posted by cali at 9:17 PM on June 2, 2011

This was hinted at by de void, but I highly suggest having more than one way for customers to make automated payments. Paypal, a 'regular' credit card processor and anything else that your target market might use (ClickandBuy, etc).

If your volume is high enough, UPS and FedEx will set up a negotiated rate with you to lower your shipping costs. You can either pass this off to the consumer or use the savings to cover the H in S&H, handling costs.

Brainstorm on ways you can automate or simplify the entire process. As this aspect of your business grows, this is something you will need to revisit every so often. Consulting others (employees, colleagues, conslutants, etc) on this is probably a good idea if you don't have the technical or logistics expertise.
posted by melt away at 12:18 PM on June 3, 2011

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