Shipping for Small Business
September 8, 2019 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a small business, selling a product I have invented and have questions about shipping, be it USPS, UPS, Fedex, or other.

The product is small, about 1x1x2 inches and made of plastic, so it is lightweight. Certainly less than 13 oz which has become a magic number of sorts.

There is the USPS Small Flat Rate Box for $7.50 which would be fine except that I have to go to the post office in order for it to be tracked. I would like to be able to do everything from home, then leave it for pick up (or drop it off at a street side mailbox).

What are my options?
posted by falsedmitri to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why would you have to go to the post office to get get tracking? If you are shipping oneoffs by hand rather than an automated order-import and inventory suite, just use the click and ship tools on the USPS website. I believe if you are listing and selling via either Amazon or eBay integrated shipment labels are a part of their merchant-facing fulfillment UI for low-volume sellers now as well.
posted by mwhybark at 9:40 AM on September 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also, I believe tracking is available for non-priority parcels via Click-and-Ship now as well. You aren’t allowed to use the free shipping supplies for these parcels, though, so the cost of the box might mean Priority is a better option for you.
posted by mwhybark at 9:43 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, in addition to click and ship, USPS has free package pick up.

USPS has local business development specialists who can help you calculate the best packaging options and also set you up for package pick up. Either visit a post office or chat them online. They’re free and knowledgeable. Also then if business starts picking up, they can also help with discounts.

See their small business portal.
posted by inevitability at 10:14 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

>>Why would you have to go to the post office to get tracking?
The post office employee told me that if I get a box and put a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox (instead of bringing to the counter at the post office) that it would not be tracked.
posted by falsedmitri at 10:29 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you use stamps, yes, you have to visit the post office for tracking of the Small Flat Rate Box. However, as mwhybark mentioned, you can use the USPS online shipping tools to purchase and print postage labels at home that contain both postage and a tracking number and that allow you to bypass the post office. No stamps needed.

You enter the address and shipping method online, pay with your credit card, print the label, tape it to the package and drop it in a postbox. If you've ordered from eBay over the past couple of years, I'm sure you've seen these types of labels.
posted by eschatfische at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

The post office employee told me that if I get a box and put a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox (instead of bringing to the counter at the post office) that it would not be tracked.

This isn't always true, but effectively correct. USPS is weird with their tracking, if a carrier picks up your packages, it won't get 'scanned' or whatever into the system until it's halfway on its journey, or even after its delivered.

The business I work for does a USPS drop every few days. We don't have to wait in line, and we just walk in and drop the packages off at the desk. There's no wait and you just walk in, drop your packages and take off, takes all of 5 minutes. Can you just batch all your orders together once a week and make a run? Many post offices even let you drop these in the lobby after hours if that's an issue. You can even shave a day of the shipping time in some cases by dropping them off at a post office hub. This would probably be your best bet to meet the terms you're looking for.

There's not a whole lot of other USPS options for what you're looking to achieve. UPS and Fedex are almost always more expensive, but offer better tracking. You'd be paying for your own packaging with either one. USPS is great most of the time, but their tracking isn't the best. UPS and Fedex cost more, but their tracking is much more reliable. Depends on exactly what you're looking to do.

If you end up going with or someone similar, the flat rate padded envelopes are usually cheaper by like a buck or two, but your product may require rigid packaging. And FWIW, integrated with a shopify cart will automate all the tracking number action for you. The way we have it set up is that our cart automatically exports the orders to, and we just use that portal to process orders.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:44 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you are shipping locally, the UPS rate might be similar, but if you are shipping outside your local area or region, probably UPS's cost would be higher, especially if you are shipping to residential addresses rather than to commercial addresses since UPS has different rates or residential and commercial delivery addresses.

USPS probably delivers on Saturday for free, whereas UPS charges extra for that (if they even offer that option for Ground service).

Have you checked whether any ecommerce apps such as Shopify offer integrated USPS labels and payment and that also includes tracking?
posted by Dansaman at 10:51 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can add tracking through Click and Ship and do package pick up. It will most likely get scanned once it is at the post office. I mean, honestly, it has to be scanned to enter the mail stream. is a partner of USPS, as is most e-commerce apps. I’d talk to a USPS business development specialist to see who can give you a better deal.
posted by inevitability at 11:06 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

These are all great points above. I would also like to add that if it's under 16 oz, shipping First Class will be cheaper than flat rate.
posted by Malleable at 8:45 AM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

You probably do not want to use stamps. Check out First Class Package service, with tracking built-in to the label as you print it. And when you use a prepaid label instead of stamps, your magic weight that qualifies for the lower First Class rate changes to 16oz.

There's something called a SCAN Form which will help ensure all your packages get tracked, even if they get picked up from your house.

You can probably use any one of Click-n-Ship, Endicia,, and likely several others.
posted by reeddavid at 12:29 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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