Shipping and handling essentials

You have your inventory squared away. Now you will need to take into account how you’ll get it to your visitors. Fulfillment–speeding that package from your own garage or warehouse to your customer’s door–is possibly the single most significant thing that can be done in your operation apart from effective marketing. Failure to supply prompt fulfillment can lead to more complaints, cancellations, refusals of c.o.d. payments and nightmares than simply about other things in the mail order entrepreneur’s world.

So just how do you want to get those packages to your visitors? You’ve seen it commercials. Your primary choices will be the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx. Most mail order mavens use UPS for packages because it’s generally cheaper than FedEx, faster compared to the postoffice, and has better tracking capabilities for all those nightmarish lost items compared to the postoffice. It pays to shop around. Both FedEx and UPS offer various discounts when you setup an account, so make sure to ask–and do not forget to negotiate!

Check out your loss ratio when deciding whether to invest just a little and ship U.S. Post or spend more and ship UPS, advises Tony Romano of most USA, an Illinois-based call center and fulfillment service. If the merchandise you’re sending costs significantly less than $50, go on and ship first-class or priority mail. Whether it’s a lot more than $50, spend the excess dollars to send it UPS and get tracking capability.

For all those packages that don’t necessarily require tracking, it’s smart business to provide your customers a selection of shipping services. You can inform them, for instance, that you could have their package out to them by U.S. priority mail with an expected–but not guaranteed–delivery time of three business days. Then you can certainly offer second-day service by UPS or overnight by FedEx at a supplementary cost. Supply the customer options. In this manner people know you’re dealing with them, regarding both price and speed. Just what a great company!

Out of THE HANDS Understanding how the partnership in the middle of your business and shipping companies affects customers will go quite a distance toward maintaining your shipping operations on a straight keel. In short, your visitors will hold you in charge of any delay in receiving their merchandise, even if the delay is due to the shipping company. So anticipate to be sympathetic to complaining customers–and stern with the USPS, UPS and FedEx.

"Among the difficult reasons for having a mail order business," says Caryn O., a textiles merchandiser who runs her business in Georgia, "is you could work your tail off, but once you give [the merchandise] to a shipping company, it’s out of the hands. For example, we use UPS a whole lot. You did everything, you take an order, you obtain it out, it’s great, everything’s fine. And UPS loses it or takes more time getting it there. You might have an extremely distraught, unhappy customer when you’ve done nothing wrong.

"You will need to recognize that the shipping company is nearly part of your company," says Caryn. "It’s an extension, and although you are not related, your customer doesn’t view it that way. All they know is that they don’t really have their package. They don’t really care when you have it out. They would like to know where it really is now.

"You will need to stick to top of things such as that," Caryn says. "We’re constantly in very close connection with UPS. If UPS causes a problem for our member, we make UPS call and apologize. We fight for our members and do everything we are able to to create it up to them and make sure they are happy."

Pass The Popcorn There’s a strategy to everything, including packing and shipping. Here is a set of smart tips for shippers that will help you help yourself as well as your customers.

  • Have a tip from the box boy down at the supermarket. Place heavier or larger items on underneath of the box and lighter ones at the top.
  • After you have got each little bit of merchandise in the box, place a bit of cardboard on the top. In this manner, if your customer gets overly enthusiastic along with his penknife while slicing open the box, he won’t slash his brand-new goodies aswell.
  • Use shredded newspaper or actual (unbuttered!) popcorn rather than Styrofoam peanuts. Your visitors will appreciate your concern for the surroundings, and in the event that you get hungry while packing, you can eat your materials!
  • Indicate which end of the box ought to be opened first or face up. Sometimes breakable merchandise can make a whole cross-country trip without trouble, and then smash on the customer’s floor because he opened it wrong side up.
  • Ensure that your shipping label is actually noticeable to the deliverer. Some shipping companies will won’t deliver a package if any section of the ad-dress is obscured or too small to learn.
  • Absolutely usually do not ship to a P.O. box. Most shipping firms cannot deliver to a postoffice box. Ensure that your order takers require a genuine street address.
  • Include all invoices, receipts, many thanks letters, new catalogs and other printed materials in a single envelope with the customer’s name onto it, placed on the surface of the merchandise. This saves your customer enough time and frustration of experiencing to search through packing materials to find these exact things.
  • Reuse boxes. It is not only ecologically sound but also economically smart. When you reuse a box, make certain all old labels, addresses and postage markings are covered up. Stick another label at the top therefore the delivery man doesn’t mix up whom your package is supposed for.
  • Design packing models which means that your shippers (and you) understand how products match boxes, how merchandise is folded, stacked or tissue-wrapped, and how packing materials are used. Weigh each packing model on a scale and make certain it generally does not go even one-eighth in to the next pound. This cuts postage costs, reduces returns from damaged goods, and increases your earnings by creating happy repeat customers.

Bulk Mail Bulk mail is among those interesting things in life which can be the boon or a bust, based on just how much mail you’re sending out, how fast you want to buy to make it happen and just how much work of the tedious variety you’re ready to devote.

The most obvious benefit of bulk mail is cost benefits. In which a first-class stamp for a 1-ounce letter applies to 37 cents, the same letter sent bulk rate is considerably less. This sounds great. But–and here we reach a whole set of buts:

  • If you are just starting out, it could cost you almost as much to send bulk rate mail as first-class. First you need to purchase your bulk mail permit, that may cost you $300 (a one-time fee of $150 and an annual fee of $150). So when you accumulate your postage costs, it is advisable to consider those fees plus the effort necessary to send mail bulk rate.
  • You’ve kept to get a rubber stamp and stamp each piece together with your permit number and postage. Or rent a postage meter and shoot each piece through the meter. Or pay your printer to imprint each piece together with your meter number and postage.
  • You then need to sort. And sort. And sort again. You start by sorting to specific areas (by five-digit ZIP codes) and work the right path to more general areas, bundling the mail in batches of 10 or even more with elastic bands, labeling each batch with USPS-provided stickers, and placing it in USPS bulk mail trays.
  • You then need to take your mail trays to the official U.S. Postal Service bulk mail center.

The more pieces you send, the more cost-effective bulk mail becomes. Some mail order software packages will handle the sorting for you personally, which makes this a lot more appealing.

Endless Permutations Not absolutely all bulk mail fits neatly in to the 1-ounce-envelope price category. The U.S. Postal Service comes with an entire 100-plus-page Quick Service Guide specialized in endless permutations of mail sizes, weights and categories, each using its own regulations. And although the postoffice appears to have made an authentic effort to create this book user-friendly, it isn’t. There’s a significant learning curve, here. Of course, the people down at your neighborhood bulk mail center are often very friendly and can guide you through whatever you have to know, but it isn’t as simple as licking a stamp and sticking it on your own letter.

One issue to consider may be the time factor. If you are anxious to get those letters to your visitors, you will possibly not want to go bulk mail. Bulk items may take up to fourteen days for delivery, while first-class letters get the first-class treatment–usually two to four days for delivery.

It’s also advisable to remember that bulk rate letters are less inclined to be opened by potential customers than first-class, stamped ones because they’re regarded as junk mail. This is simply not to state that bulk rate items get tossed–they don’t. If your presentation is clever and well-conceived, you will most probably achieve your target customers anyway.

What’s underneath line? How you handle your mailings is totally up to you. You select which will be the biggest issues–cost, labor, time or customer perception–and what benefits you’re actually gaining. Remember that you can outsource your bulk mailings to a lettershop, fulfillment center or printing house. You will not need a permit, and you will not have to spend time sorting and resorting. Make sure you have a look at these alternatives prior to making your final decision.

Have Your Cake If you prefer a discount mailing rate, nevertheless, you need the speed of first-class mail, you can pretty much have your cake and eat it, too, by sending your pieces first-class pre-sort. The price per piece is higher and you need to presort exactly like you do for bulk mail. You need to also buy a first-class permit at an annual fee of $150. And where you will need only mail 200 pieces to make use of the bulk mail rate, with first-class presort you must send at the least 500 pieces.

If you want, you can purchase both a bulk mail permit and a first-class permit and also have the choice of using either method anytime. To find out more on business mailing options, visit "Business Mail 101" on the USPS Internet site.