Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Start the New Year Off Right! - Shipping For Your Small Business

Having a small online shop is an exciting part of our life, but I have learned a lot in this past year as to what works best for us. There are a lot of different factors compared to a brick and mortar shop and one of those factors is shipping. When you run a business in a physical shop, people come to you, get instant satisfaction, and leave with a bag or box in hand. That is wonderful for a shop owner to see a customers face when they find that certain something they are looking for. When a customer finds something online, they may have that initial feeling of excitement and fall in love, but you never see that. They purchase what they are looking for and then they wait. That's where you come in. Shipping.

The way the item is shipped is ultra important to online customers. Was it shipped well. Did it get to them in a speedy manner. Did they overpay for shipping. Where did the extra few dollars go to if they did. Is the item in good condition. Is the shipping interesting and unique, or pretty? (More important on etsy, not so much on ebay.) Was there a note? An invoice? Was the packaging environmentally friendly? The list goes on.

I wanted to share what works for me and what I still want to do with my business in the New Year. I also shared some really great links to other blogs and articles and sites that are not only good reads but great resources for your small business. I have definitely used my

Maybe it was my upbringing, or maybe it's just because we are running this business on a budget, but I can't really bring myself to spend money on cardboard. Every once in a while, I will buy a new box if I am in a pinch with time, or if it has been raining, or if I can't make a box in my collection work. But that is more rare. I have been collecting flattened recycled boxes since we started our business. If the images or wording on the outside bothers you, you can usually flip the boxes inside out so they are plain. Here is a tutorial on how to do that. The best place to find recycled boxes are hardware stores, grocery stores (sometimes) cafes and restaurants. Since I have been working in these environments for a while, it was easy for me to know the scheduled days for order deliveries and to get to the boxes early before they get damaged by the weather or cut up by workers. Please note, you cannot wrap boxes anymore through USPS, with kraft paper, or any other paper. The boxes need to be visible and unwrapped. Why use twice the amount of paper anyways!
It's good to have a space in your office or craft room for shipping and packaging supplies. Stock up, it will help you to save money in the future. I keep tape, boxes, newspapers, and recycled packing peanuts, grocery bags and bubble wrap. I buy in bulk. Sometimes items are too fragile to just use newspapers and recycled bags, so you have to use bubble wrap and peanuts. If you read on into our goals for the new years you will see what I plan on doing to reduce the use of plastic bubble wrap and peanuts.
If you are interested in reusing bubble wrap and peanuts that would otherwise be thrown away, sent off to fill the landfills and never decompose, craigslist is a great place to find free supplies. I scour the free section for giveaway packing supplies on a daily basis. If you don't mind calling around or emailing strangers, then this is a great way to reduce waste and use recycled materials. People will usually have lots of boxes too that they are very happy to have you cart away for them.

If you sell prints of smaller items that could usually fit into a bubble envelope, try making your own. I'll post up a fun tutorial on Friday on how to make your own kraft colored envelopes using coca cola boxes, recycled bubble wrap, and some glue. I am using this shipping method for my giveaway. Visit the USPS website for their rules and regulations for using recycled boxes in shipping.

Packing your item well and using recycled materials is just the beginning. I am very lucky that the post office is just a few blocks from our house. There is rarely a need for me to drive, unless I have a lot of orders or lots of big boxes and I am on a time crunch. Or unless I am being lazy, which if you see our goals for the new year, hopefully this will change. If you do need to drive to the post office, don't ship every day. Make sure your policies are clear and state you are shipping 3 times a week for environmental responsibility and most customers will understand and be happy to wait an extra day or two for their items. If you're lucky like me, you can walk there everyday, or ride your bike, and do something good for your health too. (I don't ship everyday because I also work and have a home to maintain, so I ship every other day.)

There are a lot of other great things you can do for your business to save you money, save your customers money and be nice to the environment. I listed some links below that have additional tips for shipping. I also wanted to share some goals we have for our business in the new year when it comes to shipping.

Our GREEN/$$$ saving Goals for the New Year:
In addition to printing out shipping labels through paypal (saves money and time, which in turn saves more money!) and only walking to the post office instead of driving, here are some materials on our wishlist for packaging our items and shipping in an earth friendly way.

How could you NOT love what caremail is doing. It is almost the same price as regular bubble wrap, yet no plastic!

(using recycled magazines and newspapers for packaging creates new uses for what many believe to be garbage)
To recycle old apple crates to make a new shelving unit for my small office space. The more organized and responsible you are with your business, the better off you will be. I like to always know what I have for shipping and what I need. If in plain view, it lessens the chance of you buying product you think you're out of but come to find out you already have it!
And Finally, I am in the process of designing stickers (eco-friendly, made from 100% recycled paper) to put on each one of our boxes that state Tumbleweeds uses 100% recycled materials to ship items. This is a huge goal for us and will hopefully be accomplished in this new year!
I hope this was helpful for those of you who are looking to start shipping more earth friendly, or those new to shipping in general. If you have any feedback or comments, i would love to hear them, as we are ever expanding our ideas on how to be more cost effective and earth friendly. OH, and I didn't forget about some great links!

Some Resources:


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