The holiday season is huge for online sellers. It usually makes up the bulk of merchants' sales. Preparing for that rush can be tough, but if you start now—as you should—you can avoid future headaches and you can have a fairly chaos-free holiday selling season.
In Part 1 of this series we looked at finding the right items to sell during the busy time. In this article we'll talk about ways to make your shipping experience more manageable.
Find the right place for your shipping center
To make your shipping service more productive, try to reserve a dedicated spot for all your packaging and shipping needs, especially if you're working from home. This may not be feasible for sellers who run their business out of a small home, but if you can carve out a nook for this purpose, you'll be less frazzled when the holidays hit.
The first priority is to find a location that that isn't too high-traffic. You don't want junk mail and toys to pile up in your shipping area, and you don't want to be disturbed by foot traffic when you're working. Consider converting a closet, a spare room, or a corner of the garage or shed into your shipping center. Just make sure the supplies you keep here won't be damaged by the elements.
You don't want junk mail and toys to pile up in your shipping area, and you don't want to be disturbed by foot traffic when you're working
Next, identify a medium-to-large flat surface to work on, and a small setup for your scale, tape and packaging materials. It would be ideal to also set up a printer nearby, so you can print your packing slips and shipping labels for easy grab-and-go.
And if you're not already printing shipping labels from home, I highly recommend it. You can directly purchase postage through Stamps.com, eBay, PayPal, USPS, Auctiva or another service. These options usually provide discounted rates, and you avoid boring lines at the post office.
See what supplies you need
Depending on what you will be selling this holiday season, stock up on the appropriate amount of the following items:
- box-wrap paper
- tissue paper
- packing peanuts
- bubble wrap
- packing tape
- postal scale
- packing slips, or paper to print them on
- postage labels
- delivery confirmation slips
- and anything else you think you might need.
Where can you find these? Glad you asked. Let's take a look.
One of the least efficient ways to handle the shipping portion of your business is to scramble for boxes and other supplies after you've made a sale
Find your supplies
One of the least efficient ways to handle the shipping portion of your business is to scramble for boxes and other supplies after you've made a sale. It can even drive up your costs if you have to opt for a heavier box because you weren't stocked with the right supplies.
There are many ways to locate materials. Consider the suggestions below and opt for those that work best for your business needs.
For the budget-minded seller, reusing boxes is the first go-to source. Some prefer to wrap the box in brown paper for a more professional look. Other potential sources include:
Craigslist: Browse your local Craigslist or place your own ad indicating the kind of boxes and packing supplies you're searching for.
Facebook: Some communities have local Facebook "yard sale" groups. If you can find these groups on the social network, let the members know you'd be happy to take any boxes they want to get rid of.
Movers: Keep an eye open for newcomers to the neighborhood. As people unpack their moving vans and put their new homes in order, they will be only too glad to get rid of the boxes cluttering their new property. Also consider contacting local moving companies. They may know where to find quality used boxes or may have some left by customers.
Local shops: I once found a salon that had received a large shipment of products. Staff members tossed their leftover boxes and packing peanuts to the curb, which I was only too happy to grab. I've also found peanuts from a local blueberry farm that makes syrups and jams.
I recommend staying away from boxes and peanuts that have been placed into large dumpsters behind stores. These locations attract bugs, and you can unwittingly bring home a family of roaches.
Start by knowing the general weight, size and package needs for the products you plan to sell this holiday season
Many sellers don't like the unprofessional image a used box gives their business. These sellers might instead find free boxes at eBay and their local post office, but pretty much what they're getting for free is the Priority Mail packaging, which limits them.
For purchasing supplies, check out USPS, UPS, FedEx, U-Haul, Uline.com, eBay, and discount stores like Walmart, Dollar Tree, Costco and others.
Think outside the box
If you have time to spare this summer, why not see what other shipping options are out there besides the obvious?
Start by knowing the general weight, size and package needs for the products you plan to sell this holiday season. Then list what you expect shipping costs will be with the usual USPS, UPS and other major services. What will it cost to ship to a ZIP code nearby versus a ZIP code on the other end of the States, or across the globe? Which international services are available? Have you considered eBay's Global Shipping Program?
Then think outside the box. Will Greyhound or Amtrak ship your packages? Are you ready to try something like auction-style uShip for large shipments?
When you use slow-selling seasons to fine-tune an area in your business, such as setting up a shipping center, you feel better about yourself as a businessperson and become a better seller to your customers.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, in which we'll discuss creating listings that appeal to holiday shoppers.
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Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products.
Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.