We've had a few growing pains along the way, or several. But without these experiences we probably wouldn't be the business we are today. And it's our pleasure to share what we have learned; we want to help you. Here is our best advice when it comes to packaging and shipping orders (from a cost perspective).
...Sometimes thinking about those late night trips to Office Depot to find the perfect-sized, overpriced shipping box makes me a little nostalgic. We were newlyweds, new business owners (before we knew we were growing a business), we were new to everything. We were beautifully walking in faith, the child-like faith that we all want.
Stop paying too much for packaging materials...
Office supply stores, Walmart, Target, Drug Stores and all shipping stores (Fed Ex Office) have very expensive shipping supplies.
When you're just getting started it is really easy to overspend on packaging materials. We would recommend looking for better prices as soon as possible. The best thing to do is find a local box supplier. To get an idea, we order our boxes and packaging supplies from Boxes4U. Most industrial areas of any city (big or small) have a packaging supply warehouse/store similar to our store. Here you will save several dollars on tape, boxes, mailers, etc. And you typically don't have to order in bulk as you would with ULINE.
When you're starting out don't be afraid to make your own boxes. With Amazon Prime we all receive several packages on our porches weekly, and if you're not quite drowning in orders, making your own boxes will save you. You can still make the inside of the package pretty.
Stop paying too much for shipping and undercharging the customer...
Setup a business shipping account with FexEx, UPS, or a shipper that you want to use.
When we sold our first mirror in 2013 we spent over $30.00 on the shipping. It was a small 18x18 mirror that today costs us about $25.00 to ship (that's with the yearly increases), in 2013 it would have only cost about $18.00 with a FedEx account. To make matters worse, we only charged $12.00 for the shipping. (But when you're just getting started it's easy to overlook these costs, and celebrating a sale is more fun anyways, even if the sale ends up costing you.)
Head into one of the shipping stores or make a phone call and setup a business account. You will get better rates. The rates are better than what the general public will pay to ship with the same service, and they will continue to get better as you ship more.
*If you are shipping USPS learn what you can ship Priority, learn how much each size costs, and take advantage of the free Priority Mail boxes. If you have small, lightweight items, take advantage of the First Class Mail service.
Avoid International shipping nightmares...
Do not fear International shipping, but know that it is a different process (somewhat). We recommend using USPS International Priority (6-10 day). This is the least expensive option, unless you are shipping something very small. There is a dimensional limit, you'll want to learn about this too. Unlike FedEx, USPS rates climb substantially as the weight of the package increases.
One way to learn as you go in this case is to wait for your first international buyer to contact you. Do your research and then quote them a shipping price. After this initial sale and shipment you can add the shipping profile to your product and allow future buyers to also order internationally.
Pricing Example, a 30 x 5 x 24 box, 10 pound chalkboard = $65.00 to ship Internationally to UK
***Shipping to Alaska and Hawaii is just as expensive as International shipping.
Establish a pick up service for packages...
We waited much too long before setting up a pick up service with FedEx. This first photo we shared on this post speaks for itself, and we did this almost every day for over a year. It was stressful, our car wasn't big enough, and to make matters worse, the FedEx rep that worked at our local store was a nightmare. She would literally throw our boxes (packaged mirrors!). Once we signed up for the pick up service, $7.00/week, all five days of the week if desired, we could save the time, the energy, and the frustration. This is a worthwhile expense.
Package your products well and learn the claims process...
If you EVER have any FedEx questions please don't hesitate to ask. We'd love to help. If you're shipping a fragile item always always always assume that the handling of your package will be horrible. We ship mirrors (FedEx), and we used to ship glass mason jars (USPS), so we've seen the extreme when it comes to damages. Also, we have friends that ship non-fragile items, and have still had severe damages to their products. Bubble wrap is a great investment, and stuff your packages to eliminate any sloshing.
While filing a claim can be exhausting, it's worthwhile, and with enough fight you can definitely get something back. Although we can't vouch for USPS, and we don't think it's worthwhile in this case. But if you're using FedEx or UPS services definitely file your claims, get evidential pictures from your customers, and faithfully replace your customer's item if you can...it's not their fault that the item was damaged.
Hopefully this was helpful for you. We plan on sharing our best fragile packaging tips with you soon.