Etsy entrepreneur Angie Campbell knew something had to change. She packed and shipped the wooden iPad stands for her Etsy shop Roostic out of her kitchen and dining room. That meant rooms full of packing clutter, sometimes forcing her to eat a microwaved dinner while sitting on her kitchen countertop.
"It was super inefficient," admits Campbell, of Brewer, Maine.
Over a million Etsy sellers generated around $900 million in sales in 2012. But for at-home sellers on this ecommerce site for handmade and vintage items, success depends on understanding shipping, which can be a challenge. Shipping "consumes a huge amount of the sellers' time," notes Eric Fixler, Director of Shipping Programs for Etsy in New York and can cause big headaches, from damaged products to lost packages. The following five tips can help Etsy entrepreneurs make the shipping process a little easier.
Get the right supplies. Campbell says she and her husband, Colby, learned about shipping on the fly after receiving 10 orders on their second day in business. "We didn't have a clue what to do about shipping," she admits. They quickly realized the wooden iPad stands didn't fit in a standard-sized box and had to scramble to find a non-standard substitute, Campbell says.
They started buying boxes at Walmart and cutting them down to size, which was time-consuming and imprecise. But an off-hand comment about her packing problems while at the post office led to a consultation with postal employees to find the right size box and determine the most effective and cost-efficient packaging. Now Campbell orders her boxes in bulk, 500 boxes at a time, from Uline, a packing supply company, and stores them in her attic until she needs them.
Dedicate a space just to packing and shipping. Packing boxes on the kitchen table meant repeatedly moving supplies around, which was inefficient. She finally converted a guest bedroom into her Brewer, Maine workspace with half the area devoted to the packing process and supplies. Shippping is now more organized and less time-consuming, Campbell adds.
"Until we moved everything upstairs it was mass chaos," she says. In fact, Campbell estimates she's able to pack and ship her iPad stands twice as fast now because everything she needs is within arm's reach.
Create a consistent process. Lack of organization or routine can doom an Etsy business. "The secret of good operations is consistency, says Jason Malinak, an accountant in Colorado Springs, Colo. After advising his wife on her own Etsy venture, Malinak wrote the book Etsy-preneurship to help Etsy sellers run their businesses.
Signs of an inconsistent process include having no set guidelines for packaging fragile items, which can lead to damaged products, says Malinak. Other hints you need a change are missed deadlines and that overwhelming feeling of dread when packing and shipping time comes near.
Malinak suggests identifying the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your shipping operation and then documenting a process that you can repeat. A standardized shipping process will save you time and stress, while building trust with customers who know what to expect and won't face errors.
Research international shipping rules. Etsy sellers ship goods to 200 countries each year. Problems that arise with shipping overseas end up being the most expensive, Fixler points out. Lack of clarity about countries' changing regulations is often the issue, he says. Learning about customs rules and paying attention to detail can go a long way in avoiding international shipping mistakes, says Fixler. If sellers still have customs-related questions, they can consult the Etsy community in the forums section or email Etsy support staff directly for help.
Get connected. Take advantage of the wealth of knowledge available in Etsy's community. For example, Etsy's Shipping Improvement Team's discussion threads and other blog posts offer first-hand advice from experts and other Etsy sellers. You might create an online support group with other sellers to trade tips and share ideas. As Malinak points out, "Etsy sellers are not alone - someone has gained experience before you."
Samantha Drake is a freelance writer and editor in the Philadelphia area who specializes in business, legal, environmental, and general interest issues.