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Packing a Punch - Star Quality Shipping TipsCan you remember a singular Christmas season or an approaching birthday as a child when you were convinced that one gaily wrapped present in particular held the penultimate object of your desire? The size of the gift box was right, you'd picked it up and held it, perhaps had even given it a little shake, and the weight was right. Something G.I. Joe-ish or Barbie-like had shifted inside. Previously, for weeks, you had been clever enough to insinuate to your folks that you absolutely could not continue to survive without that one precious toy. The toy that your grand anticipation now told you was just within your grasp in that box.
The big day finally arrived and you had made a bee-line for that special box. But once you'd torn away the fancy dancing elves paper, sending it and the bow it came with halfway across the room, and wrestled the box open what did you discover? Socks.
If you can recall just such an event in your childhood then you have a good sense of the mix of disappointment, loss, anger and yes, betrayal, that a customer might experience when they open a package from you that they have been eagerly awaiting, only to discover the object of their desire inside, damaged. To prevent them from always remembering your shop name as the one that delivered a disappointment, there are steps that should be taken in order to build not only a well wrapped and protected package, but a pleasant connection with your customer, mentally, as well.
A customer should remember your shop name because they were impressed by the care and professionalism exhibited not just towards them, but towards the item you sold them, as well. Even if the item is not particularly valuable in terms of dollars it should be delivered attractively presented, and well packaged for shipment. If it seems that obtaining their money was the only important aspect of the entire transaction for you, a customer is unlikely to ever desire to repeat the experience. And if your method of packing and shipping gives the impression that the items you sell are not worth any time or effort on your part, perhaps customers will eventually come to believe that they probably aren't worth their money, either. Perception is everything. Even if you only keep a shop on Ruby Lane as a hobby seller and do not consider yourself to be a professional dealer, it will pay to conduct yourself in a professional manner. The customer who bought a ten dollar item last month, may be the same one who spots an interesting two hundred dollar vase in the same shop this month. The shop owner may never know that it was the tacky, off-hand way that the previous, inexpensive purchase was wrapped and shipped which prevents the customer from later buying the more expensive vase, but I assure you this phenomenon occurs more often then most sellers would think.
It is a fallacy encouraged by the Internet auction scene that the world is out there waiting to buy every item, immediately, and there is no need to depend on, or even to desire, a 'steady' customer base. While the Web may indeed be an innovative new place in which to market - growth and success is still obtained for an electronic business person in many of the same ways as in the brick and mortar world. The one intrinsic factor that will never change where sales are concerned, whether you are selling five dollar post cards or new Corvettes, is people. There is nothing more encouraging to a business' bottom line than a completely satisfied customer, and an established base of satisfied customers is an important asset anywhere. It's rather like the old rhyme about friendship. Make new friends (customers), but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold.
In case you are new to the Internet sales arena in general, or to Ruby Lane in particular, and are curious about the nuances of packing and shipping, here are some hints, tips and resources that will help you produce an end result with which both you and your customer can be pleased. Even if you are an old hand at it by now, there may be some links included below that you will find to be of interest as well:
Start your packaging with the item itself. Many dealers prefer to wrap the item first in paper, either tissue or something slightly heavier. This is an especially good step for anything that is going to also be wrapped in bubblewrap as bubble has been known to adhere to items in transit. Newspaper is not something you want to wrap anything in. Not only do customers not appreciate having to wash the ink stains off their hands after handling it, but newsprint can transfer onto the items, as well. Matte pottery, for example, can be ruined by ink stains from newsprint.
Packing Paper or Jewelry Items
These should be placed inside of clear, plastic product baggies to protect them from potential damage from moisture. Different sizes of these can obtained through the many resources listed below. Bagging jewelry also will keep any stones that may have jiggled loose (God forbid), on the trip in plain view, for replacement.
Invoices and Packing Slips
Be sure to include documentation of some sort with any purchase. You can either type or print your own or buy consecutively numbered invoice books from a stationer. You can also purchase customized Ruby Lane Return Address Labels with your address, and place one at the top of the page (www.rubylane.com/shops/rlshop).
Do also try to include a business card, Ruby Lane flyer or even small token gift if at all possible. There are bookmarks, pens and other small, inexpensive items in the Ruby Lane Shop, or you can personalize something yourself. The idea is to make receiving the package as enjoyable and memorable for the customer as you can. And including a little something that the customer wouldn't expect can really add to the experience.
Use clean, sturdy boxes, preferably new or only gently used. A box that has obviously been used and re-used several times certainly makes the recipient feel a little less important. To save trees however, send these well-used boxes to the recycler. You can buy boxes online (see links below) or order them from the USPS site for free, along with stuff like tape and labels. Of course, the free boxes from the Post Office come with the requirement that they can only be used for Priority Mail. But if you mostly use that method to ship anyway, ordering the free boxes is a no-brainer. Scrounged boxes out of dumpsters with product advertising on them are not a good choice, primarily because they generally will always appear to be scrounged boxes out of dumpsters.
Packing Delicate Items
If the item is breakable it should always be double-boxed. This means you pack the item in a box, surrounded by cushioning material like bubblewrap or styrofoam peanuts(somewhat less environmentally-friendly, but very effective), and then place that box in the center of more cushioning material inside of another box. Most shipping sites recommend two inches or more of packing material between the walls of the first box and the second. Don't skimp on the protective cushioning. Foam or styrofoam peanuts offer the best insurance, but if you have run out of them or cannot afford them, you can stuff white plastic grocery bags with balled up newspaper and tie them closed. These will give good cushioning if you use plenty of paper and has the added benefit of keeping the ink off the customers hands when they unpack. The downside to any kind of paper, though, is that it adds weight to the package, which increases shipping costs. This is a delicate balance.
Expect The Worst
In general, a good rule of thumb is this - package everything as though you expect that a gorilla will be tossing it over a 30 foot fence in order to allow the elephant on the other side of the fence to step on it. Try to anticipate any internal shifting or weight problems that may occur. Don't ship a cast iron doorstop, for instance, in the same box as a porcelain shoe, even if the customer thinks you should do so in order for them to save some money on shipping.
Packing and Shipping Furniture
Large items such as furniture can be covered with protective plastic, foam and/or heavy paper and "loose packed" as is. Or, they can be packed into strong corrugated cardboard or a wood crate. Or, many people choose to ship furniture by UPS, blanket wrapped delivery. These methods are not inexpensive, but they are less expensive than having to ship something back for repairs.
Purchasing insurance for packages is required, just in case all your fine efforts are for naught or in case the package should be lost or stolen. This can be purchased either through the chosen shipping concern or through a company that specializes in shipping insurance. A shop owner may offer the customer the option to formally decline insurance. By allowing the buyer to decline insurance, you offer them the option of shipping this item with no insurance, in which case they are responsible for loss or damage that occurs during shipping. If they do not choose to decline insurance, you are still responsible for shipping this item with insurance.
It isn't required that Ruby Lane shop owners offer to sell, and therefore ship, to buyers outside of their own country. But those who do often benefit from appealing to a wider customer base. Problem is, once a sale has been completed, the customer's purchase then has to be sent to them. And if you've never shipped anything outside of your own country the prospect can seem to be a more daunting proposition than it should.
In the interests of allying some understandable misgivings, these tips might help to make the process of sending a shipment halfway around the world as familiar to you as posting something to a friend across town.
* The same methods you use to ship within your own country will usually also be available for use to ship something out of the country. But reviewing information offered by the service you want to use in regards to international shipments should be your first step. Each service has their own rules and costs may widely differ for the same basic services. Although shipping costs are usually to be born by the buyer, they will almost always appreciate being given a choice of two or more options. Be sure to state what each method of shipment has to offer. Information to give would be the base shipping cost by weight, whether or not a service charges a handling fee at delivery, the cost of fully insuring their purchase and approximately how long the item is likely to be in transit based on the service chosen.
* For international shipments, insurance is required, the same as a domestic shipment. It can be pricey, but some services include insurance up to a set amount, automatically. A shop owner may offer the customer the option to formally decline insurance. By allowing the buyer to decline insurance, you offer them the option of shipping this item with no insurance, in which case they are responsible for loss or damage that occurs during shipping. If they do not choose to decline insurance, you are still responsible for shipping this item with insurance.
* Double check the buyer's mailing address for accuracy before shipping. Especially if you're unfamiliar with the way it is written. Addresses in other countries will usually look different or be written differently than those in your own and they often will include words in a different language. Addresses may also need to be written in a specific way on the label, although this is usually in a method that is fairly standard across the differing services available.
* All overseas packages should be wrapped very securely and plenty of cushioning used. Double boxing, especially for breakable items, is the preferred, and strongly recommended, method of packaging.
* Before shipping anything into another country you should take the step of going to the Web site of the service you are using and check for import prohibitions for that specific country. Some types of items or literature may be restricted or prohibited. If you ship something on a list of prohibited items, you may be in violation of the other country's law. Don't assume that the type of item you are shipping couldn't possibly be something another country would want to keep out, either. Even seemingly innocuous items like toy guns or chocolate may be prohibited by individual countries. Check it out before you assume what you want to send is OK.
* Any merchandise sent into another country may be subject to duty according to the customs regulations of that country. Customs forms may need to be filled out and attached to the outside of the package. On occasion a copy of the form or an invoice will need to be included inside the package, as well. Check with your shipping service to see what, if any, customs forms will need to be used. You can pick them up ahead of time and fill them out before taking the package in for shipment.
A handy page of links on the USPS Web site that pertains to all things international is their International Mail Manual, here:
Most other shipping services also maintain Web sites and similar information can be found on their sites, along with shipping rate calculators, insurance, and so on. Taking a bit of time to become familiar with international shipping options ahead of time can make receiving an order from a buyer in a foreign land an event that generates little to no anxiety when it comes time to send the purchase to the customer.
If you prefer to only ship to buyers within your own country, consider making some sort of statement to this effect on your shop's Terms of Sale page. This will help prevent overseas buyers from placing orders in your shop.
Use common sense along with a little bit of pizzazz in your packaging and the end result will yield a shipment with Star Quality. Something that a customer can't help but notice and appreciate....and remember.
Here are links to a good many sites offering materials, tools and tips for shipping:
http://www.rubylane.com/shops/rlshop - Customized shop shipping and return address labels, Ruby Lane flyers, logo items for package inserts, and tissue paper plus ribbon for wrapping.
http://www.bubblefast.com - Bubblewrap
http://www.brasspack.com - Shipping supplies
http://www.usps.com/send/preparemailandpackages/welcome.htm - Free boxes, labels, tape, additional information on how to wrap items securely for shipment, and postage calculation.
http://www.quill.com - Boxes, etc.
http://www.papermart.com - Boxes, etc.
http://www.uline.com - Shipping supplies, boxes
http://www.ups.com/content/us/en/index.jsx - Shipping information and rate calculation
http://www.fedex.com/us - Shipping information, rate calculation.
http://www.cratersandfreighters.com - Pick-up and delivery for larger items like furniture
http://www.forwardair.com - Airport-to-airport transportation of larger items
http://www.u-pic.com - Insurance for packages
http://www.shipsurance.com - Insurance for packages