Clueless on how to ship something with the U.S. Postal Service? Need a cheat sheet to make shipping easier? I've spent so much time answering shipping questions, I decided a short guide might be of more help to you. This guide only covers USPS shipping. It is not a complete shipping reference, and you should always check USPS.com for the most up to date standards. But you will be you on your feet and shooting packages out your door in no time, even if you've never done it before!
Throughout this guide, I assume three things: you are shipping with the U.S. Postal Service, using the calculated shipping method on your listings, and are using PayPal (PP) shipping. Why USPS? Because it's the most convenient, with free supplies, free pickup, great services, and it's integrated with eBay and many third party listing tools. Why calculated? Because with some basic information about your package, you can have eBay do all the complex work of calculating postage for you and get it right every time. Why PayPal? Because it's integrated with eBay shipping, easy to use, and you get a small postage discount for using it. You wouldn't want to use anything else for basic shipping. If you don't have a PP account, stop reading and get one now. It will only make your life easier.
What You Will Need
- Scale - pick one that has a weight limit above the average item you will put on it.
- Tape measure for getting package dimensions
- Optional but highly recommended is a standard printer (whatever printer you have will probably do).
- If you plan to print your labels, you will also need a scissors and tape if you will be using regular paper, which is perfectly fine.
- Packaging materials - boxes, envelopes, and fill. You can get FREE, unlimited amounts of certain Priority/Express boxes, envelopes, and stickers at USPS.com, the official site of the U.S. Postal Service. I have purchased some boxes from Uline.com and Starboxes.com. Shop around; there are some good dealers on eBay.
What To Do Before You List
I'll leave packaging your item to you. Next, find the weight, dimensions, "package size," and whether the package is irregular. I will cover all of these things. Forget about everything else you think you need to know!
To get the total package weight. find the right size package for your item, whether it's an envelope or box. Make sure it allows for proper padding of the item to prevent damage. Put the package on your scale and record the weight.
To get the total package size. you must measure all dimensions of your package and note the girth. Think of girth as measuring a person's waist; it's the distance around the thickest part of the package, not the longest. So measuring the length + girth of a package would be the same as measuring the height + waist of a person. Length + girth is how you select your package size.
What To Do When You List
1) You must use the customized selling form, not the "Keep it simple" form. Go to "Give buyers shipping details" and do the following. These general steps also apply to third party listing tools.
2) Select "Calculated" and fill out the package size and weight. Package sizes determine the class of mail you can use, and they determine the cost of your shipping total. eBay calculates all special costs and surcharges for you, but you must select the proper package size for it to work. You will never need to know anything about balloon rates or dimensional rates, other than that they exist. eBay will calculate all of the complicated stuff for your buyers automatically if you fill out your package information correctly.
What size should I select for my package?
- Select “Package/Thick Envelope” if your package is: less than or equal to 84" in length+girth or less than 1 cubic foot (12x12x12 or 1,728 cu. inches).
- Select “Large Package/Oversize 1” if package is: 84-108" length+girth.
- Select “Large Package/Oversize 2” if package is: 108-130" length+girth.
- Anything bigger than Large Package 2 must be shipped UPS or carrier that will accept larger packages.
Is your package irregular or unusual?
Since USPS charges more for packages it considers "odd," you'll need to know if your package is irregular. Check the "Irregular package” box if any of the following apply to your package:
- A parcel longer than 34 inches
- A parcel higher or wider than 17 inches
- A can, roll, or tube
- The following are conditions you will most likely NOT encounter:
- A glass container with more than 24 ounces of liquid
- A plastic container with one or more gallons of liquid
- A metal container with one or more gallons of liquid
- An insecurely wrapped parcel
- A metal banded parcel
- A wooden or metal box
- Books, printed matter, or business forms weighing more than 25 pounds.
- A high-density parcel weighing more than 15 pounds and exerting more than 60 pounds per-square-foot pressure on its smallest side.
- A film case weighing more than 5 pounds or with strap-type closures, except any film case the USPS authorizes to be entered as a machinable parcel and to be identified by the words "Machinable in United States Postal Service Equipment" permanently attached as a nontransferable decal in the lower right corner of the case.
- Parcels with characteristics (such as inadequate packaging) that could result in damage to the contents of the mailpiece, other parcels, or postal machinery if mechanical sortation is used.
3) Select the services you want to offer. I suggest Parcel Post, Priority Mail, and Express. Use First Class only if your package is 13 ounces or less and meets the requirements listed below under "Which USPS Service Is Best. "
4) Enter the dimensions of your package.
5) I recommend only domestic shipping for beginners. Worldwide shipping is a bit more
complex and exposes you to scam countries.
6) You can edit handling fees and insurance under the "Change" link if you want. I recommend making the buyer pay for insurance on all packages. It will be calculated for them.
Which USPS Service Is Best For You?
First Class is the cheapest. If your item weighs 13 ounces or less, you can send it First Class, which is the cheapest package rate. The package must also be at least 5" long, 3 1/2" high, and 0.007" thick. You will usually meet these requirements if you stuff your item in a padded mailer. Cheap! But keep in mind you can't print First Class labels online, nor can you get Delivery Confirmation. You must go to the PO. You can still calculate the correct postage at home and for your buyers, however.
Parcel Post can be used for items up to 70 pounds and 130" when you add the length + girth. It's usually delivered in 7-10 days. It's the standard for cheap shipping and it's how you ship bulky and many irregular items. It's usually the cheapest option for any package, after First Class. Parcel Post online comes with free Delivery Confirmation.
If you are not sure whether your item has other restrictions, please refer to the Quick Service Guide or Domestic Mail Manual at USPS.com. Hazardous materials, for example, are regulated or prohibited.
What To Do When Your Item Sells
After you receive a PayPal payment for your item, you can print a shipping label from PayPal. You will see a transaction in your PP account along with a "Print Shipping Label" button. Or, under your sold items in My eBay, in the little drop down menu next to your item, you can select "Print Shipping Label." You will end up at PP either way.
When you use PayPal shipping to print a shipping label on your own printer, the label will (usually) be pre-filled with all of the package information, including address, package size, measurements, and service type, so you don't have to refigure anything. Unfortunately, sometimes this doesn't work and PP will still have a some blank package information. This is why you should record this information. Once you print the label, you can also print a packing slip for the item with all of the order details. I print my label first, then the packing slip, so the packing slip falls on top. That way, when I pick up a stack of labels from the printer, the packing slip on top tells me which item the label underneath goes with. Once you print your label, cut it out and tape it on the sealed package, being careful not to cover the bar codes, and save the sender's copy for yourself.
If you are not using PayPal, then you must use USPS Click N' Ship online if you want to print labels from home. Just go to USPS.com and select "Print a shipping label." Input the proper package information as you have learned above, then pay for and print your label. The label will turn out almost the same as the PP label.
Skipping The Post Office
Now that you are printing complete labels at home, you will start feeling like a business, and you'll almost never need to go to the post office again! Once you have printed your label, you can schedule a free carrier pickup on USPS.com, as long as you have at least one domestic expedited parcel (Priority or Express), or if you have at least one international package, regardless of the total number of packages. You usually do not have to be present to hand over international packages. Be sure to check out this great service at USPS.com. If you can't schedule a carrier pickup, you should be able to drop your ready packages off at the Post Office at a window without having to wait in line, and then walk away. No more post office lines, how liberating!
Free Priority and Express boxes, envelopes, and stickers can be ordered at USPS.com, with free delivery. You can also order free customs envelopes and other great stuff!
Free Fill Material
Your local newspaper has an endless supply of free fill for you. Just ask for a bundle of recycled or old papers, and say thanks! Crumple up individual sheets to fill your box and protect your item.
Using these shipping methods, I've been able to correctly calculate the cost of postage for every package I've sold with about 99% accuracy. I can't explain why sometimes actual postage is a few cents different than what the buyer is invoiced. But, for over a year, I've been able to skip the line at the post office by having my postage printed and packages ready ahead of time. And, when I have at least one Priority package, I schedule a free pickup and skip the PO altogether. Big, small, complex and simple, I get the postage right for every package. Don't worry if you haven't absorbed everything. That's why this guide is around to help you whenever you need it! I've saved countless hours at the PO, and when I drop-off an armload of boxes at the window, the PO employees smile at me because they know I've done everything right, and they know I give them a lot of business. Why? eBay! So get your pack and ship on and start making money!
I welcome your suggestions for this guide. Please visit my About Me page and contact me. And please vote yes!