Friday, January 30, 2015

Random Mailing Wisdom

This blog is intended for Crowdfunding project managers, and in particular those who are handling small-to-medium projects and intend to do the management themselves.

With that in mind, I thought I'd start by listing a few things I've learned while planning and executing the shipment phase of my Bubblegum Crisis Ultimate Edition kickstarter. Obviously, minimizing shipping cost is something you want to put some thought into -- before you go live with your project.

In no particular order:

  • At a certain point, bulk mailing becomes cost effective. Keep in mind you'll have to spend $300 for a permit + software to do all the sorting (you can't do it by hand, trust me), and there's the extra time cost of prepping all the labels and making sure everything goes into sacks. Most projects don't get big enough to warrant it.
  • First-Class parcels are limited to 13 oz.
  • There is a sweet-spot for low weights where Priority Mail is cheaper than Standard Mail.
  • Check carefully to see if you can use Media Mail. There are specific restrictions and everything in the package must meet them. For example, my Blu-Ray disc qualified, but the fact that I included some bonus postcards rendered the package ineligible.
  • You can often get around weight and contents limitations and save money by shipping in two parts (in my case, the Blu-Ray by Media Mail, and the other goodies by bulk mail). The tradeoff is extra complexity.
  • If your package is going to be over 1lb, see if you can design it so it fits in a Priority Mail Flat Rate Padded Envelope (FRPE) or Small Flat Rate Box! Shipping is under $6, you get tracking and insurance, and the post office provides the packaging for free. It's cheaper than Standard Post. A standard 8x6x2 box fits inside a FRPE easily; the maximum size you can get is around 9x6x2.5 but you'll have to special-order boxes or cut down 9x6x3's.
  • If you have to use shipping boxes, consider 32ECT lightweight boxes; they will save you ounces.
  • If you need to pad what goes into your shipping box, consider using a bubble mailer (envelope) instead of regular bubblewrap. You pop your product into the mailer, and the mailer (unsealed) into the box. The extra cost is trivial and the savings in packaging prep time more than pays for it.
  • The USPS Click-N-Ship receipt for an international package states that “USPS Tracking™ is unavailable for this package”, which is technically correct but completely misleading. You can type the Customs Barcode Number into the USPS tracking form and get tracking information!
  • The app is more mature than the USPS Click-N-Ship one, and it's easier to integrate with. I shipped 3000 packages in 6 days using it and a team of 3 people.
  • Make a point of putting address labels on your boxes so that the “seam” of the box does not go through the address if you can; that's the point of maximum “wear”, and you don't want the address to become illegible. On the international labels, there's a nice gap between barcode and sender address that is a good place for the seam if you can't avoid it entirely.
  • Strongly consider getting a thermal label printer (~$160 after discount) if you are doing any sort of volume. The per-label cost is lower than laser labels (and no toner costs), but there is a non-obvious benefit – the labels hold up better in the mail, and are less likely to become illegible. They pay for themselves if they save you the time, hassle and expense of reshipping just a few packages, not to mention the annoyance of having to provide replacement customs information if the CN22 part of the label becomes illegible. They also make life a lot easier afterwards, when you'll be printing one-off labels; no constantly changing the paper in the printer. But don't cheap out on the labels; I had problems with inexpensive labels from an Amazon seller.
  • International shipping is a whole can of worms because of the customs charges and fees your backers may get dinged for. Some countries (AU/NZ/NO) are pain-free because of high personal exemptions. For Europe, it can often be a better deal to charge your backers a higher shipping fee, but use a EU-based fulfillment service. Canada is an interesting case, because while fees are usually due, the actual enforcement of them is very low. I'll have more to say on this in later posts.
  • If you are shipping internationally, often backers will ask you to fill out the customs forms with a lower price, to avoid duty. Don't do it, the penalities are severe.

In general, “Think outside the box before you put stuff into it” :)

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