Domestic Etsy Shipping

on Oct 18th, 2011 | in Etsy Tips | 16 Comments

Shipping has been a source of frustration since opening my Etsy shop. I’ve taken a bite out of my profits more than once by not charging enough, and the first few times I shipped products internationally it was a circus. I’ve done so many things the hard way that I’m starting to feel nervous when things are too easy. I’m sharing the Etsy shipping tips I’ve learned along the way in the hopes that you avoid a similar fate.

Basic Shipping

Trekking down to the post office was fun for my first few orders – the rush of packaging up an item, the thrill of handing it to the postman and regaling him with stories of my adoring fans. The fantasy soon wore off and I started dreading going to the post office. It doesn’t have to be this way. Trust me, once you ship from home you’ll never look back.

To ship from home, you’ll need a few basic supplies. The first is a postal scale to weigh packages. I use a cheapo WeighMax, but just about any scale that measures pounds and ounces will do. A flexible tape measure will help measure packages – the USPS often requires a girth measurement. The scale and tape measure combined with the Postage Price Calculator will help you figure out shipping prices to set on Etsy. Make sure to set up Etsy Shipping Profiles if you sell lots of similar items – they’re a real time-saver!

Shipping supplies are another essential – the local office supply store can help with bubble wrap, tape and boxes. The Postal Service will also send Priority Mail packaging free of charge from the USPS Store. Naturally, you won’t want to forget my packaging tips when boxing up orders.

Etsy encourages PayPal as a payment option, which makes postage and labeling super easy. When you’ve received an order, log on to PayPal; on the summary screen, you’ll see the order and right next to it is a “Print Shipping Label” option. Step through the process, putting in the weight from your postage scale, purchase and print. Once you get tired of cutting out labels and taping them on packages, get the Avery shipping labels for inkjet (5127) or laser (8127) printers. Just peel, stick and ship!

I know what you’re thinking – even with this fancy-pants postage scale and printed shipping labels, I’ll still have to drive down to the post office and drop off my abundance of orders. Not true! The Postal Service lets you schedule a pickup to have the mail carrier come to your door and collect your outgoing packages. I’m not kidding! Maybe this is old news to sellers that have been around the block a few times, but it really blew my mind.

Mailing Options

I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve by mentioning the United States Postal Service (USPS) a few times already. For most of the lightweight items on Etsy, they’re hard to beat. Items under 13 ounces can be sent first-class mail, which will generally get your item anywhere in the country in 2-3 days for $3 or less. Items that tip the scale over 13 ounces are usually best served by the Priority Mail flat rate boxes, especially since the boxes themselves are free. Play around with the postage scale and price calculator to be sure.

UPS: FAIL!One of my biggest dilemmas was deciding whether to buy insurance for my packages. Initially, I added insurance to all my packages but didn’t account for that additional cost in my shipping prices. I changed my strategy after doing some digging and talking to experienced Etsy sellers. Insurance will add a few dollars to your shipment and I’ve never had a package get lost – knock on wood – so it’s hard to justify for most low-cost items. Figure out what value you’d be uncomfortable losing and having to re-make. For me, it’s worthwhile when items are over $100, one of a kind, or headed to international destinations.

If you do spring for package insurance, the USPS insurance isn’t the only option. You may save a bit of money by buying insurance from a third party like Shipsaver or Shipsurance. Shipsaver will insure international First Class packages to most countries, but check the fine print to make sure yours isn’t excluded. Third-party insurers will also insure first-class international shipments – USPS requires Priority Mail to insure international packages.

Delivery confirmation is absolutely required, in my opinion. Delivery confirmation is a cheap addition to domestic packages that will help tremendously if there’s ever a dispute by an unscrupulous buyer that you failed to ship an order. Without it, you don’t stand a chance with PayPal or with Etsy. Best of all, when shipping through PayPal delivery confirmation is even cheaper than at the Post Office.

Those Other Guys

As much as I love USPS, there are times when the other shipping providers are a better fit. UPS and FedEx differentiate themselves well by providing better tracking, better coverage for loss and damage, and shipping for heavier weight items.

Did I mention that the Postal Service won’t ship anything over 75 pounds? They just plain won’t do it, even if you wave a fistful of money at them. UPS and FedEx are clearly the better option for anything too heavy – but their rates also start getting competitive with the Postal Service even in the 30-75 pound range.

USPS delivery confirmation isn’t anything to write home about in the tracking world. It does its job to determine if the package was delivered, but I’ve gotten packages delivered to my door before USPS even showed that it shipped. UPS and FedEx are the logistical giants and offer tracking every step of the way, along with tools to re-route your packages mid-shipment.

International Shipping

I’ve mentioned a few things about international shipping along the way, but it’s really an article all on its own. The customs forms alone will make your head spin! Needless to say, you can really lose your shirt shipping internationally if you don’t research the costs and price appropriately. I still struggle with international shipping myself, but I’ll let you know when I get it down like a science.

Cover image by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr. UPS: Fail by Bobby Acree on Flickr.
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16 Responses

  1. Sam says:

    Very helpful indeed. One update, the weight limit for 1st class parcel service for customers who buy and print shipping labels with an online postage service provider (like PayPal shipping) has been increased to 16 oz (up from 13 oz). The 13 oz limit still applies if you pay at the post office (which the USPS categorizes as “retail”). One warning regarding PayPal shipping using flat-rate priority. Paypal shipping for flat rate envelops only supports normal letter size envelops. If you need to ship using the slightly larger legal flat rate priority envelop then print the postage using the PayPal flat rate envelop and then add another $0.30 in stamps. I think the two sizes (letter vs. legal) used to be the same price but this is no longer the case, and for some reason PayPal shipping has not updated their site? It is also the case that the priority padded mailer price is higher than the flat rate envelop — but the padded mailer works equally well as bubble wrap within either of the two flat rate mailers (since the USPS motto is , “if it fits it ships” when using the flat rate envelops). So the non-padded mailers can be “transformed” into the padded mailer but shipped at the lower flat rate price.

    • Sam says:

      … so to be more specific, the two flat rate priority envelop shipping prices when you print postage on-line (so called “commercial” rate) are $5.95 for flat rate envelope and $6.25 for legal flat rate. Paypal shipping only has one “flat rate” priority envelop selection which costs $5.95. If you need the legal size then adding $0.30 in stamps beside the printed label is the safest and this still qualifies as a commercial rate.

  2. melynne says:

    Your site has been so helpful, I am like most of those commented, new to shipping and am afraid I’m ‘shipping challenged’. I’m wanting to ship children’s shirts, not over 13 oz, but I’m unsure of packaging…I know there are the typical bags that I myself receive packages in, but where do I find those? Do you recommend a shipping supply store for small clothing items? Also, would it work for me to simply weigh then print the label and tape it on to the package? Thank you for your patience!

    • Brittany says:

      Melynne, thanks! I’m sure you’ll get shipping down in no time. For clothing, you’ll probably want to get tear-proof poly mailers. You can get them from Amazon or any office supply store. They’re cheapest if you buy them in bulk. If you are not sure what size to get, you can always buy smaller quantities to see what works best for your items before buying in bulk.

      You’ll want to weigh each of your items with packaging and any extra items you include with an order (invoice, business card, etc). Sometimes a fraction of an ounce will change the cost of shipping, since it rounds up to the nearest ounce. You can absolutely print off your label and tape it, but I’d suggest getting printable sticker mailing labels. It will save you the hassle of tape. Hope that’s helpful! Happy shipping.

  3. Steve says:

    My wife and I are in the process of adding draft listings to our yet unopened Etsy shop. We are fairly confused about shipping. After some research we had decided to use USPS flat-rate shipping, and only ship domestically. Our vintage items are a variety of sizes, weights, and dimensions…jewelry, dress patterns, porcelain, figurines, clothing, picture frames, tins, etc. They are all under 70 lbs, and most will fit in the flat-rate boxes. The main reasons that lead us to flat-rate USPS shipping were the free supplies, free pickup, insurance included, and most of all, tracking. For our protection, as well our buyer’s we want to have tracking on all items. I signed up for a USPS account and it looks like the “online” flat-rate prices for small boxes (and envelopes), medium, and large boxes are $5.05, $11.30, and $15.80 respectively. I went to the post office to inquire about the most inexpensive way to ship, with tracking or delivery a must. They were frustrated with me, as I was with them, as they failed to explain it to me properly. My understanding is if the item is over 13 ounces, or is more than 1/4 inch thick, and not rigid, it is considered a parcel or package. If it is a “letter” it can be considered First Class or Priority. I handed the worker a vintage dress pattern envelope in a small generic padded envelope and asked how much it would cost (non-flat rate) to ship with tracking included. She either did not understand, or could not explain it to me. I said all I want to do is figure out how to add tracking, and how much it would cost for tracking on any non flat-rate item, regardless of letter or parcel. We went round and round. She mentioned I could add tracking for $.90 cents on non flat-rate letters, boxes, etc. But there appeared to be certain non flat-rate items to which I could not add tracking even for a fee. I recently ordered a small item from an Etsy seller which was shipped in a very small padded envelope. I was charged $1.99 and the package was tracked, which I thought was nice, and cheaper than the small flat-rate box. I would like the option to offer the buyer lower shipping with tracking, when possible. For instance, if we want to ship a pair of earrings from Illinois to California. However, I am confused as to the USPS policies (zones, etc.) That is why I thought the flat-rate option offered us the least amount of headaches, albeit not always the best cost to the buyer. Can you please advise your thoughts, experiences, and general advice? Thank you!

    • Brittany says:


      Thanks for the comment. You have several questions here – I’ll try to answer as best as I can and then I’ll offer some pointers on where to go for additional help. First, I would suggest that you invest in a digital postal scale – it is going to be your best friend. You can buy one for under $25. When you open your shop, you will be able to choose how to pay for online (commercial based) shipping. There are several options including Etsy, Paypal, Endicia and other online vendors. By choosing an online vendor, you will pay less in shipping than you would if you were to go to the Post Office.

      It sounds like many of your items could be shipped in a small padded envelope using USPS First Class Mail. This is the most economical option for shipping items domestically that are under 13oz. The USPS considers padded envelopes as packages not envelopes as you noted above. Using Etsy Shipping Labels and other online retailers, you will receive tracking as part of the service at no additional cost. You may choose to pay an additional fee for delivery confirmation and insurance if you choose.

      The reality is that in order to get a fair and accurate shipping cost, you are going to need to package and weigh each of your items and select the most appropriate way to ship that item as you set your shipping rates for each of your listings. You can use this calculator to help set your shipping rates for 2014. Be sure to keep a record of the weight of each packaged item so you are able to change your shipping as the USPS rates go up each year.

      Unfortunately, I believe it is just going to take time to learn the ins and outs of shipping. Learning the USPS policies, zones, rates, etc. might seem like a daunting task right now but you will have it down in no time. If you invest the time upfront, it will save you headaches down the road.

      Vintage sellers have it the hardest when it comes to figuring costs for shipping. I strongly suggest you join a vintage team on Etsy where you are able to discuss issues that arise in the future. There is a wealth of knowledge in teams – you will want to explore several teams in order to find a good fit for you.

      Good luck to you with your new shop! Feel free to check back in to let us know how things are working for you.

  4. Andi says:

    I’m really confused about what to put for shipping costs on my listings because Etsy only provides one price for the United States, but it depends on how far the buyer lives from you. If I put the cheapest price, then its going to cost me $5 out of pocket to ship to someone in New York! What do I do?

    • Brittany says:

      Andi – it’s true, Etsy doesn’t offer the utility to set the price based on how far the shipment must go. This is a sore spot with many sellers. Personally, I set the highest price for the weight from my Shipping Calculator and refund the buyer if the shipment turns out to be much cheaper. Some sellers set shipping as the average price and assume that it will even out across multiple orders. Hope this helps!

  5. Thank you so much for taking time to relay this info to us. As a new Etsy shop owner, it is extremely helpful! 🙂

  6. Thank you SO much for this well-written and highly informative article! I’m an Etsy newbie, and the only area that has been driving me crazy is estimating shipping costs.

    I just loaded up with free boxes from the Post Office, and I think I’ll try PayPal labels to see how they compare to Etsy’s.

    Thanks again — you are incredibly helpful!

  7. tiffany says:

    So helpful!!! Have you figured out the best method of international shipping yet?

  8. Jill says:

    Thank you; this was incredibly helpful!

  9. Jennifer says:

    SO helpful, thank you for providing step-by-step directions for other Etsy sellers to use. This will help open my shop even sooner than planned!!

  10. Alyssa says:

    This was SO helpful, thank you! I hate figuring out shipping costs and you have made it make so much sense. Thanks a bunch!

  11. Melissa Carr says:

    Great ideas! A note about the printing of the shipping labels: when you order your mailing supplies online – such as the new “bubbled” flat rate envelope – order some of the clear envelopes with adhesive backs in the “International” packaging section. You can get 50 at a time – they are saving me money!! I can still use my paper (which is less expensive than the sticky labels from Avery) and sometimes used recycled paper too. The only tape I need is a small piece of tape for the envelope crease. I’ve saved money from not buying labels AND saved tape as well.

    When you have a lot of orders to go out, Use the link to the left on your PayPal account page that says “Multi-Order Shipping” . You can enter all the weights with each package and print all of the labels out at once! Plus if you edit the printing options, it will only print out the shipping label and not the second half which wastes paper. Now you can get two labels per 8.5×11 sheet!

    I hope these tips can further help anyone who sells on Etsy and ships constantly!!

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