In the 10+ years that we’ve been consulting with ecommerce businesses, we’ve learned a fair amount about the nuts of bolts of ecommerce operations. Based on best practices shared by our clients, we’ve compiled a list of essential shipping supplies every ecommerce business needs.
Whether you’re just getting your ecommerce business off the ground, or a grizzled veteran etailer, we guarantee our list will give you some great ideas.
Perfect Sized Packaging
It’s almost always more expensive to ship an oversized box than it is to pay a little more for the right box size.
This one is obvious, but a surprising number of ecommerce businesses get it wrong.
Unless you’re putting the customer’s order in a USPS Flate Rate Box (and that can be a really smart way to ship some items), you’re going to need a box that’s perfectly sized to your products. A lot of etailers order a standard sized box, assuming that the money they save on buying boxes in bulk will make up for any ‘extra’ they pay on shipping.
However, it’s almost always more expensive to ship an oversized box than it is to pay a little more for the right size box. That’s because shipping carriers use “dimensional weight” to determine shipping costs. If you can pack your customer’s order into the smallest possible box, you can save yourself several dollars on shipping charges.
If your company is always selling the same sized items, we recommend purchasing boxes that exactly fit your standard item. If you’re not shipping standard sizes, be sure to check out Uline’s “multi-depth” boxes (which are also available from Amazon). These boxes can be sized based on your order, minimizing package size and saving you money.
Finally, don’t overlook padded envelopes. If the customer’s order is less than 13 ounces in weight, it can be placed in a padded mailer and shipped via USPS for less than $5.
Even if you make sure your box is the perfect size, you’ll need some packing materials to protect the customer’s order. There are three things to think about when choosing packing materials:
- Convenience, both for you and your customer. Styrofoam packing peanuts are pretty cheap, but they’re messy and annoying.
- Storage space. If you buy four giant rolls of bubblewrap, you’ll need to store four giant rolls of bubble wrap until they’re used up.
- Cost. Pre-filled bubble wrap or air pillows are the ‘go-to’ option in many people’s minds, but these materials can be expensive.
If your company is shipping out small quantities of orders, it probably makes sense to buy some bubble wrap or air pillows that are pre-inflated. However, if your company is shipping more than a few dozen orders a month, think carefully about buying an air pillow inflation kit. Instead of buying air pillows in bulk (or bubble wrap), you can buy the machine that makes them.
A Good Printing System
You’re going to want to print out a packing slip and shipping label for every order you ship. You also may need to print an invoice for the customer, and/or one for your records.
|Ink Jet||Low up-front cost; Flexibility to print everything||High printing costs per piece; Ink dries out if not used|
|Laser||Low printing cost per piece||Not ideal for labels; Best for invoices and packing slips|
|Thermal||Very low printing costs||Can only be used for labels or very small packing slips|
Generally speaking, inkjet printers are great for printing high full color pictures and a wide variety of pieces. But, their printing costs are pretty high on a per-piece basis.
If you don’t care about printing color, and you don’t mind investing a little bit of money up-front, a combination is best:
- Use a laser printer for invoices and packing slips
- Use a thermal printer for labels
The Dymo LabelWriter 450 is quite popular on Amazon, and we’ve used one in the past with great success. As for laser printers, you can’t go wrong with a monochrome laser printer from HP or Brother.
A Good Scale, And Software To Help You Pick The Best Shipper
If you’re shipping orders that weigh less than 50 pounds, there’s only one scale you need – it’s called an Accuteck and it’s less than $20. If you’re shipping orders over 50 lbs, you want the Smart Weigh heavy-duty scale instead (which is less then $40).
As for software, you want to look at both ShipStation and ShipWorks. Both platforms offer similar features and options, and both connect to the most popular ecommerce platforms. The reason you want one of these tools is for shipping price comparison. Both tools will help you find the least expensive, quickest way to get your order to your customer.
Additionally, both tools are great for tracking orders, getting your data into your accounting software, and can do some other cool stuff too.
NOTE: Integration between popular auto parts ecommerce systems and ShipStation or ShipWorks is limited. Still, there are ways to get your data from your ecommerce platform into your shipping software.
Same-Day Fulfillment Whenever Possible
Last but not least, you need to make a plan to fill orders the same day they’re placed whenever possible. Set a cutoff time that’s reasonable (3 or 4pm local time), and then make sure that every order which comes in before that cutoff time is picked, packed, and shipped before you call it a day.
There are a couple of reasons for this rule:
- Customers love to get their order quickly. The faster you can get the order out the door, the more likely your customer is to be happy and loyal.
- You reduce the odds of getting behind. It’s easy to procrastinate, but it’s not at all unheard of for a big batch of orders to come in all at once. If you leave early on a Friday and “save a few orders for Monday,” a big weekend will put you in the hole on Monday.
It’s not fun to stay late trying to get orders filled, then driving them over to the closest UPS pick-up during rush hour, but it’s absolutely a best practice.
NOTE: We placed a lot of links to Amazon.com in this post. If you use these links, we get a small percentage. We put a lot of time into this guide, so we hope you use our links. Thanks!