First, though, I’m pleased to mention that the last week of December was much stronger than expected. I have still not had a shutout since mid November.
I do 95% of my shipping through the post office. They do the best job of delivering packages in a timely manner and in good condition for a reasonable price. USPS is certainly more reliable than
I buy my shipping labels at the USPS Click-n-Ship website so that I can just drop the paid-up packages at the post office and be on my way. Online purchases get free or reduced-cost delivery confirmation, and some services also earn a small discount off the walk-up postage rate. This is all well and good as long as you ship via priority mail or express mail.
Problem is, at least 75% of my customers choose the cheapest shipping method. That is usually first class mail (under 13 ounces) or parcel post – services that USPS doesn’t sell online. Why? Because they have sweetheart deals with Stamps.com, Endicia, and Pitney Bowes. If you want to access the full range of USPS services online, you have to pay one of those third parties for the privilege. That will set you back $16 per month for a convenience that the USPS could easily offer for free.
It offends my sense of fair play to bribe a third party for a service that ought to be free. I’m sure that the USPS gets a kickback from those third parties. So I usually upgrade my parcel-post orders to priority mail when that’s cost-effective, or I stand in line at the
The last resort is standing in line for a human clerk. There is nothing a postal clerk enjoys quite so much as telling you why you can’t do something, or that you have to fill out additional forms, or that your box is somehow below standards.
International shipping too often sends me to the counter. Packages under four pounds – most of mine – are cheapest via first class international, and guess what? You can’t buy first-class postage online. The price gap between first-class international and priority international is way too high to upgrade. And so I have to fill out the customs paperwork by hand, and wait in line for a surly clerk to scowl at my packages and look for reasons why I can’t ship them.
December’s frenzied pace made that $16 monthly fee at Endicia look so tempting that I finally overcame my inner cheapskate and signed up for their 30-day trial. From Dec. 4 thru Dec. 26, I shipped 78 first-class or parcel post boxes through Endicia. For each one, I paid 18 cents for delivery confirmation instead of 75 cents at the
Stealth? Did I say "stealth"?
Endicia’s basic rate is only $6 per month. I'm paying an additional $10 to print labels that say “Postage & Fees Paid” instead of showing the actual amount. That’s called “stealth postage”.
I strive to keep my shipping charges neutral – to take in very slightly more than I pay out. Ideally, every single order would cost a few cents less than I collected. In practice, it’s very difficult to calculate shipping charges accurately.
One packaged cap weighs 10 oz. It’s simple enough to set the weight of one cap at 0.6 lb (9.6 oz) and charge those customers accurately. The problem is that packaging accounts for much of that initial 10 oz. The caps themselves actually weigh only 3-4 oz. If a customer orders two caps, the assessed weight of 1.2 lb takes them out of the first-class mail table and puts them on the 2-lb priority or parcel post rate. But the actual package weight is just 13-14 oz, which could go first class, or for the 1-lb priority rate. The more caps I put in a single box, the greater grows the disparity between the assessed weight and the actual weight, and the harder I soak my better customers.
My workaround is to add an invisible handling charge charge (currently 85 cents) to every order, and reduce the weight of each cap to 0.4 lb (6.4 oz), which is closer to reality. Now the single-cap orders remain pretty accurate, and multiple-cap buyers get a better deal. Careful analysis would let me optimize the handling charge and cap weight for my most common orders. This would be great if I only sold caps, but mixed merchandise makes it impossible to charge everybody accurately. So the best I can shoot for is overall balance. In December I collected $1408 in shipping fees and paid out $1353. I think you’ll agree that a $55 overcharge is reasonable and minor…unless you happen to be one of the unlucky customers who contributed to it (remember that some customers are undercharged, too, so there were actually more than $55 in overcharges).
Enter stealth postage. :)
While I’m complaining about carriers, here’s a new reason to hate
The return freight should be the same as the outgoing freight, which was $9.50. And it was -- plus a $10 intercept fee. Yes friends, it cost $19.50 to have that little box returned before it reached my customer. With the original shipping fee, it cost $29 to transport merchandise that she never even got.
Because that $10 surcharge was news to me, I ate it, and just charged her the $9.50 that she would’ve had to pay if she had returned the package herself. Everybody loses! Except