Shoestring Theory

Currently documenting the house that is eating our lives, we will return to regularly scheduled programming in a couple of more months

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TotD: How to save money on USPS internatioanl shipping

March 14, 2008 at 12:16 pm by thetheorist

Post Office Box
Smallest box you can get from the post office.

Tip of the Day

When I launched this blog, part of my plan was to offer tips and stories about what I’ve learned running a small online business and hopefully help others do the same. But, since I started at the same time eBay announced all of this year’s big changes, I ended up writing predominantly about that for awhile. I’m finally getting around to writing up some guides and anecdotes about running a small business.

So, here’s a trick I learned from a clerk at my local post office to get maximum protection for your items at the least cost. It ‘s particularly effective for international shipments going via Priority Mail.

International shipping is expensive. Through the post office, you basically have three options. First Class International is cheap, but slow and provides no tracking. Express International is expensive, but relatively fast and provides full tracking. Unfortunately, most customers won’t want to pay for Express. Priority International is still expensive, but delivers packages in a reasonable time and provides some tracking (not to all destinations). We prefer Priority International for most of our overseas shipments.

Many of the items we sell are fragile or sensitive enough that they need to be shipped in a box, not an envelope. To ship any box to, say, the United Kingdom via Priority Mail International, it’s a minimum charge of $19 if you print postage online ($20 at the post office). The postage for a Priority Mail International flat-rate envelope is $10.45 if you print online ($11 at the post office). So, it’s a savings of $8-$9 per shipment to use the envelope, but you don’t have the protection of a box.

Flat-rate Envelope
Flat-rate envelope from the post office.

The post office gives boxes to customers for free (you can order them from their website). The smallest box offered by the post office (0-1096S) fits inside their flat-rate envelope. The box measures slightly smaller than 9″x6″x2″. So, any item that will fit inside that box, can then be inserted into the flat-rate envelope. You get the protection of a box and the cost of an envelope. Because many of the items we ship overseas are rather small, this trick works for 90 percent of our orders. It allowed us to maintain our packing standards while lowering the cost of shipping to our customers by $8 (making us more attractive than many of our competitors). For eBay sellers, since buyers can now rate you on how much you charge for shipping, this is a great way to lower your shipping cost without costing your business any money.

Keep in mind that for overseas shipments, the flat-rate envelope has a weight limit of four pounds and a value limit of $400.

It will work for domestic shipping also, but the savings won’t be as large. The flat-rate envelope costs the same as a one pound package ($4.60) to ship. So it only works if you have an item smaller than 9x6x2 that weighs more than one pound that needs to go Priority Mail. That’s not nearly as common for us, but it does happen.

This works great for small electronics, toys, collectibles, some media, jewelry, watches, computer parts and probably a ton of stuff I’m not thinking of off the top of my head.

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