As I write this, the United States Postal Service (USPS), in its seemingly endless quest to keep life interesting for retailers, has just changed its postal rates again. Not only did the USPS increase rates, but it also made the First Class shipping rates much more diverse. Until two days ago, we had three postage rates for anything shipped First Class that weighed 16 ounces or fewer. Today, 16 ounces won’t go First Class, and the remaining 15 ounces are divided up among nine different rates.
If you ship product on a regular basis, or you sell on eBay, Reverb.com, Amazon, your Web site or anywhere else online, you know the “Oh drat!” feeling that comes along with postal rate changes. Those changes can be a huge drag on your operation’s time allocations, as you race to update shipping rates across all your selling platforms.
Part of that annual process can be made a lot easier if you are careful in creating your online listings. Assigning accurate weight and dimensional values to the products you sell helps make sure you know what you’re really spending on shipping to your customer. And, you’re less likely to experience postage scale “sticker shock.” It’s not unusual for the weight of a box to change your 11-ounce item ($3.60 First Class) into a one-pound item ($6.56 Priority Mail). Keep in mind that postage rates vary depending on your source. Take a box to the post office, and you’ll probably pay more than you would if you had used a commercial account on stamps.com.
eBay, Amazon and most sites base postage on what the completed shipping package weighs. So, when setting up your product listings, be sure to figure in the weight of the item, the packing materials used, and the weight of the box or padded envelope. If your packaged product is anywhere near oversize (e.g., an acoustic guitar), then your shipping cost might be based on what carriers lovingly refer to as “dimensional weight.” Dimensional weight is a larger weight value, which is calculated by some algorithm that relates actual weight to the size of the package. And (surprise!) dimensional weight can be shockingly higher than actual weight. To avoid sticker shock on your postage rate or UPS bill, always have the correct dimensions of your shipping package included in your product listing.
Understating Amazon and eBay shipping weights, whether inadvertently or not, will come back to bite you in the pocketbook. The postage shipping label generated by these platforms is coded in such a way that all weight corrections are charged back to your platform shipping account. There is just no way around paying whatever the current full shipping rate happens to be.
And, the USPS has nothing on UPS. If you misstate a weight or dimension, the correction, with fees, will show up on your UPS bill, under a section called “Adjustments.” Some adjustments you just can’t avoid, such as a corrected address because the customer gave you an inaccurate one. That’s part of life as a retailer. Adjustments as a result of not weighing or measuring your boxes correctly, though? Just consider that a fee for being careless.
Reverb.com operates a bit differently from some of the other platforms when it comes to shipping; precision is no less important, however. Reverb.com uses seller-defined shipping profiles, where the seller can create a shipping profile for each group of items being sold, and the seller then assigns each profile a shipping cost. Unless the shipper is willing to absorb the cost of shipping on every sale and offer everything as “free shipping” (a genuine misnomer), then the seller needs to assign profile rates carefully. Another aspect of Reverb.com that, at least for the time being, is different is that there are multiple shipping fees for multiple purchases. For example, suppose you charge $2.61 for shipping a pack of strings (the current stamps.com rate for two ounces). If a buyer purchases three packs of strings, then the buyer has to pay $2.61 for each pack, even though all three might ship for only $2.61, based on weight.
In our store, we watch for multiple shipping fees, and we refund the excess to the buyer. Some folks at Reverb.com have told me that they’re working on a mechanism to use one shipping charge for multiple items. So, this might soon vanish as an item to watch. I’m a huge fan of Reverb.com and the way the business operates, so I’m not surprised that their team is already working on it.
So, let’s say that, in the rush of getting your Web site or eBay store up and running, you skipped the weight and dimension part of your listings. (Bad dog! No cookie for you!) You can still fix that on all major platforms and e-commerce sites by using the import/export tools that they provide. All it requires, in most cases, is a very basic understanding of how to use Excel. If you don’t have Excel, OpenOffice has a function that is a clone of Excel, and it’s free to download and use. All you need to do is export your product listings, key in the weights and dimensions, save the file and import it (upload it) back to the platform. The new values will be in place. Just remember, when adding new products, to add the shipping weight for each item.
If you don’t want to weigh every item in the store, most manufacturers have a retailer-side Web page that lists shipping weights and dimensions for all their products. If you pale at the thought of grinding away hours adding such info to each product listing, remember that you only have to spend time to add the data once. And if you don’t add the data, you might be spending money for shipping charge corrections again and again.
A little precision now can lower your sticker shock later.