This is a post on how I do shipping. I will not blame you if, as a person who neither runs an Etsy shop nor ships anything on a regular basis, you just skip this post and come back for the next one.
If, however, you are an Etsy seller, or you do ship things fairly often, you might want to pay attention. I don't want to toot my own horn or anything, but I've pretty much got it all figured out. As the commercials say, shipping is complicated. Then the commercials go on to explain how it's not complicated if you just hand the US Postal Service a bunch of money without researching your options. Don't listen. If you want to save yourself and your customers both money and hassle, you've got to know what you're doing.
First of all, buy a postal scale. If you sell things on Etsy you must have a postal scale. Guessing at how much shipping will cost for your item is not good enough. I did this when I first started. You won't be good at it, and it will cost you money. You don't need anything fancy -- just something to tell you how many ounces something weighs. Digital or analog is fine. I found an analog one at a garage sale for 5 bucks.
Then, when you're going to list something for sale, you're going to weigh the thing, with approximately what you're going to ship it in, and any extras you plan to send. Most of my items fit in an envelope. I usually add some bubble wrap or tissue paper, and a business card and a note. Weigh this all together, and make a note of it wherever you prepare your item description. (You do write your item descriptions ahead of time, right?)
Then, if you're selling on Etsy, you're going to create a different shipping profile for each weight. I have one shipping profile for things I can send in a normal envelope with a stamp (which I call "1 oz flat"), and a profile for each ounce weight from 1 to 13 ("1 oz", "2 oz", etc). Most of my items weigh 13 ounces or less, so I stop there. If I ever sell something that weighs more than 13 ounces, I look up the cost on USPS.com when I'm writing the description and make a note.
13 ounces is a very important cut off. Above 13 ounces, you cannot ship a thing by First Class Mail. You must ship it Priority or Parcel Post. Priority costs a lot more than First Class, and Parcel is slow and just generally no good. At and under 13 ounces, Priority is NOT faster than First Class. It's not. Don't waste your money.
[One of my handmade envelopes, and a stack of others waiting to be assembled]
[And a pretty pink hammer and a sewing machine foot]
[And a pretty pink hammer and a sewing machine foot]
Back to those Etsy shipping profiles. You're going to have to do some work to get this all set up. First, go to USPS.com and find the price tables. (Oh look, I've done it for you! First Class. Priority. International First Class.) Then you're gonna wanna set up an Excel file or something. I do a sheet for inside the US, a sheet for Canada, and a sheet for all other countries. (The prices to Canada are the same as the prices to some other countries, but not all. I make it easy on myself and break it down that way because most of my international customers are in Canada.) Break it down by ounce if you sell small things, or pounds if you sell big things.
Now, here's the thing. You don't just want to plug the prices from the USPS website into your Excel file. Well, maybe you do, but I don't think you do. You need to figure out how much it actually costs to ship something. You need to factor in extra money for Delivery Confirmation (we'll come back to that), extra PayPal fees incurred from shipping charges, shipping supplies, and your time. If you'd rather not figure these into your shipping charges, you need to remember to factor them into your product prices.
I personally do the following: For items mailed inside the US, I take the price on the website, plus $0.19 (Delivery Confirmation), plus another small amount (for shipping supplies, PayPal fees, etc, and no, I can't remember what number I decided on -- I did this a long time ago and I haven't had to think about it since). For Canada and the rest of the world, I just do the price from the website plus the other small amount, because you can't get Delivery Confirmation on packages going outside the US.
So now you've got these in your Excel file. Then you want to go to Etsy. Click "Your Shop", then "Shipping" (under Items). At the top of the page there's a link that says "Create or edit shipping profiles". Click on that, then on the link that says "Create a new profile". Give it a name (like "3 oz."), then pick a country that you want to ship to. Click "add", then it will let you fill in the price (from your Excel sheet). Do this for however many countries you want to specify. At the bottom of the page there's a place for "Everywhere Else". That's for all the other countries that you don't specify. So, for instance, on my profiles, I have one for the US, one for Canada, and then I fill in the Everywhere Else.
Do this for each weight. Then when you list an item, you only need to know how much the package will weigh, and you can just pick the correct profile while you're listing it! So easy.
[My other shipping supplies in a closet organizer]
Now, back to Delivery Confirmation and all that jazz. The USPS regulations got really weird a few years ago. There are now 3 different classes of First Class package. There's a "Letter", which is what you would normal think of as a letter. These can only weigh up to 3.5 ounces, and they have to be perfectly flat. There's a "Flat". These exceed any one dimension of a "Letter", and can only be up to 3/4 inch thick. And there's a "Parcel". These are boxes, thick envelopes, or tubes that are bigger than a "Flat".
Here's the thing about this that is so messed up: You can only get Delivery Confirmation on "Parcels". The important thing about this for the types of items I sell is that "Parcel" must be more than 3/4 inch thick. If you use PayPal to print shipping for your items, it automatically adds Delivery Confirmation. So, as a result, if you print a PayPal label and put it on something that is less than 3/4 inch thick, and they catch you, whoever receives the package will have to pay the upgrade to Priority. Because you can put Delivery Confirmation on any Priority package. Ah, bureaucracies... (Side note: I just accidentally spelled that word "bureaucrazies". Yep.)
Soooo, when I mail my coffee cup pouches, for instance, I stuff the pouch with wadded up tissue paper before I put it in the envelope to make sure the envelope is more than 3/4 inch thick. I made myself a strip of cardboard with a long 3/4-inch-thick strip cut out of the middle to measure my packages to make sure they're thick enough.
Why go to all this trouble? Because printing a shipping label with PayPal is totally easy. It's faster and more convenient than waiting in line at the post office, and it takes the money out of your PayPal account, so it makes accounting easier. I send my mail with my husband in the morning and he drops it off in the mail box. I used to just leave it out for my mailman, because the mailman at my old apartment was awesome and the best mailman ever, but the ones at my new house are crap. Really. So, you might be able to get away with leaving them for your mailman. You'll have to work that out for yourself.
However, if your package that you printed postage for weighs more than 13 ounces (again with the 13 ounces!), you have to take it into the post office and give it to a postal worker by hand. I don't know why, but that's the rule. It says so on the outsides of the drop boxes.
OK, now that I've written an epic tome on the subject of postage, I'm going to stop. I know there are things I've forgotten. If you have any questions, e-mail me (phile_1013 [at] hotmail [dot] com) or leave them in the comments.