Finally, We Are Shipping!
A few hours ago an email notification sent from fulfillment * thedavidseahgroup.com went out with instruction on how to pay and arrange for shipping of the pads. We are fulfilling pre-orders first. After that we’ll open up the general ordering for the remaining unsold pads. There will be about 100 of them not spoken for. If you are interested in ordering a pad or three, leave a comment! I’m currently only handling the domestic US, but will be adding other countries as I figure out how it works.
If you had placed a pre-order by the original cutoff date and did NOT receive the instructions on where to go to make payment, contact me through the contact form. If you are having trouble with the form (the anti-spam measures are fairly harsh), you find my contact email address at the very bottom left of the page.
I was expecting the fulfillment process to be incredibly difficult and tedious. Or more accurately, I wasn’t looking forward to all the manual labor and accounting. It turned out to not be such a big deal after all.
Handling Packaging and Shipping
One of the most daunting tasks to me was handling the receipt of monies and arranging for shipment. Personally I hate shipping stuff, primarily because it seems to take an hour and a half for me to ship a single package. I’ve got to do the following:
- Find a box, possibly purchase one somewhere
- Pack the box
- Pad the box with something
- Find some packing tape
- Tape up the box securely
- Fill out any customs forms
- Declare values
- Weigh the box
- Find the shipping address
- Find a destination phone number
- Acquire the right label
- Transcribe the address information correctly
- Double check the address for accuracy, redoing it if it’s unclear
- Drive to the nearest FedEx, or wait for a pickup
- Wait in line to drop off the package
- Pay the shipping fees
- Drive home
- Email the tracking numbers to the addressee
- Cross my fingers
Incredibly tedious. I wasn’t looking forward to doing this for a hundred boxes.
Thankfully, my buddy Scott figured out the postage options, so we’re using flat rate USPS Priority Mail. So long as you’re using their official flat-rate envelope or flat-rate box (provided for free), you can put as much stuff as you can fit in the package. So that simplified postage calculation. This still left the problem of automating the addressing of the boxes, so we planned on using a mail merge to create the shipping labels.
It also turns out that order management and shipping is a lot easier with today’s online tools. Read onward.
Handling Mail Merges
I wasn’t looking forward to managing the email list. I was maintaining an Excel document with all the addresses in it, to use as the data source for the following:
- Generating shipping labels with name, address, and number of pads per order. These shipping labels, I imagined, would be used by packers to tell how many pads to put in each box without having to look it up on another sheet, hopefully reducing errors.
Generating the email blast to tell individual pre-orders where to pay, and reconfirm their address and # of pads.
p>Since I wasn’t too keen on doing this, I handed the Excel spreadsheet updating to volleyball buddy Brandy, and then asked The Ultra-Competent Erin to make Outlook talk to Word to talk to Excel to make all that other stuff happen. Whew. Outsourcing rocks :-)
The new website content management system I’m using, Expression Engine 1.6, has a “Simple E-Commerce” module in it that can handle items and so forth. It also integrates with PayPal, so I figured I would use this to build a simple store to handle the transaction. I already have PayPal, so I upgraded to a Business account and proceeded to build a simple store. It didn’t, however, handle quantities and shipping costs by itself, so I gave up and went directly to PayPal to generate purchase buttons.
It was then I discovered that PayPal actually prints shipping labels and postage. Their simple payment button allows each person placing an order to specify a quantity. The shipper can fill out a template to specify shipping methods AND costs, for both domestic and international shipping. Not only that, but PayPal’s merchant tools track the entire transaction in a simple dashboard. Once a payment is received, you can click a button to buy the postage online through Pitney Bowes, which comes in form of a printable web page that you just tape to the box. The funds are automatically deducted from your PayPal account. You can then print a packing list that can be customized with your own message and logo, and include that in the box. All you have to do then is drop the package off at the Post Office or arrange for a pickup. This did away with the need to print labels too, so there was some work saved there.
The one drawback of PayPal is that they de-emphasize the credit card payment link to make people think they have to sign up for PayPal to use it. I put instructions regarding how this was NOT necessary in the email, and on the secret order page. Plus there is a transaction fee of about 2% or so, but this isn’t too bad.
Boiling down the steps, this is how it goes assuming you are using the US Postal Service’s flat rate priority mail packages ($4.60 for envelope, $8.95 for box, no weight limits).
- Order boxes and envelopes from the US Postal Service website (free, but 5-10 business days to receive)
- Get a PayPal account, upgrade to Business Account (free)
- Activate Web Payment Standard (free)
- Set up your PayPal shipping quantities/costs and preferred shipping vendor as USPS (assuming you’ll be using their flat rate shipping)
- Create a “Pay Now” button for your individual item, put it on your website.
- Let PayPal manage the payment, address, shipping labels
- As orders come in, print postage and pack boxes
- Drop finished packages off at the post office or arrange for a pickup
It is all rather remarkable how easy it is. The first package I shipped out with this felt…momentous. The next step after this is to use something like Amazon Fulfillment to handle everything, which includes listing on the Amazon website. There is a $60 monthly cost however, because you have to buy a storefront account I believe…but now I am getting ahead of myself. Gotta sell-through these pads first.
The Adventure Continues
So that’s it for now. On December 31st I will open general orders to the public. In the meantime, if you’re interested in how the project got going here’s all the pertinent blog posts.
- On the Road to Pre Printed Emergent Task Planner Pads
- Feedback Round 1
- Feedback Round 2
- Final Design
- Press Check
I must publicly thank Scott Wright: graphic designer by training, MBA by education, experienced print broker, trusted friend and co-schemer. I wouldn’t have dared try printing anything for real without his encouragement and support. Dude, you rock! Start your blog already!