Get your ship(ping) together: Tips for improving your online store

For the better part of the last half decade I have been running a small record label out of my one bedroom apartment with the help of a few good friends. We haven’t made it big, and to be honest we never really thought we would, but we have had a few successful releases put out on cassette and vinyl. We recently got into CD production as well, but that’s a story for another time.

Whenever someone approaches us with questions regarding record labels and how to start them, we usually list off a series of lessons we learned during our initial releases. We talk about timelines, estimated costs, merchandise, contracts, and – perhaps most frequently – the need to properly understand how shipping works, including the cost of sending packages outside the United States. We like to think we have developed an easy and reliable workflow, but every so often we learn a new trick or path that causes us to regret all the hours wasted following the previous method. I don’t know that our specific setup will work for anyone reading this, but I do have a few basic tips to help improve your standard shipping operation. There are some costs associated, but as your label is a business you should know by now that improvements often require the investment of additional resources.

Buy in bulk. ULine is your friend

If you buy your shipping materials at Target, Staples, or even the post office you are spending way more than you should. Packs of six 4” x 6" bubble mailers can run $10 or more in stores, but if you buy in bulk from online retailers you can receive several hundred mailers for less than $100 total (shipping included). Everything you need to ship tapes, CDs, and vinyl can be purchased for a reasonable price in bulk from ULine. The company has a long history of customer satisfaction, and they have an incredibly quick turnaround. They also allow you to pay after receiving your order, so if you need mailers in order to generate the money needed to buy mailers they can help you with that as well.

Stocking up on mailers also prepares you for any situation. You may have slow sales from times to time, but you could also have a sudden boom in business when one of your artists hit it big. Buying in bulk allows you to cut down on order turnarounds while saving money. What’s not to love?

You can now buy stamps online

If there is one activity that makes me rethink launching a business it’s the many hours I have spent waiting in line at my local post office. I have to imagine other people feel the same, which is probably why the fantastic site ‘Stamps.com’ now exists. For the first time in the history of humans you no longer have to interact with another human when working to send out packages. You simply signup at home, input your shipping information, upload your credit card, and boom! You can now print postage labels from the comfort of your couch. You may use a lot more tape when handling shipping with this process, but I have solution for that as well…

Two words: DYMO Printer

All printers used to require ink, and anyone who has had to print a lot over their lifetime has learned by not that ink is not cheap. DYMO found a solution, and while I could get into the inner workings of their technology it’s suffice to say science can do really cool things. A DYMO printer does not use ink cartridges, but it does require a special kind of paper made specifically for postage labels. You buy a printer, which includes a free roll of labels, and then you only need to buy additional rolls of labels as need. Each roll can produce 200 shipping labels, and I believe you can order 3-packs of label rolls for under $40. Compare that to more than $60 for a single ink cartridge, not to mention the countless hours saved not having to visit the post office when shipping orders, and I think it’s clear why DYMO printers are worth the $200-ish investment they require.

Oh, did I mention DYMO labels are also self-adhesive? That alone will cut your tape-related shipping costs in half, if not more, moving forward.

Thank You notes are never overrated

There is something to be said for adding a personal touch to your shipments. While the consumer is excited to receive the package because it contains something they already paid for, you can further develop the connection they feel to your label with the inclusion of thank you notes and other extras. In the past we have added stickers, baseballs cards, candy, plastic spider rings, posters, and – most frequently – handwritten notes, to all our shipments. Sometimes we personalize the notes with each customer’s name, but other times we write thirty or forty notes in advance and stuff them in packages as needed. Whatever the case, the note is always written by a member of our staff and we always strive to make each note unique in some way. Maybe we add a phrase that is specific to that note, or maybe we draw the customer a picture. Anything that helps them better understand who we are and what we’re about works for us. The same will work for you, but you must figure out what items will best convey your personality to your consumers. Feel free to steal our ideas, of course, because they weren’t really ours in the first place. We were inspired by the labels we felt close to growing up, and it’s a tradition we hope to pass on to future generations.

Prep is everything

Whenever we know a large number of orders will need to be shipped in a small amount of time in we do our best to prepare by checking our mailer stock, writing thank you notes in advance, and generally doing anything in our power to streamline our workflow before the shipping process begins. That way, once we do need to act, everything is ready to go. Our goal is to make the window of time between when an order is placed and when it is shipped as small as possible. Some stuff is out of our control (record production, for example), but we do as much as we can with the power we do have and it makes a noticeable difference.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.