Ever since I started Julip Bags back in August 2007, I've only ever used usps.com or PayPal's shipping tools, primarily because they were free and convenient. PayPal has the added benefit of automatically importing the buyer's information...all you have to do is click the "Print a shipping label" button at the bottom of the sale info screen. It even automatically sends an e-mail to the buyer that their purchase is on the way with a customized message! Super-fabulous! So why in the world was I interested in paying for a shipping service?!? Check in after the jump for my reasons why!
As I've mentioned previously, the one downside to these two options is that they don't allow you to print out First Class International postage at home, and I ONLY ship FCI unless otherwise requested. Until recently I strictly considered it a cost of doing business that I had to stand in line with my customs form and address label to pay for postage, as opposed to chucking my pre-paid international package into the same slot as my domestic shipments and sailing out the door. Up until recently...when I was bawled out (LOUDLY) not once, but twice, by a misinformed postal clerk who insisted that I was NOT allowed to use the address label/customs form I'd used for two years. In front of a long line of people who wanted me to just shut up and move along. When I spend a LOT of money shipping via the United States Postal Service each year. After I called the USPS 800 number to confirm that I was right.
So when I found out about Stamps.com's one-month free trial offer, I was up for it! I was initially thrown by the $15.99/month service fee (that's on TOP of normal postage costs) because honestly that's WHOA a hefty service fee, even if you write it off as a business expense. But I had a free month to give it a whirl, so I was game. My reactions:
Pros: YOU CAN PRINT INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS POSTAGE AT HOME! Hallelujah! I can fill out the address label, customs form, and pay for postage, and slap it on my package AT HOME! Which means I can strut happily past the line at the post office and stuff my packages into the regular pre-paid slot. For those of you who may be thinking "Umm...is it really worth it?!?"...I just had a week where I sent more bags overseas than I did domestic, and I normally send at least 3-5 packages outside of the U.S. on any given week! Food for thought. Did I mention that the holidays aka looooong lines are coming up? Yeah. The labels are very similar to the PayPal labels you may be accustomed to, minus the eBay endorsement that not all of us like. It's a separate software that you download onto your desktop, not a web-based program. When you sign up, you get an offer for a free 5lb scale (you pay shipping/handling) that plugs directly into your computer and transmits the weight of your package into the Stamps.com software...nifty, eh?!? The Stamps.com software gently offers address corrections (Dr. verses Drive) without the snit-fit (FIX THIS ADDRESS OR DIIIIIIIIE!!!!! oh and we ain't shipping this, btw) that PayPal shipping throws. So far, so good.
Cons: Unlike PayPal shipping which automatically draws from your PayPal account balance (and linked bank account/credit card thereafter), Stamps.com requires you to maintain a balance in their account, purchased in the amount of $10, $25, $50, $100, or "other" amount...which means you purchase a bulk amount of postage in one fell swoop. Not such a big deal for someone like me (I can easily spend $50 on shipping in one day) but a little disconcerting for people who have $10-20 costs in postage per week/log-on. When your available funds fall a little short of your costs, the program will prompt you to purchase more postage. Irritating but tolerable, I thought at first...until one night when I was catching up on shipping and the program told me that I'D HAVE TO WAIT for approval of my postage purchase (I have it linked to my PayPal Mastercard). Approval finally meandered through an hour later...but by that time I'd already stomped over to usps.com to print out my labels AND taken said packages down to the post office for drop-off. In the meantime, the amount I'd requested in postage was in limbo between my PayPal (Mastercard) and Stamps.com. This is IN NO WAY friendly to a small business that has to catch up whenever we have a spare moment. Honestly, this was almost the big deal-breaker for me. There are times when I'm wide-awake at 2am and use that time to catch up... the idea of having to wait for "approval" of my postage was scary.
Next con: the Stamps.com software is not as forgiving of printing screw-ups as other venues. I can't tell you how many 2-per-page adhesive labels I wasted (and those things ain't cheap!) trying to figure out Stamps.com's auto-orientation system, not to mention they have a one-strike-and-you're-out policy as opposed to PayPal and usps.com's more forgiving second-chance policy. My poor husband was cowering when I screamed bloody murder after my SECOND screw-up that resulted in a waste of shipping labels AND submitted requests for a shipping refund. Oh, and if you want to print stamps (a nice option), DON'T SCREW IT UP AND EXPECT A REFUND without MAILING the unused stamps back to Stamps.com. Huh?!? There's definitely a learning curve here.
Final con: I've found that the Stamps.com software program is somewhat buggy and twitchy to use. Especially if you have two printers like I do (laser and ink jet). It almost brought me to tears today.
Competition: Endicia.com seems to be Stamps.com's primary competitor...I haven't used it, upon first glance it's $5/mo cheaper than Stamps.com, but my primary concern about their basic service is that actual postage costs aren't masked on the label... a true concern for businesses! I refund shipping charges in excess of $1 and actually normally take a loss on my flat-rate shipping, but many buyers don't realize that shipping/handing includes the cost of of the bubble wrap, envelope, and labels that deliver their purchase safely to them. Sadly, there ARE many Etsy threads about disgruntled buyers who are angry when their postage labels show up as ten cents less than they paid. Plus, the fact that Endicia charges more for this is a little troubling. If anyone who uses Endica regularly for their shipping would like to clarify, please give a shout-out in the comments!
Bottom line: I WOULD recommend Stamps.com's service for any business that does a good deal of international shipping. As hard as it may be to justify the monthly fee, YOUR TIME = MONEY. I am so thankful that I don't have to stand in line and argue about international shipping when I know that I'm in the right, especially with the holidays coming up (i.e. long lines). I can now spend that time more productively cranking out lovely bags for my customers! But if you rarely have an international sale, or if you don't accept international sales, don't bother.
Before signing up for Stamps.com based on this review, in the interest of the unbiased business advice that I truly try to offer, I wanted to let you know that I was contacted by Endicia.com asking me to give their trial offer a whirl and review it as well. I AM going to go ahead and do that, and I WILL review it honestly, so you may want to hold off on making any decisions regarding picking a shipping service. I will post a review here ASAP...the holidays are coming up fast, after all!!!