I started selling my work online in July of 2005. Etsy was brand new and I opened a shop as soon as I heard about it. In those early days Etsy was a lot clunkier than it is today – creating a new listing required entering information on five different pages – but it was sill a whole lot easier than coding a shop yourself so I was thrilled.
Eleven years later I’m still selling my work online. Over the years I’ve used PayPal buttons, eJunkie, Big Cartel, and now WooCommerce in addition to Etsy. Although the ecommerce options have gotten a lot slicker, and Etsy’s interface is now much simpler to use, certain things about being an online seller are still pretty clunky for me, or at least they were until recently.
I sell digital documents (PDF patterns and ebooks) as well as physical objects (specialty supplies for making dolls and toys). The digital stuff is super easy – my shopping cart platforms send out those files automatically. The physical stuff requires a good deal more effort. Until now, when an order came in from Etsy or my shop here on my website I would get an email notification. That email would land in my inbox with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of other emails from all sorts of people (including my mom).
When it was time to ship orders I’d open those email notifications and make shipping labels either on Etsy or PayPal, and print them on copy paper with my Canon inkjet printer. Then I’d cut out each one and use a glue stick to stick it on the package.
This system worked well as long as I only had 1-2 orders a day. But a real problem arose when I either launched a very popular physical product (like the Sewist pin I launched the summer) or when I had a sale (like on Black Friday). Ink jet printers have to “think.” Do you know what I mean? Their print heads turn for no apparent reason and it can take such a long time to print one label. Cutting and gluing was also time consuming, but my frustration with how much time shipping took was only part of the problem.
As my email list has grown the volume of sales of physical products each week has grown as well. My inbox became really confusing and hard to sort out. From time to time I would lose track of an email notification (accidentally marking it “read” before I’d shipped it). I pride myself in shipping things out promptly and I’d end up feeling terrible when a customer contacted me disappointed that their item hadn’t shipped.
Last year my Black Friday sale was a fantastic success. I made several thousand dollars (see my tips on how to run a gangbusters Black Friday sale), but my inbox was a mess and only I could fix it. With everything mixed together I didn’t feel comfortable hiring someone to help me print and ship orders. Thankfully, my husband Charlie stepped in and we got through them all together in a timely way, but I vowed I would get a new system in place before next Christmas.
Thanks to some advice from Jenny I just set up my new Dymo LabelWriter 4XL and got started on ShipStation. I chose ShipStation over Endicia (another popular postage software) because it integrates with both Etsy and WooCommerce on my Mac.
I know I’m brand new to this system, but I can already see huge advantages and I thought I’d list those here. If you use a label printer and/or ShipStation and have things you love about them please feel free to tell me in the comments! I’m still learning all of the features.
Advantages of the Dymo:
- Speed: It takes maybe 2 seconds to print a label. Just peel and stick – no cutting needed.
- Stickiness: Using a glue stick means uneven coverage. Labels are sticky all over.
Advantages of ShipStation:
- All in one place: I can see every outstanding order in one place. Once it’s shipped ShipStation marks it as shipped in both of my shops for me.
- Someone else can help me: At Black Friday this year I’ll be able to hire a local Wellesley College student to help me print and ship orders. She can log onto ShipStation and get right to work.
I’m a pretty thrifty person and rather than pay a monthly feel I typically opt to do things myself. I actually think that’s a fairly good trait because it means I jump in and get started in a scrappy sort of way without worrying that I need perfect systems before beginning. But sometimes that trait gets me in trouble. I tend to wait too long before spending money on systems that would make my working life significantly easier. Getting a label printer and shipping software are definitely worthy investments. Instead of feeling a sense of overwhelm at the launch of a new physical product or the thought of a big sale, I now feel prepared. And that’s worth a lot.