Shipping is one of the less glamorous aspects of the e-commerce world. It’s expensive and getting more expensive (notably this year from shipping cost increases from FedEx and UPS). All of these changes and cost increases are happening while customers expect shipping to be extremely cheap and even free in many cases. Anywhere you can cut costs on shipping should be fully taken advantage of, and there are a few ways that you may not have heard about.
We’ve gathered some “shipping hacks” to do just that consisting of a mixture of free services, free products, tricks, and discounts for lowering the overall cost of your entire shipping process. Here’s how to make money spent on shipping work for you.
1. Make money every time you ship – Savings amount: Varies
Shipping is covered by, or at least partly subsidized by, your customers. Money on postage is something you’re always going to spend as long you’re running an e-commerce business, so why not have that money work for you?
If you use shipping software like ShippingEasy, you have a postage balance that gets refilled by a credit card. By using a credit card that gives cash back rewards or frequent flyer miles, you’re having a portion of each dollar paid toward postage benefit you. Before you know it, you will rack up points to fly anywhere, or make a bit of an extra return from your shipping costs. The more you ship, the more you can earn using a reward based credit card.
If you’re not currently using a credit card with some kind of reward system and you run an e-commerce business- get one soon! You can even use a card with a smaller limit since shipping software allows for automatic refills.
To get started finding a suitable frequent flyer or reward credit card to start earning points, check Nerd Wallet’s post on the best credit cards, they go into a lot of detail.
2. Order free shipping supplies from UPS – Savings amount: Varies
UPS, FedEx, and USPS all offer their customers free shipping supplies delivered straight to your desired address for free. This includes mostly branded supplies like boxes, label pouches, customs forms and the like. However, UPS and FedEx also send free generic shipping labels that will work for printing labels on any shipping carrier, effectively giving you free shipping labels for all major carriers.
UPS will send customers with a My UPS ID or a UPS Account free shipping supplies including boxes, pouches, forms, tags, and blank labels.
- A My UPS account (most e-commerce sellers should have an account already, if not go to UPS.com and create an account there)
- A valid physical address to receive packages
Type of items you can order:
- Generic thermal shipping labels
- UPS branded boxes and specialty boxes
- UPS related tags and forms
- Shipping Reference Manual
How to get your free UPS shipping supplies:
In the UPS.com sidebar menu, there’s a link to “Order Supplies.” Click the link and you will be sent to a login page for your My UPS account. Sign in and it will pull up all the various supplies you can order for free. You need a My UPS account or you won’t see the supplies to order.
UPS limits the amount you can order at one time and will contact you if they think you’re abusing the free supplies they provide. The blank labels UPS offers work on any carrier, as they are generic blank labels. Everything else has UPS branding or works specifically with UPS shipments.
One extra note: A reader wanted to know which labels work best with the Zebra LP 2844 printer. After looking into both FedEx’s and UPS’s offerings, UPS doesn’t carry generic labels that are compatible with the LP 2844. FedEx does, and in the FedEx supply section below you’ll see exactly which labels to order from FedEx to print labels for any carrier.
3. Order free shipping supplies from the USPS – Savings amount: Varies
Perhaps less well known than free supplies from UPS and FedEx, the United States Postal Service also sends its customers free shipping supplies. While their offerings are more limited, they are still free and they will ship them straight to your address.
- A physical address that can receive packages
Types of items you can order:
- Priority mail boxes and envelopes
- USPS branded labels and stickers
- Global shipping kits
Where to order: Ordering is simple, there is a page dedicated to free shipping supplies on USPS.com.
4. Order free shipping supplies from FedEx – Savings amount: Varies
FedEx, much like UPS, also sends its customers free shipping supplies. Much like UPS, you need a FedEx ID and a valid address to receive the supplies. Where FedEx differs from UPS is they offer a wider variety of generic labels than UPS, and you can order them in higher volume. Don’t abuse the service and order more than you need.
- FedEx ID
- FedEx Account Number
- Valid shipping address
Types of items you can order:
- Branded FedEx Envelopes
- FedEx “Paks”
- Waybill pouches
- Generic shipping labels
- Thermal Shipping Labels compatible with the Zebra LP 2844
In FedEx’s top-level navigation of their site, hovering over the “Ship” tab will reveal a menu in which you can press “Order Shipping Supplies”.
You will need to log in to your FedEx account to view the items to order. If you don’t have one, register to start ordering.
Additional Note for Zebra Printers: Once you’re in the Order Shipping Supplies section of FedEx, scroll down to “Electronic Shipping Labels” and order the Non-DocTab Outer-wound Labels to use for Zebra 2844 and ZP500 Printers. Here’s an image of what it looks like:
5. Discounted thermal label printers, Zebra LP 2844 – Savings amount: Up to $350
The Zebra LP 2844 is the workhorse for label printing of many e-commerce businesses. Zebra thermal printers have the advantage of printing shipping labels quickly and requiring no ink so you don’t have to pay for overpriced toner and ink to print proper shipping labels. We also have a large number of customers that opt for the Dymo LabelWriter 4XL. Both are reliable and highly recommended thermal printers.
There is one downside to Zebra printers, though: a retail price tag of $450. While the investment is worth it in the long term, there are an abundance of perfectly functioning refurbished units all over the web. You can get a fully functional Zebra label printer refurbished online for anywhere from $100-$250, saving as much as $350 on your purchase. There’s obviously a risk with purchasing a refurbished unit, but there are warranties that usually come with a purchase and 3rd party warranties that will keep your purchase safe for years.
Where to buy: eBay, Amazon, and independent sites all sell refurbished units. Try to buy from a trusted seller and add an extended warranty if available (SquareTrade extended warranties on eBay purchases are $47.99 for 2 years).
A small tip: when purchasing a refurbished LP 2844, make sure you get the USB version. Some older Serial port models still exist, and don’t work on recent operating systems like Mac OSX and Windows Vista/7/8, not to mention computers usually don’t even come with serial ports anymore!
To get started, here’s a search results page on eBay for LP 2844 thermal printers that can help you find one.
If you want labels for your LP 2844, you can order them free from FedEx if you have an account with them, or they can be purchased on shipping supply stores and on Amazon. Here are a few links to rolls you can purchase on Amazon to get you started:
6. Free shipping label printing accounts and discounted USPS shipping rates – Savings amount: $15.95 per month plus savings on labels
A bit of self-promotion here, but if you ship out a lower volume amount of packages (less than 50 per month), you can create an account with ShippingEasy and get access to ShippingEasy Starter Rates. These are exclusive rates that allow you to ship packages at special rates cheaper than retail, completely free. To see some example of the rates you can get, check our rates page.
All ShippingEasy accounts also come with a free Endicia account (which would normally cost you $15.95 monthly). On top of the better rates and an Endicia account, you get access to ShippingEasy’s Inventory Management and Customer Marketing tools to help grow your business. You can even connect your new LP 2844 printer directly to the app to speed up printing of each label.
There you have it! Free supplies, cheap thermal printers, cash back rewards, and free access to special shipping rates and software can be combined to save a sizable amount of money on your shipping. Take some time to apply these practices to your shipping process and net some great savings over time. We’ll continually be going over more ways to optimize your shipping and your e-commerce store in the future.
Download The E-commerce Seller’s Guide to 2018 Shipping Rate Changes to see what carrier(s) will be most cost-effective: