Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Saving time on packaging orders

My sales are creeping up at the moment (I think Christmas shopping is already beginning!), which is great of course, but I’m increasingly conscious of how much time I spend packaging orders. Because I work full time everything is done in the evenings and at weekends, so most nights before I go to bed I package up any orders outstanding, and even 4 or 5 orders seems to take me half an hour to take through from on the shelf to ready to post. I think this is too long, considering that I don't have particularly fancy packaging. International orders are the most time consuming, and since most of my increase in sales is happening on Etsy, the hours spent sticking, writing, printing, are really starting to encroach on both making time and sleeping time!

Determined to do something about it I realised that the two big time-killers are finding the extra 4 digits for US orders, and printing postage on Royal Mail’s online site, so I tried to find ways around these.

US zip codes

Zip flower brooch by Bertie on Folksy
(ZIP, do you get it?!)
As mentioned in my Posting Abroad post, I always add the extra 4 digits to US zip codes. I’ve read a few things which say it speeds up delivery by a day or two; but other sources say that although it makes life easier for the US Postal Service, it doesn’t actually speed up delivery. So I think the jury’s out on whether it really works; however my mantra is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and since I very rarely lose orders posted to the US, I don’t want to stop doing it. However, it is a real pain using the official USPS zip code finder to find those extra 4 digits. You have to paste the address in one line at a time, and split off apartment numbers into their own line too. It’s really time consuming when you have a lot of orders to do, especially if you are using Royal Mail online postage and have to enter the address line by line again on their website. So I searched for an alternative, and found this website:

On this site you can copy the whole address from Etsy and paste it into the left hand box, no need to mess around with pressing Enter or reformatting. It then pops out the address with full zip code so if you need to you can copy that in its entirety onto a sticky label for your package. SO much quicker than the official site! And as an added bonus, you get to learn a bit about American geography as it pulls up a Google map of the location. You can even have a nosy on StreetView to see where your package is going! (Too stalkery?!)

Royal Mail online postage

New York Airmail Letter Purse by
Button Boudoir II on Folksy
Next I tried to find a way to save time with RM online postage. I failed, so I have just stopped using it completely - it was just too time-consuming. Apart from just having to click through SO MANY screens to make the label, being able to print only one label per sheet had me screaming in frustration if I was ordering multiple labels! Rearranging label sheets in the printer, getting it wrong and printing on the shiny gap where a label used to be, it was all driving me nuts.

Luckily for me (and I realise that most sellers don’t have this luxury), all my items cost the same to post, so I went to the post office to buy a lot of £1.90 stamps, and grabbed sheets of airmail stickers, and now I print all addresses – international and domestic - out on a pre-formatted sheet of four labels in Word, which has my return address and a little logo on. Initially this was taking me almost as long as using the RM website, but after a bit of a google the following tips have everything flowing smoothly:

When you paste the address in (for example from the zipcode website above), set the default to match destination formatting – this stops the text changing font and position when you copy it from your browser to Word. To do this, in Office 2010, after you paste something, this little square appears. 

Click it to see the various options ("keep source formatting" keeps the formatting from the web page; "match destination formatting" adopts the formatting in your document); click “Set default paste” to set it to match destination formatting permanently if that’s useful. 

Make all the address text UPPER CASE. Again, in Word 2010, just highlight the text you want to change (remember you can press Ctrl to select bits of text that aren’t next to each other), and look for this box on the toolbar to change the case (it's just under the font selection boxes). 

It seems like a lot of customers are too lazy to stretch to the Shift key and type city names and postcodes in all lower case – GRRR! – changing all letters to capitals is easier than correcting only the offending letters. Also, some useful USPS guidance on addressing American post suggests that uppercase is best anyway (the lovely NiftyKnits shared that link on Etsy – thanks!).

I was a bit scared of deserting Royal Mail (again, the fear of fixing something that was working fine), but my printed labels look dead smart, and one of the first orders I sent this way was sent from London on a Tuesday, and arrived in California ON SATURDAY! That’s FOUR DAYS!! (Unfortunately, the reason I know it took 4 days was that I sent the wrong colour collar… oops! Fortunately the customer was understanding and equally impressed that it arrived so quick – I just hope the replacement gets there as fast too!). 

Have you got any tips for speeding me up even further?! I'm all about efficiency at the moment!


  1. You can manage 5 orders in half an hour?! It usually takes me this long to package up one once I've finished faffing about!

    Great post with some really helpful tips.

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