One of the most important things to consider for start-up ecommerce businesses is how to get your products to your customers. It can seem scary and lead to lots of confusing questions. Who do you ship with? How much does it cost? What about packaging? Is sustainability important for you and your customers? Your platform makes a difference – be it Shopify, Etsy, eBay or Amazon.
Fear not! In this guide, we explain everything you need to know about shipping for start-up businesses.
What’s in this guide
- How to set your shipping rates
- Where to source your boxes and packaging
- Shipping extras, such as labels, tape & wrap
- Finding the right courier
- How to save money on shipping
- The best way to label your boxes
- Shipping FAQs
How to set your ecommerce shipping rates
There are a number of different ways in which ecommerce start-ups and small businesses can set up shipping rates. These include:
- Free shipping – you could either cover the cost of shipping or increase your product prices to cover shipping costs as a way of enticing customers to purchase. You could also offer free shipping over a certain spend, or provide a discount code to loyal customers for free shipping.
- Flat rate – this is a straightforward way for businesses whose products are of a similar size and weight to set shipping rates. It’s important to find an average shipping cost to charge, so that your customers aren’t either over- or under-charged.
- Exact cost shipping – you can set your shipping rates according to the items your customer purchases. In this case, you’ll need to think about size, weight, packaging, and the delivery method.
Sourcing your boxes and packaging
There are a lot of boxes and packaging options available for ecommerce startups and small businesses. Where you source your packaging will depend on what your needs and company values are. For example, what quantities will you need to order in, and how often? Will you want to have your packaging bespoke printed? Do you want to ensure that you’re buying sustainable packaging from a reputable supplier?
It’s important to figure out the answers to these questions so you can find the right box and packaging supplier for your needs.
Different types of boxes
There are many different types of cardboard boxes available, including single wall cardboard boxes, double wall cardboard boxes, and letter postal boxes. But what’s the difference between them all, especially when it comes to mailer boxes and shipping boxes?
Well, single and double walled cardboard boxes are fairly self-explanatory. Single wall boxes are thinner and lighter, while double walled boxes are more sturdy and robust. Mailer boxes, also known as large letter postal boxes, are commonly-used by ecommerce companies.
Built with a strong sheet of single-wall cardboard, mailer boxes are easy to assemble without using other packaging materials, and meet the Royal Mail large letter size so they keep your postage costs down.
How to choose the best box for shipping
As we mentioned above, it’s important to understand what your business needs are so you can find the best boxes for your shipping needs.
- What the best material is for you to use for packaging
- How much you want to focus on sustainability
- The best shape of box for the types of products you sell
- How strong you need your boxes to be
- How big (or small) you need your boxes to be – it’s important to get the dimensions right!
- Whether you need to ship internationally, as this may require different types of boxes
How much is a shipping box?
The cost of shipping boxes depends on several factors, including the size, shape, your on-box print requirements, and the quantity you need. That makes it difficult to quantify the average price of a shipping box.
Our latest prices
Packaging for small and start-up businesses
It’s important for small businesses, and especially startups, to think about good packaging protection and presentation. Getting your products to your customers safely, avoiding damage, and ensuring they have a good experience when they receive their parcel are paramount.
To do this, you’ll need some packaging accessories:
An essential for quality deliveries, having the right packing tape is crucial in keeping your products and possessions safe and secure.
Wraps and Films
If you’re sending items by the pallet, you’ll need pallet wrap. Clear pallet wrap provides a barrier between the outside world and your items, and, since it doesn’t have an opaque colouring, it can be easily scanned and cleared through customs. Black pallet wrap also provides a barrier in the same way as clear wrap does, and additionally increases security as the vision of pallet goods is obscured.
Void fill eliminates unwanted space without adding any extra weight. Perfect for ecommerce businesses, paper void fill tends to be made using recycled paper and can be recycled or reused.
Bubble Wrap and Paper Rolls
Plastic bubble wrap, paper bubble wrap, and paper rolls all protect items in transit, keeping them safe from damage, especially if they’re delicate.
Packing peanuts or loose fill are those small pieces of foam that are used when shipping or packing goods to provide a protective layer and fill space. Traditionally they are made of foam, but here at Smith Packaging, our packing peanuts are earth-friendly and biodegradable.
While you may feel compelled to go for fully customised packaging, you can also keep your packaging simple and straightforward and just add a personal touch.
Simple packaging like brown paper mail bags, postal boxes, and Kraft tape can be visually appealing. To add a personal touch, create personalised brand labels, stamp the box with your logo, or even include a handwritten card in the delivery as a nice surprise.
How to find a courier
These guides explain everything you need to know about each of the most popular couriers for small businesses in the UK:
Shipping by weight and size
When you’re thinking about shipping, you’re probably wondering whether you need to ship your boxes by weight and size. The answer is a bit of both. You’ll need to know both the weight and the dimensions of your packages in order to work out the shipping costs. Couriers often charge more if your packaging is bulky, unusual dimensions, or particularly heavy, and you’ll likely be charged extra depending on which is higher, the weight or the dimensions.
How do you calculate package size?
You calculate package size by multiplying the height of the package by the length then by the width, as shown in the diagram below.
For ‘normal’ boxes, this is pretty straightforward, but if your package is an unusual dimension, the most important thing is to round your measurements upwards to get the cubic size.
But what happens if package dimensions are wrong? If you get the dimensions wrong – even if the weight of your package is right – it can lead to shipping delays, extra costs, and dissatisfied customers. If you’re at all unsure, it’s best to contact your shipping courier of choice.
Note that different shipping couriers have different dimensions for what they consider an oversized package. Check your courier’s information so you’re sure you’re getting the dimensions right, but these are the oversized package dimensions for Evri as an example: up to 15kg with a maximum length of 120cm and a combined circumference and length of no more than 245cm.
5 ways to save money on business shipping
Small business shipping costs can mount up, but there are ways you can save on deliveries:
- Research which shopping platform offers the best shipping options – have you decided which platform you’re using? If not, find out whether shipping is cheaper through Shopify, eBay, Amazon, or Etsy.
- Compare couriers and negotiate costs – you may also find that local shipping companies are good value for money. Let courier companies know how much you’ll be shipping as you may be able to reduce shipping costs if you’re sending a large volume of items.
- Consolidate packages – if customers order more than one item, make sure you pack them into one box if you can rather than sending multiple deliveries.
- Trial different shipping speeds – you may find that if you send items on a slower shipping method, you can save costs.
- Keep an eye on the size of your deliveries – shipping costs are based both on dimensions and weight, so try to optimise the size of your parcels. Figure out whether it’s better to ship in a box or a bag (if that works for the items you’re sending).
Business shipping accounts explained
Many courier companies offer accounts that are specifically designed for startups and small businesses.
Features of small business shipping accounts often include things like more affordable rates, a tracking facility, faster shipping, and easy payment options.
It’s worth shopping around with different shipping companies to find a small business shipping account that would suit your needs, as what you get will often depend on the volume of packages you’re sending, the size and weight of your typical deliveries, and where in the world you’ll be shipping to.
There’s also often a threshold you need to meet to qualify for a small business shipping account. For example, with Royal Mail you need to be sending at least 20 parcels a week for a business account to be worth it.
Optional add-ons to consider
There are other factors to consider, as well as shipping costs, when you are deciding which courier to use for your business. You want to make sure your deliveries are protected, both for your and your customers’ sakes.
Courier and shipping insurance
This is particularly important if you’re sending out high value items. You can take out policies from a number of insurance providers that are specific to courier, cargo, or freight services.
These types of policies cover your items while they’re in transit, offering financial protection in the event that your delivery is damaged, lost, or delayed.
Use Money’s price comparison tool to find the best Goods in Transit insurance for your business.
Tracking options are often included in small business courier accounts, but make sure you check as this is an important factor when it comes to deliveries.
You can take it a step further, however, and offer your customers a great delivery experience by offering a personalised package tracking service from your website. If you look at this option, make sure that you choose a service that can scale with you as your business grows, can easily integrate with your website, and is flexible enough to meet any different requirements you may have. G2’s compares the best packaging tracking software for small businesses, rating them on ease of use, admin, and setup.
Arranging a courier to collect your packages
Rather than taking a load of parcels to the Post Office or your local courier every day, a number of courier companies actually offer a pick-up service. It’s well worth considering, even if it costs a little more, since it will save you a lot of time in the long-run – and that’s time you could be spending on other business priorities. Parcel2Go lists all the UK couriers that offer parcel collection services.
Cheapest courier for small businesses
Cost will undoubtedly be a critical factor when you’re choosing a courier service for your startup or small business. Shop around and ask for quotes from a few different courier companies to find one that suits your budget – but remember that couriers are about more than cost.
It’s also really important to consider the quality of service, what’s included with your small business shipping account, and look at reviews other companies have left for each courier.
Because it isn’t just about cost, it’s about getting your items to your customers in a timely way, choosing the most reliable service, and protecting your parcels from damage or theft. For example, Evri and Yodel promote themselves as the cheapest courier. However, according to a 2022 survey by MoneySavingExpert users, they’re one of the worst rated.
Fastest courier for small businesses
If you know you’ll need to ship items quickly to your customers, check with your courier how quickly they can deliver packages – and how much they’ll charge for doing so.
Many courier companies offer a next day delivery service, and some even offer same day, especially if you’re delivering locally or you’re based in a large city. Be aware that the faster the courier needs to be, the more expensive it is.
Which is the most sustainable courier for small businesses?
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for customers, no matter what type of business you are. So while you may not be too focused on the environmental impact of your deliveries as a small business, the people buying from you might be.
There are a number of ‘green logistics’ companies in the UK that can deliver parcels at a lower carbon cost than other providers, tangibly reduce their environmental impact, and go to some lengths themselves to be carbon neutral.
According to this 2022 research by Small99, DPD is one of the best green courier companies. They have more than 700 electric vehicles in their fleet and have a commitment to being carbon neutral.
Best international courier for small businesses
Shipping overseas? Make sure you check the delivery costs vs. size, weight, and speed with each courier company you research.
Most courier companies will offer international options. From the perspective of choosing a courier company, things to look out for include affordability, reliability, and how long a contract you may need to sign up for.
This 2022 article from SimplyBusiness offers a simple rundown of each of the main UK courier companies that ship internationally.
You’ll also need to check on other costs that are associated with shipping internationally, such as export and import costs, duty, and VAT. This will not only depend on the size and weight of your packages, but also on the type of items you’re shipping. There’s a lot of helpful information for businesses that use international shipping on the gov.uk website, including:
- Step-by-step guides to importing and exporting goods
- How to get started with customs services
- How to declare your goods
- How to pay duty and VAT on items you’re shipping overseas
- What you need to do after you’ve declared your goods
Best ways to label your boxes
How you label your boxes may depend on the type of packaging you’re using. For example, if you’re sending a fragile item, you’ll need to label it differently to how you’d label a pallet.
The most important thing to remember is to have all the information displayed clearly and correctly, as some courier companies may have specific labelling requirements. Labelling your boxes correctly ensures a seamless delivery and improves your efficiency.
When it comes to printing labels, you have a couple of options:
Thermal label printers
Thermal label printers don’t use ink to print the labels; instead, they use heat. The quality you get with a thermal printer is typically very high, and they’re also known to be more reliable, more cost-effective, and faster than other types of label printers. Thermal label printers are a good option if you’re printing barcodes, as they don’t tend to bleed.
A4 labels for home printers
If you have a regular printer, A4 label sheets are probably your best choice. Compatible with most printers, you can also buy A4 label sheets made from recyclable paper (like the ones you can buy from Smith Packaging), and they come in a wide range of sizes, from two to 80 labels per sheet.
Are you ready to start shipping?
We help start-ups and small businesses across the UK with their packaging and protection supplies. Our cardboard boxes make sure your products are delivered to your customers safe and sound. They’re also eco-friendly. That’s both you and the planet happy.
Is it OK to reuse an Amazon box for shipping?
You can reuse an Amazon box, but we recommend staying away from this practice. As a small business, the quality and presentation of your packaging is really important. Using an old Amazon box probably won’t give your customers the right message.
Can I use a shoebox for shipping?
Well, if you’re selling shoes, using a shoebox for shipping is the perfect fit! Otherwise, using new shoeboxes might be a good idea if they’re the right size for your items. Using old shoeboxes is probably a no-no, as it doesn’t really create a good impression for your customers.