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One Cobble at a Time

Shipping Phase 4: Printing Postage

Sandra Tayler's Journal

responsible woman

A cobble by itself is just a small stone, but when many of them lay together they create a path . My life is made up of many discrete parts. I have to find ways to fit them all into place so that I can continue to journey where I desire to go. This journal records some of the cobbles that create my path.

Shipping Phase 4: Printing Postage

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responsible woman
Phase 1: Collecting orders
Phase 2: Sorting
Phase 3: Inventory preparation

Phase 4: Printing Postage

This is the point at which we start to spend serious money. We have to purchase over $10,000 of postage in order to get all the packages to their destinations. The service I use to print our postage is Stamps.com. I have to pay a monthly fee and download a program to my computer, but once that is done, I have the ability to print mailing labels and matching postage with my printer at home.

First I have to move the address data from the online store system and into the stamps.com application. Unfortunately these two pieces of software are unable to communicate with each other meaningfully. Fortunately they both are compatible with Microsoft excel. So I download the address data into a csv (comma separated value) file. Then I upload the csv into the stamps.com application. The stamps.com app automatically sorts the names into alphabetical order. This is why the final step of the sorting phase is alphabetizing by name.

I grab a list from my filebox. Lets say it is a list of people who have ordered a single book and they all want Petey as their sketch, also they've chosen Parcel Post as their shipping method. There are about 40 of these orders. I flip through the paper invoices, checking the boxes in the stamps.com app for the names that match the invoices. Stamps.com verifies all the addresses and sometimes suggests corrections. Most of the corrections are things like changing "Avenue" to "Ave" or adding additional digits to the postal code. I then select the appropriate shipping method and package weight. I make sure the labels are loaded into the printer, then I click print. The labels print. I clip them to the stack of invoices and put them back into their slot in the file box. Then I proceed to the next list.

As the labels are printed, the cost for each label is deducted from the credit I have on file with Stamps.com. When the balance reaches zero, I have to buy more postage. Fortunately they have a credit card on file and so I can purchase more postage with a few clicks. Again I am working with a system that is not designed for what I'm trying to do. Stamps.com will not allow me to purchase more than $250 of postage credit with them. When I am printing postage for a big shipping, I'll purchase additional postage many times in a short space of time. Purchasing $3000 of anything in $200 increments, looks suspicious to a credit card company. Right around the $3000 mark, the company will place a hold on my card. This is a major reason why I have to start printing postage a week in advance of the shipping day. I have to leave time for the phone calls necessary to get the hold removed from the credit card. Twice. The first hold is removed by the use of an automated system. The second hold shunts me to a human being who asks me all sorts of identity verification questions. I then explain that we will be buying a huge amount of postage over the next few days and would they please stop interfering. Then they put a manager-approved "Do not hold" order on the card, which lasts for about a week. We do not carry this postage as a balance on our card. I pay off the amounts the same day I make the charges.

The other reason I start printing postage a week in advance is because of the international orders. Stamps.com has the ability to print out customs forms, but they can not be done in batches. Each form must list the contents of the package and be formated for the country to which the package is being sent. This requires me to hand enter information for each order. It is still much better than having to write customs forms by hand, which is how I used to do International orders. Each international order takes about a minute to process. There are about 300 international orders. This means a solid 5 hours of work for me to get all of them printed. International orders are not printed on stickers. They are printed on paper which then has to be folded or cut and shoved into clear sticker pouches that will be affixed to the exterior of the packages. The cutting and stuffing is another few hours. All of it must be done carefully to make sure that the right customs form stays with the right invoice.

When I am done with all the postage printing. I have two file boxes full of paper which cost me over $10,000 and yet none of it is redeemable for anything except packages going through the mail. I am extremely careful with those boxes until the next stage, Phase 5 Packaging and Mailing.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

  • Credit card hold

    You might want to ask a customer service person at your credit card company if you could call in advance to let them know you will be making these sorts of purchases from Stamps.com for x amount of days. Then you could get a manager approved "Do not hold" when you start buying postage instead of in the middle of the process.
    • Re: Credit card hold

      I clicked on this message just to give the same answer :)
    • Re: Credit card hold

      We have called ahead of time, but the card still gets put on hold. Until you've raised the second level of red flag, you don't get to talk to someone with sufficient authority to block future holds.
      • Re: Credit card hold

        This is a stupid question but have you specifically asked to talk to a manager knowing that you need that approval to prevent card blockage? I understand that often they can't do a "do not hold" until a 2nd level hold has been placed on a card by the computer.
      • Re: Credit card hold

        I should probably try that.
      • Re: Credit card hold

        (Anonymous)
        A word of advice: I've worked in a credit card call center, asking for a manager right off the bat isn't a hot idea -- odds are you are just going to get another agent of that level who isn't taking inbound calls at the time (usually called a 'lead'). What you want to do is ask to speak to the fraud department, then ask for a manager. You'll still get a lead, but odds are, he either has the authority to enter a pre-emptive block, or can send the request to someone who does.
  • Totally minor and utterly irrelevant nitpick: The CSV file you use to communicate between the two programs is not so much 'both talk to Excel' as that the CSV file format is a very common and standardised data storage format.

    It's pretty barebones (Which is why most applications have something more feature-rich for their usual workings), but it's roughly the equivalent of .txt for column formatted data. :)
    • Good point. Excel just automatically launches when I download the CSV files, so I consider it part of the process even though it is not technically necessary.
    • Ah, yes, that'd do it. Excel would be the most commonly usable program people would have to bother with such files, afterall. I forget this, 'cuz I have such files being used most by a statistical app I have, so I changed the file associations.

      Possibly noteworthy (just in case) for the future, should Excel explode or something: You can technically load .csv files in almost anything, right down to Notepad - they're plain text, with the columns seperated out by commas. (CSV stands for Comma Seperated Values.)
  • Let us all thank heaven for postage and label printing, otherwise Sandra would have as bad an aching hand as Howard, and would probably never get rid of the taste of postage stamps. Ewwww

    See ya at the shipping party.
    • Seriously! Can you imagine if she'd had to do this before self-adhesive postage??
  • I am so insanely bummber I can't make it to the party this year...

    Seems I shall never make the even-numbered releases...

    Have fun, kids...

    And Sandra, I second the suggestion that you ask to talk to a manager at your CC company's service number to place a pre-emptory "do not hold" order on the card...
  • Oh, see, THIS is why I'm not self-employed. It's too HARD.
    • CC holds

      (Anonymous)
      You CAN add a preemptive no hold on most major CC's i did this the week of my wedding where i knew i was going to be making about 8k in purcases over 4 days. i called ahead and had them do a no hold on my card for 5 bussiness days. I did this on a Visa and MasterCard.
  • I wonder, can you get cash back credit cards in the states? For that much postage, it'd be a useful bonus.
    • Yes we can.

      We use our Amazon Visa card, because it gives us store credit where we already shop... just in time for Christmas!
  • have you considered getting a postage meter?

    For this much volume, have you considered getting a postage meter directly from the postal service? http://www.usps.com/postagesolutions/post_mtr.htm

    You can have them automatically deduct the amount from your bank account, or you can prepay.
    • Re: have you considered getting a postage meter?

      Stamps.com is actually easier for me than a postage meter would be. It calculates the shipping amounts automatically and prints out postage labels that are matched to address labels. It also prints full customs forms for international orders. I used to have to fill out the customs forms by hand. The only real problem with stamps.com is that $250 limit. I wonder if I could get that raised by contacting customer support. I'll have to check that out.
    • Re: have you considered getting a postage meter?

      They don't do it that often.

      And the "bonus miles" (or whatever Amazon calls them) for $10,000 in charges are probably nice, too. :-)
  • Postage

    (Anonymous)
    Are you printing one label at a time, or multiple labels?
    • Re: Postage

      The amount of labels I can print at one time is only limited by the total cost of the labels. If the list is "Priority Mail Flat Rate" then each postage label will cost $9.80. I can only print a list of about 25 before it won't fit inside the $250 limit. If I'm printing less expensive postage, I can print a lot more in one run. Each label page has 10 stickers on it. Five of those will be addresses. The other five will be printed with the matching postage. Look up Stamps.com or Endicia to find out more details about printing postage from a computer.
    • Re: Postage

      That's for a BOX, right? I certainly hope so, or you're getting nicked for an extra fin per piece.
    • Re: Postage

      We send all of our merchandise in boxes. We had too much trouble with damaged merchandise using less sturdy shipping materials. The Flat Rate Boxes are really nice for larger orders because it is a flat fee per box rather than calculated by weight.
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