3 Mistakes to avoid when starting out selling online by Rob Zaleski is the Head of Brand at ShippingEasy

3 Mistakes To Avoid When Fulfilling Your First Order


It’s summertime – a time for sunshine, rejuvenation, and tackling goals ahead of the holiday season. If you’ve been intrigued by entrepreneurial possibility, right now is the perfect season to consider starting your online business.  

At first glance, starting a small ecommerce business seems simple enough, right? You receive an order from a customer, package the item, and then send your shipment off to its new destination. But when prospective merchants dive into the process, they often cite that it can feel a little daunting, especially when it comes to the shipping part of the equation.

You not only have to understand the basics – you have to understand product sales channels, carrier guidelines, the packaging your item is going to be shipped in… the list goes on.

It can be overwhelming! That’s why we’ve narrowed down three shipping mistakes first-timers tend to make, along with advice on how to navigate those missteps for a seamless summer start to your ecommerce business. 

Mistake #1 – Ignoring Multichannel Selling and Marketplaces From the Start

Before we get to shipping, let’s talk about the first touchpoint a customer has with your company and products. While you’re eager to perfect your personal product website as your main sales channel, distributing products across multiple stores and marketplaces is key to broadening product reach, and ultimately increasing sales.

Even as a first-timer, you have the option to list your products on popular marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and other sites, in addition to your personal website. Using multiple marketplaces also gives your business the opportunity to showcase different products based on the audience of each marketplace.

Then, you can use purchasing data to figure out which products are working where, fine-tune your channels, and get in front of the right customers at the right time. 

Mistake #2 – Not Taking Packaging Seriously

If you’ve ever shipped a package, with any carrier, you know the process of waiting in line, getting your parcel weighed and measured, and printing a label. Now, picture that process, but with 10 to 100 parcels (and hopefully, even more) a day. To streamline this process, small business owners must be extremely particular about the packaging they choose for their shipments.

Carriers have dimensional guidelines for their services, and you run the risk of being charged additional shipping costs (thus losing out on revenue) if you don’t adhere to their guidelines. New ecommerce merchants need to take three aspects of weight into consideration when determining packaging choices: 

  • Dimensional (DIM) weight: DIM weight is weight calculated by your package’s volume – not the number you see when you place your package on a scale. To find your package’s DIM weight, you’ll measure your package’s length, width, and height to the nearest inch. Then, you’ll multiply those numbers together to find the volume. If that number is greater than 1,728 (1 cubic foot), then dimensional weight applies to that package. Each carrier uses a specific divisor to calculate the dimensional weight of a package. This is a lengthy topic, so we’ve developed a robust breakdown here for when you need it. 
  • Billable weight: Billable weight is the number a carrier will use to calculate your shipping cost. This might be the actual weight of your shipment or the DIM weight we mentioned earlier. This will vary by carrier, and by using shipping software, you can often get discounts on this price. 
  • Girth: The girth of your package is (2 x the width of your package) + (2 x the height of your package). You might need this number when deciding if a large package is mailable.

Adjustments (AKA, additional shipping costs) are a big possibility if your shipment doesn’t follow the measurement guidelines and restrictions given by your carrier of choice.

Keep these guidelines in mind when choosing your packaging and creating your mailing budget. Leave a little wiggle room in your mailing budget for potential fees. Additionally, merchants can obtain carrier-approved packaging from the carriers themselves, often for free.

Mistake #3 – Ignoring Specialty Product Guidelines

We’ve discussed where you should sell your products and how you should prepare to ship them. However, the list of to-dos before pushing the “send order” button goes a little deeper. If your dream business involves specialty products, there are important guidelines you must follow to successfully get those products to customers’ doors.

Keep in mind, the term “specialty product” isn’t limited to just fragile or perishable food items – toiletries, even musical instruments can be considered “specialty,” meaning that they’ll need additional packaging, labels, or even paperwork.

Products deemed as “specialty” include but are not limited to: Food items (including baked goods, eggs, meat, coffee, and ice cream), jewelry, toiletries, plants, clothing, musical equipment, and of course, fragile items.

The guides to successfully shipping these goods are, as you’d expect, lengthy. So, we’ve pulled an intuitive guide for how to ship each type of specialty item here. Check it out!

When getting started on your ecommerce journey, there are bound to be mistakes – or soon-to-be learning experiences. However, some mistakes are avoidable.

Begin your summer ecommerce journey by identifying where your products will be sold, understanding how you’ll ship them, and learning what shipping stipulations exist.

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This article is a part of our Leadership Series, which features industry experts sharing valuable insights for small business owners who sell online. The opinions expressed in this contribution are solely those of the author(s).

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