First off, use online shipping and pickup. If you're going to the post office you have too much time on your hands. The exception is registered mail and a few other reasons like large packages. The Post Office has great online shipping and package pickup. You just order the pickup online and they come get it. Also, if you ship more than 4-5 packages a week Stamps.com is fantastic and easier to use than the Post Office site because the application runs on your PC. They give you a free postal scale that attaches to your PC. Also you get free delivery confirmation on priority mail and it's only 19 cents on 1st class mail. The postage is also discounted over the price at the post office (as it is on the Post office site too) and their insurance is cheaper than the Post Office.
I have not lost a single package shipped in the US this year and lost one last year. You don't need insurance unless the pen is fairly expensive or it just makes you feel better. The US postal service is exceptional and they very, very rarely lose mail. I do insure pens over $150.00 or so, but am always wondering why I do it since I have not had an insurance claim on a package in the US in 10 years! Never use certified mail. I often receive pens sent certified and it does nothing for you at all, except take your money. If you're just worried about whether the person gets it use delivery confirmation. If it's a value issue, insure it. Only use registered mail for really, really expensive pens. Up to about $1,000 it cheaper to send it priority and insure it. While priority mail is a great deal, 1st class is about half the price or less and maybe takes 1-2 days longer at most. Remember for priority mail you can get all your supplies free from on the Post Office web site and they deliver them right to your door. Keep a small stock on hand.
I ship unboxed pens in PVC pipe I buy at Home Depot. It's cheap and strong so you can put it in a bubble envelope with no extra packing. Out of a 10' PVC stick (3/4" pipe) you cut 20 6" tubes and that cost about 6 cents each. If you don't need much borrow a PVC cutter from the guy at home depot and cut it up right in the store.
International shipping in a whole other story. I ship about 1,000 of the 2,200 packages a year international. It's trickier and more expensive as well as a little riskier. 1st class mail is a great deal. A single pen in a PVC pipe in a bubble envelope costs about $4.00-$5.00 anywhere. Half that to Canada. If you use Stamps.com you can insure it to anywhere and for only a few bucks. But you have to put the true value of the item on the customs label as the customs label and insured amount must match. 1st class mail is more likely to get lost. I think I lost 3-4 so far this year. Always they were low value so I covered the loss. You as the shipper are ALWAY responsible for an item until it is in the hands of the buyer. So even if the other party says they will take responsibility, legally you still are responsible until they get it. If they put in a claim with a payment service, you will lose unless you can PROVE they got it. Oddly 1st class mail is actually faster to many countries than priority as it gets right through customs with no inspection. I use a lot of flat rate priority envelopes also ($12.80 on Stamps.com). They can be insured on Stamps.com as well and again to be covered you have to put the true value of the item. This is not an issue for countries with real low customs duty like Japan, but some countries have really high customs tax turning a $50.00 pen into a $100.00 pen. If you don't insure it most likely it will get there fine, I lose maybe 2-3 priority flat rate international packages a year at most, but there is no way to track a flat rate package either in the US or outside the US. Regular non-flat rate and EMS can be tracked but they are MUCH more expensive. There are a lot of trade-offs to consider with international mail. I did find one really good way around the insurance/customs value issue. This is best for higher priced items. You ship it first class registered mail which costs about $20.00 for a packages with a few unboxed pens or one small boxed pen. Write a low value like $25.00 on the customs label but the actual value on the registered slip and be sure the person at the post office uses the true value higher value on the postage receipt. So now Customs only sees the low value but the receipt and registration receipt that you have show the true value. Now go home and insure the package using www.shipsurance.com for the full value. However they do not insure to all countries so check the list first. It's $1.50 per $100.00 of value.
I had one insurance claim this year for an international package (the other lost ones were not insured) and it was $75.00 for a package to China. It was insured with Stamps.com and they quickly paid the claim. You do have to think a bit about where you ship. US, Canada, Western and parts of eastern Europe are really good EXCEPT Italy! Italy has really bad mail! I have had more loses over the years and much longer delays to Italy than to any other country in the world. Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Hong Kong, Singapore are all low risk. High risk are countries like China, India and Russia. For the most part I won't ship to China and India as last year I lost 50% of the packages sent to them so I just stopped if they won't pay for insurance.
One last thought is time. In the US a packages rarely takes over 2-3 for priority and 4-5 days for 1st class. But sometimes 1st class can take longer. International is all over the map. I have had 1st class packages get to Germany for example in 4 days and priority packages take 45 days. Most of the time priority is 15 -20 days at most but if it gets stuck in Customs or it's the holiday season it can be longer. I wouldn't start to worry about a package until 30 days, even for priority. What I do is after 30 days I give the buyer a refund and ask that if it shows up they send the money. Most of the time when I do this they end up getting it and sending the money back to me. Basically most people are honest.
So, I hope this is useful info and welcome your experiences, ideas and feedback. Cheers, Bob
Edited by speerbob, 16 December 2010 - 19:36.