Hi all! So with PAX season in full swing, there has been a big surge in community and online trading activity – which is awesome news for all of us.
What’s not awesome though is spending too much time and money shipping these pins all over the world. It’s also not awesome when incomplete shipping knowledge / experience leads to conflicts and forum drama. Those costs and challenges discourage some people from getting involved in online trading – but it doesn't have to be that way! I’ve been shipping all kinds of crap all kinds of places for many years, so I thought I might be able to impart some of that experience to the community with a nice guide to pin shipping.
I see people wasting hours of their time and overpaying by as much as $20 in some cases just to ship a couple pins, and I has a sad because those people will probably walk away thinking that online trading sucks and isn't worth it.
I (and you if you live in the US and follow my guide) can safely mail 1 or 2 pins from my home to anywhere in Australia for $6.16 and 10 minutes of work. I can safely mail 3 or 4 pins anywhere inside the US (including apo/fpo) for $1.93 with even less work. Best of all, no waiting in line at the damn post office!
If you live in Australia… allow me to express my sympathies for your truly shitty postal system. I will do my best to help you too.
Section #1 -- The Supplies:
Having the right supplies ready can make all the difference in shipping stuff out quickly, safely, and cheaply. I’m a lazy ass who hates going to the store, so I buy everything off Amazon and you’re getting links to Amazon for this stuff (and no, they’re not my affiliate links). It’s also a lot cheaper than Target etc, and keeping cost down is one of our main goals here. [Amazon pricing and products change frequently, so in addition to links that can get out of date quickly, I will try to describe the item and appropriate price]
Section #2 -- Packaging
Disclaimer: This is just my method of shipping a few pins and/or a set. I spent a bunch of time perfecting it, but no one is declaring this to be the one true way TM. Also, if you are shipping a true pile of pins or some really high value stuff, you should use a more conventional option (priority mail small flat rate box).
- Bubble Mailer Envelopes -- http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005I551DS
I’ve found 6x10 (or #0 in envelope lingo) to be just the right size for this. Big enough to hold a sealed pin set, but not so big that they won’t fit in a mailbox or get all floppy in shipping.
$6 for a 20 pack is better than you’re likely to find at any brick and mortar store.
- Bubble Wrap -- http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0035NGAXK
Like I said above, I am a lazy ass who buys everything online – so I have enough free bubble wrap lying around to safely ship a humpback whale. To use my method though, you really want to have the kind with the big size bubbles, the little bubbles don’t really have the height needed to protect the pin post with just a quick cover and tape.
Hopefully you don’t have to buy it, but we won’t be using much per pin so if you are forced to rely on actually paying for this stuff at least it will last a long time.
- Packaging Tape -- 60 yard roll with dispenser - http://amzn.com/B0006HX2KM
The cornerstone of effective home shipping is good tape, and the top of the line stuff is only marginally more expensive than the annoying, time-wasting garbage. I've tried many different brands and products over the years, but now I won’t use anything but Duck HP260. This stuff is perfectly clear, strong as hell, and is so thick that it won’t get all jumpy and stick to itself when you tear a strip.
- Medium Strength Cardboard
You’ll get this free if you order the other stuff above, or else just save a box from elsewhere.
For Cuttin’ Stuff
- Any regular simple tape (like you use to wrap a present)
For the inside part that won’t see direct handling
- Digital Food Scale -- http://amzn.com/B004164SRA
This isn't truly required, but if you want to do any level of regular shipping I strongly suggest you spend the $12. Without some way to measure by the ounce (gram?) you’re going to be guessing and either overpaying or rolling the dice on whether your package gets returned for insufficient postage.
Look, I hate printers with the burning heat of a thousand suns just like you, but you have to have one for this to work. Without it you’re stuck waiting in line at the post office with all the other chumps behind old people paying for stamps in pennies.
First, Lay everything out, and make sure you have all the right pins for the trade.
Then, hack off a piece of cardboard that is roughly 4x6. Exact size doesn't matter much, it just needs to be bigger than the pin(s) and small enough to fit comfortably in the envelope.
Now, cut a rectangle of bubble wrap that goes about half an inch past the cardboard on each side. You actually want to cut through the bubbles on the edge here, so the edges of your rectangle are deflated.
Put the pin face down on the cardboard and cover it with the bubble wrap, bubble side down. Ideally the pin post and rubber thingy nestle in between some bubbles. Note: If you are shipping a loose pin (no merchy cardboard), put it through a square of cardstock or thick paper and proceed as above.
Take your basic tape and put little pieces around the edges of this square to lock the wrap tightly down to the cardboard. The pin itself now has very good protection, and you've built up a suitable mailing thickness/stiffness for this kind of shipment. Note: There is technically a requirement that a package/envelope must be at least ¾ of an inch thick to ship as a package; I've never heard of this being enforced but we won’t be taking that chance, hence the thick bubble wrap.
Slide the bundle into the mailer, with the cardboard toward the “front” (the side you’re going to put the label on).
Seal the envelope with the little sticky strip. But that sticky strip kind of sucks – beef it up with a nice strip of HP260 across the middle of the flap closure, and then two little microstrips at the flap edges. (HP260 is so clear that the side strips are hard to see in this pic).
Check your weight if you have a suitable scale. For a single pin, you should be well below 2 ounces at this point. If you’re shipping a double then you’re probably closer to 1.9 which is still fine. If you’re over 2 ounces then you did something wrong (or you’re shipping two of the 15th anniversary paperweights).
Section #3 -- US Based Shipping
We really have it made when it comes to shipping in the good ol’ US of A. Our options are reliable, fairly cheap, and convenient. They can be bought/printed online, virtually all come with tracking, and you only have to walk as far as your mail box to drop it off.
Go to your computer. This is where I need to split it up based on where your pin is going:
Section #3A -- Shipping from USA to Australia (or Canada):
Bonza! (or… poutine?) Point your webs to https://www.usps.com/
and click “Print a Label with postage” under the Ship a Package menu. You’ll need an account here if you don’t have one, but it’s not too invasive and they don’t spam you. Register if needed, and sign in. The top part should auto-fill so go down to “Where are you sending to?” and drop in all of your trading partners info, making sure to select Australia from the Country list, and the correct province (they are often abbreviated, but they're easy enough to guess or look up). For our shipping method PO boxes will still work.
Set the shipping date to either today or tomorrow depending on when your mail carrier comes around next. This setting is kind of important, because you only get a one day grace period from that day to get your package out.
Next enter the weight. If you followed my process above, your package should be 2 ounces or less, which will keep things cheap.
Package Value at this stage doesn't really matter as long as it’s under $400. After that the options start to change.
For the service type, we’re going to be shipping First Class Package International Service, which should be $6.16 from anywhere in the continental US to anywhere in Australia for a 2 ounce package. Even one more ounce jacks up the price about $2.50, so that’s why I was so specific earlier about how to package it safely but lightly.
Don’t freak out just because it says you cannot insure first class international, we’ll cover insurance later in this guide in Section #5. Just hit continue to go to the customs form section.
The correct designation for our shipment is Merchandise (it’s not a gift if you’re trading). For the description boxes I keep it basic, “Collectible Pin”. Australians don’t have to pay import duties on shipments valued under $1000, so there isn’t really any reason to lie with respect to value there. Canadians do have to pay import duties if it’s over $25 if I recall, but I still can’t condone full blown lying on your customs form. I personally just use the closest I can get to “retail” price: $30 for a set, $15 for a LE pin, $6 for something trade only (cost of lookouts).
Below you will have to select a thing asserting that the package is worth less than $2500, and scroll past a bunch of scary text till you can click continue.
Now it’s time to actually pay for it. The PayPal integration here is smooth and I've never had a single issue with it. Eventually after paying, you will get to a screen where you can click print, and a complicated ass looking label will spit out of your printer. Ignore anything on this screen about a SCAN form, we don’t need that.
You have to sign and date
the bottom of the label. Do this now so you don’t forget – if you don’t realize it till the end you’ll have to repackage everything because you can’t get the label back off without destroying the mailer. Ask me how I know.
After you have signed and dated the indicated part of the label, move on to combined section #3C below.
Section #3B -- Shipping within the USA (including APO/FPO):
Many people think you can’t print a label at home for a domestic first class package, but they’re wrong – you just can’t do it directly from the USPS site. They don’t publicize it much, but the eBay/PayPal label printing setup can just be used by anyone with a PayPal account to mail any package.
Point your webs to https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_ship-now
and log in to your PayPal account. That link should take you to a fairly non-descript page that says “U.S. Postal Service – Create Your Shipping Label.” Fill out all the particulars in the top section for you and the recipient.
The “Shipment Information” section is where the meaningful options appear. For Carrier you want US Postal Service (although that is the default). For Service Type you want “First-Class Mail Parcel”, and for Package Size you want “Package/Thick Envelope”. You do not need to check irregular packaging when using our method, although the help link confusingly makes it sound like you might. For one or two individual pins (or a single set), your package weight should be just under 2oz– but when shipping First Class Package 2 and 3 ounces ship for the exact same cost ($1.93) so you might as well enter 3oz. It stays very cheap even as the weight goes up, but note that you cannot send more than 13 ounces as a First Class Package.
Select the mailing date as close as you can, which shouldn’t be too hard since this is going to go out from your own mailbox with no extra trip needed. Ignore the upsells here for signature confirmation, it’s not going to provide anything useful in our case and it costs more than the postage itself.
You can insure from here if you want for domestic First Class Package, but USPS insurance is more expensive than the third party insurers and not any better to deal with. At any rate you should read section #5 about insurance.
Click continue and review all the details on the next screen. If everything looks good, it’s time to pay for this puppy. The PayPal integration here is smooth and I've never had a single issue with it. Eventually after paying, you will get to a screen where you can click print, and a nice label will spit out of your printer. The label will say “a preferred shipping service on eBay” because it’s their shipping integration, but it doesn't mean anything. Move on to combined section #3C below.
Section #3C -- US Based Combined Section:
Use your scissors to cut the label printout down to just the label box itself. The receipt part is useless because they will email you the receipt anyway. Now it’s time to tape the label onto the package. You know how people are always telling you not to tape over the barcode on a label? Well those people are liars! You should always tape over the barcode on a label, to prevent damage to it. What they say might be true if you’re using shitty tape that is yellowy and gets wrinkled as hell just from looking at it; but we’re using HP260 so we’re going to use three good size strips with a small overlap to completely cover the entire label so no part of it is directly exposed to the elements. I've covered hundreds of barcodes with tape and have never had a single instance where it couldn't be read by a scanner.
Now you’re all set! Just put that baby right in the mailbox, raise the little flag if you have one, message your trading partner the Tracking/DC number, and relax.
Section #4 -- Australia Based Shipping:
No sense in sugarcoating it – Aussies really get shafted when it comes to shipping. They pay quite a bit more for much crappier service. I spent a lot of time digging through the truly awful Aus Post website, but I'm still a little out of my element here, and will plan to revise this section as I hear more from our brothers and sisters to the South. I will endeavor to make use of your futurepants metric system, and also prices in this section are in AUD unless otherwise noted.
As I understand it, you have three realistic options for shipping a pin to the US:
- “Pack and track International” – This costs about $21 AUD for 500 grams, and they don’t care that you only need 50 grams. This is the only option that gets you tracking, although interestingly it looks like they won’t insure it for some reason (although the Aus Post insurance rates are horrifying anyway). I think you have to use one of their special satchels for this option, so all bets are off on my packaging system.
- < 500g Airmal Package – This costs about $14 AUD and again, they don’t care that you don’t need 500 grams. You get no tracking with this, so you just have to hope it gets there. It is insurable through their site (at rates that almost gave me a heart attack), but good luck getting a lost package claim paid when you don’t have a tracking number. You use your own packaging here, so my envelope system could be used; however you’re paying for 500 grams and the pins are only going to be 50-100, so you might as well just use a real box.
- Send as a 250g Large Letter – This option costs $7.40 AUD and is slightly dangerous; the pin will be sent through a high speed sorting machine. The size requirements list out 360mm x 260mm x 20mm and we can fit a pin into those dimensions reasonably well, but you need a plan to deal with the pounding the sorting machine is going to put on it. You certainly aren't getting any tracking here, and I’m not sure that even a third party would ever insure this. DO NOT send this in a plain paper envelope, which can easily get ripped up in the sorting machine, get a Tyvek or other reinforced envelope.
There is a secret 4th option to send a pin as a 50g small letter for $2.75 (basically just like you would send a thank you card), but that one is really dangerous so I left it off the list. Same warning about plain paper envelope applies.
Postage for options one and two can be purchased online and printed at home with an account at “Click and Send”, but option 3 (and 4) you’re going to need plain old stamps for unless I missed something.
No matter which option you choose, I think you’re going to have to drop this off in a public post box or *shudder* go into a post office and give it to them (as I understand it, you guys don't even get regular home mail delivery/pickup). If you’re going with option 3 (or secret 4), really try to use a box for the dropoff – don’t let a nosy counter worker at the post office shut down your master plan.
Section #5 -- Insurance:
I'll state right off the bat that I'm not a huge fan of shipping insurance, so there's going to be some opinion mixed up with the experience here. I'll start with some shipping insurance myths as I see them:
Insuring my package makes it safer. Reality:
Nope. Despite all their advertising, insurance does nothing to actually protect your shipment – all it can do is maybe cut you a check if/when something goes wrong. The people who actually move the packages around typically don’t know or care which ones are insured and which ones aren't; the idea that an insured package gets “special treatment” is a complete load.
Well, at least if something happens to the pins I shipped someone from the insurance company will just send me the money to replace them. Reality:
What you actually get
-- in the event something goes wrong -- is a fun-filled opportunity to argue with an adjuster first about whether or not a covered loss actually took place. And second, the replacement value of the insured items. Not only will you have to prove that the shipping service screwed up, but you will have to prove that Aus 2013 set you shipped is actually worth more than $30. Sometimes you’ll get a nice person who works with you to collect the required info and then cheerfully gets the money on its way… other times you’ll get a complete asshole who is going to do everything in his/her power to deny your claim.
Packages should be fully insured to save money on losses. Reality:
Buying insurance doesn’t save you anything in the long haul, it costs you more. Not only are you paying money to a for-profit company so that they might give you some of your own money back when a shipping mishap inevitably happens, but it costs you a bunch of time and headache if you are ever in the unfortunate position of trying to make a claim. If you just cover your own losses out of pocket at least you’re not padding someone else’s profit margin, and you don’t have an annoying, time-wasting claims process to navigate.
Now, with all that opinionated trashing you might assume that I never insure my packages – but I still do sometimes
. The key is to understand the true cost of insurance which includes hours of your valuable time and the non-trivial possibility that your claim will get denied, and weigh that against the true cost of just dealing with a problem yourself. For a pin like say Emberjaw or The Next Level, I’ll go on record as saying that insurance could not possibly be worth it unless your time and frustration is valued at zero dollars. I tend to insure shipments that I appraise at over $100 USD and where taking care of issues myself would have extra costs/hassles. An example would be shipments to my PinnyPals – the significant difference there is that I’m not directly getting anything out of it, so it would get weird in the group if I tried to fix a shipping problem out of my own pocket/pinbank.
When I do insure packages, I typically use a third party insurer rather than USPS insurance (which you can’t even buy for first class international anyway). The claims process is a nightmare no matter who you go through -- and unless it’s a full on tracked package lost in shipping your claim has a good chance to be denied – so you may as well go with the cheaper option. I've been using https://www.shipsaver.com
for a while now, and it’s nice and cheap.
Section #6 -- FAQs:
I live in the US, when should I ship a pin in a regular envelope as a letter (ie, with stamps)?
- NEVER. Never ever do this. There was some heated drama in the trading thread recently , that really came down to what happens when a pin goes through a high speed mail sorting machine in a paper envelope (spoiler: it rips the envelope apart and the pin ends up on the sorting room floor never to be seen again). Australians are stuck between a rock and a shitty place, so it might make sense for them to do this sometimes; but for us Yanks there is absolutely no reason to do this when you can ship it properly as a package with tracking for $1.93
Do you really get tracking when you ship first class package?
- YES. A lot of people don’t believe this for some reason, but whether you ship first class domestic or international (to Australia or Canada) you will get a real tracking number that can be looked up in the appropriate mail websites.
Isn't it the recipient’s responsibility to request proper and safe shipping of the pins?
- No. It is your responsibility as a shipper to get the negotiated item into the hands of the recipient. Claiming that the other person never asked for some particular level of shipping does not absolve you of this responsibility. It is on you to determine the appropriate level of shipping in any given situation – knowing that you have an obligation to try and make it right if something were to go wrong.
Screw you man, you’re not my dad. You can’t tell me how to ship my pins!