In the early days of online commerce, I had to scour the Internet to find places to conveniently print my shipping postage. Previous editions of this book listed each service individually, but now I examine how the current services can save you time and money. Online postage labels have a unique look. Figure 17-4 shows you a typical online 4 x 6 postage label printed from Endicia's DAZzle software.
Printing your postage the twenty-first-century way makes life a lot simpler:
i Online postage purchases: With a click of your mouse, you can purchase postage instantly using your credit card or by direct debit from your checking account. You can register your preferences when you sign up with Endicia.com.
i Hidden postage: A stealth indicia (also known as the postage-paid indicia) is an awesome tool for the eBay seller. By using this feature, your customer will not see the exact amount of postage that you paid. This allows you to add reasonable shipping and handling costs to your invoice and not inflame the buyer when they see final costs on the label.
i Free delivery confirmations on Priority mail: Delivery confirmations may be printed for First Class, Parcel Post, and Media Mail. Priority mail delivery confirmation is free (that's right — no more $0.65 each) when you print postage online. (First Class delivery confirmation is only $0.18 cents online versus $0.75 cents at the post office counter.)
i Address validation: Before printing any postage, the software contacts the USPS database of every valid mailing address in the United States. This Address Matching System (AMS) is updated monthly.
i ZIP code check: The software runs a check on your addresses and corrects any ZIP code errors you've made.
i Addition of the extra four digits to your addressee's ZIP code: This nifty feature helps ensure swift delivery while freeing you of the hassle of having to look up the extra digits.
i Packages are ready for the letter carrier pickup: Once you've used the online services, you have all your mail ready to go. No more socializing in the Post Office lines!
A custom label, instantly printed on my thermal printer.
A custom label, instantly printed on my thermal printer.
As you can see, the benefits hugely outweigh any possible service costs. The two major players that cater to online sellers are Endicia.com and Stamps.com. I give you a bit of background on both.
At the beginning of PC graphics in the early '90s, I attended a cutting-edge industry trade show. I had a successful graphics and advertising business, so I was interested in the latest and greatest innovations to bring my business off the light table and onto my computer. In a smallish booth were a couple of guys peddling new software to enable artists to design direct-mail pieces from the desktop. Wow! What an innovation! Their inexpensive software even let you produce your own bar coding for the post office. I fell in love with that software and used it throughout my graphics career.
Today's Endicia Internet Postage is based on DAZzle, their award-winning mailpiece design tool that lets you design envelopes, postcards, and labels with color graphics, logos, pictures, text messages, and rubber stamps. You can print your mailing label with postage and delivery confirmation on anything from plain paper (tape it on with clear tape) to fancy 4 x 6 labels in a label printer from their extensive list of label templates.
DAZzle, combined with their patented Dial-A-Zip, became the basis for today's version of the software, which is distributed to all Endicia.com customers. There isn't a more robust mailing program on the market.
Their service also makes International mailings a breeze. From Anniston, Alabama, to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the DAZzle software not only prints postage but also lists all your shipping options and applicable rates. For international mailing, it will also advise you as to any prohibitions (for example, no prison-made goods can be mailed to Botswana), restrictions, necessary customs forms, and areas served within the country.
A nifty thing that I love about Endicia is that you can highlight the buyer's name and address from an e-mail or from your PayPal history, click Copy, and the data is automatically transferred to their DAZzle software in the address field area. No pasting needed.
Endicia offers their own private (third-party) package insurance. They also support U-PIC (one of the first private package insurers catering to online sellers). The insurance cost is charged to you automatically. Or, in the case of U-PIC, you can send your monthly insurance logs electronically to U-PIC at the end of the month — a service that's integrated into the DAZzle software. That way, there's no need to print insurance logs to mail.
If you're using an auction management service or software, Endicia integrates directly with the most popular: Channel Advisor, MarketWorks, Andale, Blackthorne, Dek, and more. Visit www.endicia.com/endicia-usa/Site/integratedpartners.cfm for the current list.
All the features just listed come with Endicia's standard plan. Their premium plan adds customizable e-mail, enhanced online transaction reports and statistics, business reply mail, return shipping labels (prepaid so your customer won't have to pay for the return), and stealth indicias.
With all this, you'd think their service would be expensive, but it's not. The standard plan is $9.95 a month ($99.95 if paid annually), and the premium plan is $15.95 a month ($174.94 annually). For a free sixty-day trial just for my readers, go to www.endicia.com/coolebaytools.
Stamps.com purchased thirty-one Internet postage patents from e-stamp, making its services a combination of the best of both sites. (I was a big fan of e-stamp, but they discontinued their online postage service late in 2000.) Many eBay sellers moved their postage business over to Stamps.com, which is shown in Figure 17-5.
Stamps.com works with software that you probably use every day, integrating itself into many programs, such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Office, Corel WordPerfect, Palm Desktop, and Quicken.
WELCOME I LEAflN MORE | BiBK HP | I
Your Desktop Post Office"
Stamps.com home page.
stamps I _
► Eliminate trips to the Post Office?"
► Print on envelopes, labels, or plain paper.
► Save over 80% compared to a postage meter.
► Make mail look more professional.
► Save on mailing and shipping.
► Never overpay for postage again
NEVER CO TO THE POST OFFICE AGAIN!
Stamps.com offers all the standard features of an online postage service, and purchasing postage is as easy as going to www.stamps.com and clicking your mouse. With Stamps.com, you don't need any extra fancy equipment, although most introductory deals come with a free 5-pound-maximum scale. Serious users should get a better quality postage scale from a seller on eBay or through an office supply store.
To find the Stamps.com introductory deal of the month, visit its Web site. They charge a flat rate of $15.99 per month. The site regularly offers sign-up bonuses that include as much as $25.00 free.
Because Office Depot, Staples, and OfficeMax deliver any order more than $50.00 free the next day, it's a great place to get paper and labels. Better buys on scales, though, can be found on eBay, especially if you search postage scale. I use a super small, 13-pound-maximum scale that I bought on eBay for only $29.95, complete with a five-year warranty.
Before deciding which service is the one for you, check out the current fees and features offered by each. Following are some of the specialized features you might want to look for:
i Mac compatibility: If you use a Mac in your daily business, you need to be sure that your postage vendor has easy-to-use Mac-compatible software that performs all the features the service offers on the PC platform.
i Print customs forms for international mail:
Printing postage for international mail isn't enough. You must be able to print the associated customs forms that go with each package and their particular level of service.
i Mailpiece design: It's nice to be able to add your own logo or even slightly customize a label (within postal guidelines).
i Use your printer to print envelopes: If your printer allows it, you can even print logo-designed envelopes along with bar-coded addresses, your return address, and postage. This saves quite a bit in label costs.
i Third-party insurance: Save time and money using a private postal insurance company (get the lowdown on this money saver in Chapter 14). Software that automatically integrates this feature is worth its weight in gold.
i Integrated package tracking: It's nice to have all your shipping data in one place, and a sophisticated mailing system will allow you to simply click a button or link to discover whether your package has been delivered.
i Hard drive records of shipping: Software that permits you to keep your shipping records on your computer is important. That way, you can check records even if the server on the Internet is down.
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