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A Guide to Cutting Your Shipping Costs

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Way back in 2018, I wrote about maximizing card shipments with a standard USPS forever stamp. The purpose of that article was to help reduce shipping costs on low-value, multi-card orders. It dawned on me recently that I haven't actually written any articles specifically focused on helping sellers reduce costs. I have always been someone who is conscious of price, so I hope you enjoy reading about optimizing your cost reduction as much as I enjoy writing about it.

One key thing to remember about shipping costs is that they provide no additional benefit to the customer once the product arrives, so their only value is protecting the goods on the way to the customer. While valuable, the takeaway of this preamble is that the benefits end when the customer opens the package and retrieves their goods.

Buy In Bulk

Many of you may have memberships to bulk discount stores. The two big ones we have here in the US are Sam's Club and Costco. While it isn't always true, most of the time, buying large quantities of a product tends to be cheaper per unit. Here are some examples:

Bubble Mailers

I could go into my local Walmart and buy bubble mailers for my $50+ orders that I want to make sure are protected and tracked. As you can see by the simple breakdown, buying 2 means they are $0.57 each; buying 10 means they are $0.516 each. I don't know why buying 12 is actually more expensive per unit than 10, but it's likely due to the fact that many people don't actually break prices down and instead just assume it's a better deal. So consider that a lesson within a lesson: always price compare by a standard unit of measurement!

If I don't need the mailer immediately and can afford to wait a few days, I can go to Amazon and buy a 50 pack for $9.59. This has a unit cost of $0.19 each.

By buying your mailers in bulk, you can save $0.30 or more per order, which can really add up over a year's worth of sales. I looked at last year's sales and found that I had 44 orders that required bubble mailers, meaning I saved $13.20 over the year.

Look for Cheaper Alternatives

Many sellers may remember that about 6 months after COVID-19 hit the US, top loaders dried up. The cost of polycarbonate skyrocketed due to strong demand for face shields and the guarding that many stores put up as barriers to help reduce the spread of the disease. This meant the big top loader manufacturers were unable to source the material needed to manufacture top loaders and they were pushed down the waiting list given the importance of the other items soaking up all the available material. Looking at BCW's website, they are still back ordered well into 2023. Looking at their "best deal," new top loaders would come out to $0.1124 per if you bought 1000 and could wait until January.

If you wanted to find new top loaders that are readily available, it appears the current going rate is right around $0.14 each.

Used Over New

Prior to the Pandemic, used top loaders were far more available and cheaper than new ones. I used to buy large boxes of them off of eBay.

These top loaders came out to right under $0.09 per, which was pretty typical for what I would pay for them when buying larger boxes. Occasionally, a few might be warped enough that I wouldn't want to risk putting a card in them, but that wasn't common enough to really cause me to rethink my purchasing strategy. Interestingly, a similar sale ended just a few days ago in which the total cost of 600 used Top Loaders was $70.50, which comes out to $0.1175 per.

Cardboard Sleeves

There was a big push by many of the larger retailers to find reliable sources of card shipping protection, and many ended up turning to cardboard sleeves like the ones shown below, which come out to $0.1244 per. Looking over Amazon's listing of cardboard sleeves, the non-bulk options end up costing a bit more at around $0.15 per.

It's important to point out that a lot of the price differences shown so far aren't vastly different, and for small-time sellers, it may not be worth the time to put too much effort into optimizing these costs. However, for larger sellers, these costs can be significant. A $0.05 savings on 1000 orders equates to $50, or to a $500 savings on 10,000 orders.

Free Is the Best Price

One of the challenges I faced throughout the early parts of the pandemic was shipping material shortages. As I previously mentioned, a lot of people shifted from plastic to cardboard sleeve protection simply due to no top loaders being available. I ran through that box of used top loaders sometime around August 2020. One day while packing up our recycling to take to the recycling center, I realized that I was essentially throwing away tons of potential card sleeves in the form of various boxes my family had used up. I started cutting up cereal boxes and found I could get between 8 to 10 "sleeves" from a given cereal box.

Now, not only do I keep my heart healthy by eating a box of cereal, I also save an additional $1.24 on shipping materials. Obviously, this does require some effort on my part by cutting up the boxes, but it's something that can easily be done while watching Netflix with my wife so really there is no loss of free time on my part. It may also be apparent that this is something that works well for a smaller store with a limited number of daily or weekly orders, but might be difficult to scale. However, I would suggest that store owners who don't mind putting in this effort consider asking customers to donate cereal boxes or similar style boxes, or even offer some minor reward (say, a free drink or snack for every 10-20 boxes).

A Penny Sleeve Saved...

This article features plenty of tiny numbers, but also some bigger ones. That's because those small costs can really add up, and it pays (literally) to be proactive about streamlining your shipping costs when selling cards online. Have you tried out any of the above ideas? Are you suddenly craving cereal? Got any great tips of your own to share? Drop a comment below and let us know!

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David Schumann

David started playing Magic in the days of Fifth Edition, with a hiatus between Judgment to Shards. He's been playing Commander since 2009 and Legacy since 2010.

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