Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A Struggle with Shipping

This is one of those posts designed purely to explain to you, the reader, some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes along with running an online MTG store. This may be boring for many of you, but it goes a long way towards explaining some of the oddities that happen involving what I list where.

To start with, let me say this: I try, very hard, to not make money on shipping. I think that this is a terrible policy, and I sometimes jump through hoops to make sure that a customer is only paying what it costs me to ship to them. This means the cost of the postage, plus a small materials charge to cover toploaders, cases, bubble mailers, labels, etc. For US orders that materials fee is $1, and it's only $1.25 for non-US (more for them because I actually need to travel to the post office for these, whereas US ones I can print a label from PayPal and hand the package to my mail carrier).

Most online stores have one of three shipping systems:
  1. Shipping is based on total order cost. I just could not do this in good conscience. It costs me the exact same amount of money to ship a single $1 card as it does to ship a single $50 card. Why on Earth would I charge more money to ship the $50 one? It makes no sense whatsoever.
  2. Shipping is based on weight of package. This is the one that I used to use for my eBay listings (before I switched to a "free shipping" model, but that's a story for another post). The problem with this method is simple to understand once it's explained (but probably isn't obvious without it being pointed out): A single MTG card, in a toploader, in a bubble mailer, weighs one ounce (keep in mind the post office rounds up to the nearest ounce for determining shipping cost). So do 2 MTG cards, in a toploader, in a bubble mailer. In other words, it costs me the exact same amount of money to ship 1 card as it does 2. But if I tell my system that a single card weighs 1 ounce (to get the shipping correct for a single card) then it will think that 2 cards weigh 2 ounces, and charge shipping based on that. By that system, 16 cards would weigh 1 pound - absurd! So, weight does not really work in this situation.
  3. Shipping is based on the number of items in the order. This, really, is what I need. I can set up a tiered shipping system, where 1 or 2 cards is charged one rate, then 3-10 cards (which would be 2 ounces) is charged another, and so on. I just figure out how many cards it takes to get to 3 ounces, and I have my next tier. And this is the system that I currently use at my store (and why my shipping scheme is based on the # of cards in your order).
So, you may be asking yourself, what is the problem?

The problem comes when I try to sell anything other than single cards in my store. Take my "Revised Edition Toolkit" product, for example. This product contains 100 cards, and should really already be in the 100-114 card tier on shipping. However, as far as the system is concerned, it is "1 item" for purposes of shipping, and would be located in the 1-2 card tier. I run into the same problem with any sets of cards (my grab bags, complete common sets if I were to offer them here instead of eBay, etc) and any other non-single product (sealed MTG product like booster packs, packs of sleeves, etc).

For items such as these I can add into the listing a shipping surcharge, so that an additional amount on top of the calculated shipping is added in. But let's look at the potential problem here, using my Revised Edition Toolkit as an example. It's 100 cards, but 1 item. So the system would charge a US customer $2.75 for it, but shipping should really be $3.77. So, easy, right - just add a $1.02 surcharge to the item - no problem. But, what if someone in Europe buys a Toolkit? Then the system would charge $2.97 (the 1-2 tier rate for Europe) plus $1.02 (the surcharge to adjust the US shipping) or $3.99. But the Europe rate for 100-114 cards is $10.85! I just lost almost $7 in shipping, on a $10 item. And I can only assign one amount as a shipping surcharge, I can't assign one for each region.

This is the reason I have left my complete common sets, complete uncommon sets, complete basic land sets, booster packs, sealed decks, etc, etc on my eBay store. It's far less of a hassle over there - and when eBay combines orders and overcharges the customer on shipping, I can just send a partial refund and everything works out grand.

What I REALLY, REALLY wish is that ProStores would introduce a new category in the inventory spreadsheet (it seems to me like this would be ridiculously easy to do, but what do I know). This category would be "Counts as How Many Items?" The vast majority of my listings would be 1 for this category. But my Toolkit could be set to 100 - and then when shipping is determined that item would count as 100 items for determining shipping. Elegant, beautiful, simple...and it'll probably never happen :-(

But if it does, I'll likely be abandoning eBay for most of my MTG items and happily moving them all over to my main store instead.

    1 comment: said...

    Hmm... just a thought, but why not make a seperate product called "Toolkit - Europe" so you can price it separately? Dunno, sounds like you'll have to get creative with the site, but there are a few ways to do it.