Phase 4: Printing Postage
This is the point at which we start to spend serious money. We have to purchase over $10,000 of postage in order to get all the packages to their destinations. The service I use to print our postage is Stamps.com. I have to pay a monthly fee and download a program to my computer, but once that is done, I have the ability to print mailing labels and matching postage with my printer at home.
First I have to move the address data from the online store system and into the stamps.com application. Unfortunately these two pieces of software are unable to communicate with each other meaningfully. Fortunately they both are compatible with Microsoft excel. So I download the address data into a csv (comma separated value) file. Then I upload the csv into the stamps.com application. The stamps.com app automatically sorts the names into alphabetical order. This is why the final step of the sorting phase is alphabetizing by name.
I grab a list from my filebox. Lets say it is a list of people who have ordered a single book and they all want Petey as their sketch, also they’ve chosen Parcel Post as their shipping method. There are about 40 of these orders. I flip through the paper invoices, checking the boxes in the stamps.com app for the names that match the invoices. Stamps.com verifies all the addresses and sometimes suggests corrections. Most of the corrections are things like changing “Avenue” to “Ave” or adding additional digits to the postal code. I then select the appropriate shipping method and package weight. I make sure the labels are loaded into the printer, then I click print. The labels print. I clip them to the stack of invoices and put them back into their slot in the file box. Then I proceed to the next list.
As the labels are printed, the cost for each label is deducted from the credit I have on file with Stamps.com. When the balance reaches zero, I have to buy more postage. Fortunately they have a credit card on file and so I can purchase more postage with a few clicks. Again I am working with a system that is not designed for what I’m trying to do. Stamps.com will not allow me to purchase more than $250 of postage credit with them. When I am printing postage for a big shipping, I’ll purchase additional postage many times in a short space of time. Purchasing $3000 of anything in $200 increments, looks suspicious to a credit card company. Right around the $3000 mark, the company will place a hold on my card. This is a major reason why I have to start printing postage a week in advance of the shipping day. I have to leave time for the phone calls necessary to get the hold removed from the credit card. Twice. The first hold is removed by the use of an automated system. The second hold shunts me to a human being who asks me all sorts of identity verification questions. I then explain that we will be buying a huge amount of postage over the next few days and would they please stop interfering. Then they put a manager-approved “Do not hold” order on the card, which lasts for about a week. We do not carry this postage as a balance on our card. I pay off the amounts the same day I make the charges.
The other reason I start printing postage a week in advance is because of the international orders. Stamps.com has the ability to print out customs forms, but they can not be done in batches. Each form must list the contents of the package and be formated for the country to which the package is being sent. This requires me to hand enter information for each order. It is still much better than having to write customs forms by hand, which is how I used to do International orders. Each international order takes about a minute to process. There are about 300 international orders. This means a solid 5 hours of work for me to get all of them printed. International orders are not printed on stickers. They are printed on paper which then has to be folded or cut and shoved into clear sticker pouches that will be affixed to the exterior of the packages. The cutting and stuffing is another few hours. All of it must be done carefully to make sure that the right customs form stays with the right invoice.
When I am done with all the postage printing. I have two file boxes full of paper which cost me over $10,000 and yet none of it is redeemable for anything except packages going through the mail. I am extremely careful with those boxes until the next stage, Phase 5 Packaging and Mailing.