EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 365 - August 24, 2014 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 6

Online Postage Services Part 2: Stamps.com IDs Best Rates

By Julia Wilkinson

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Printing postage labels online makes sense for many online sellers, especially now that the USPS gives discounts for purchasing postage online. If you sell on multiple channels, or if you want greater flexibility, you might investigate services whose sole mission is to help shippers save time, be more efficient, and turn shipping into a competitive advantage. In the last issue, we took a look at Endicia. Today, in part 2, we look at Stamps.com.

Stamps.com has evolved a lot over the years, from the early days where printing postage at home was a novelty. If you haven't looked at them lately, you might be surprised at the features they offer today. We sat down with Stamps.com's Senior Director of Online Marketing Eric Nash to learn about the latest and greatest offerings, from marketplace integration to a feature that helps merchants choose the best mail service for each transaction.

Saving Money: the BestRate Rules Engine
One of the most helpful features Stamps.com offers now is what's known as the "BestRate Rules Engine." BestRate is a relatively new product that Stamps.com released in October 2013.

"Since there are so many USPS shipping options to choose from, picking the correct rate can be confusing for even the most experienced shipper," says Nash. "On top of that, shippers can easily get into a pattern and choose the same option all the time (Medium Priority Mail Flat Rate Box), without realizing the rates change every year, and there can be better options year by year."

To use the Stamps.com BestRate Rules Engine, you set up rules for different scenarios in the Stamps.com interface, and the engine can decide for you which type of postage is best to choose based on those rules.

Above: An example of the BestRate Rules Engine showing a seller the "least expensive mail class" for his specific package (in this case, First-Class Mail).

Once you set up your rules, Stamps.com will automatically select the best mail class for your package based on cost, delivery date requirement or the box size. You can set rules for Domestic, International, or Military mail.

The rules for Domestic Mail, for example, give you five options to choose from:

  • Use least expensive mail class;

  • Order must arrive within (select X number of) days;

  • Use First Class (Priority Mail if necessary);

  • Always use Priority Mail;

  • Always use Priority Mail Express.

If you don't want the system to automatically select the best rate for you, "Stamps.com will add a gold star next to the most cost-effective rate so you can visually see what the lowest USPS cost option is," says Nash.

So, for example, you can select a rule for the number of days a package should take to get to its destination, or add a rule to choose the "Least expensive mail class."

Saving Time: Marketplaces Integration
Stamps.com offers integration with many marketplaces and services, allowing you to import orders from eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal, for example. But why wouldn't a seller simply print postage directly from the marketplace?

"The main benefit of this importing feature is speed and time savings," says Nash. For example, if you sell on two eBay stores and on Amazon, you can import orders from all sources into one interface. "You don't have to log-in and out of each account, which can be a time-consuming process," he says. Stamps.com allows you to import all the orders from multiple sources with one click, and you can batch print all the labels at once in one print query.

You can pick and choose how you want to print the labels, once the orders are inside the Stamps.com interface. For example, you can choose to print all international orders at once, all product #A at once, all box size #B at once, all overnight packages at once, etc. "Stamps.com becomes a shipping label management system," says Nash.

Stamps.com will also take care of loading tracking information to your marketplaces for you, after your labels are printed. (The only exception to this is PayPal, which doesn't allow post-back for any vendor, says Nash.)

Marketplaces and Services that Work with Stamps.com
Stamps.com provides integration with multiple channels including marketplaces and shopping carts. You can also import orders via CSV files, XML or ODBC connections, all as part of the $15.99 per month basic subscription.

The long list of marketplaces Stamps.com integrates with includes: Amazon, Buy.com/Rakuten, eBay, Etsy, Sears Marketplace Shopping Carts: 3D Cart, ASPDotNetStoreFront, Bigcommerce, ChannelAdvisor, CRE Loaded, CS-Cart, Google Wallet, Magento, Magento Go, OpenCart, OsCommerce, PinnacleCart, PrestaShop, ProStores, Shopify, Ubercart, Volusion, WooCommerce, X-Cart, Yahoo Stores, and Zen Cart.

Stamps.com also works with: PayPal, Excel files, CSV files, ODBC, XML, Auctane, InkFrog; and multi-carrier programs: ShipStation, ShipWorks, TrueShip, ShipRush, and ShipLark.

Benefits for eBay-only Sellers (free is good)
One of Stamps.com's lesser-known benefits is its free eBay program. "This is a special account that has no monthly subscription fees," says Nash, but it is limited to only importing orders directly from eBay. "It is a great way for sellers to try Stamps.com and see how we can improve their order fulfillment time," he says.

The free eBay program is not found on Stamps.com's home page, you must use a special link to find it: Stamps.com/ebayfree1.

Above: screen shot of a YouTube video which shows a sample of Stamps.com's eBay import interface.

Sellers can also get a free five-pound scale with each account, although there is a shipping and handling fee of about $9. The USB cord for the scale automatically imports the weight, so there is no need to make weighing a package a separate process.

"Overall, Stamps.com can print shipping labels much more quickly than a seller can perform inside the eBay platform," says Nash. "Our program makes it easy to print multiple labels at once, without having to flip through multiple screens to get info. You can also see rates/mail classes in one click (eBay requires multiple clicks, one for mail classes and another for rates), and our interface is simpler to use."

Advantages to Amazon Integration
Stamps.com also offers some specific advantages to Amazon sellers versus using Amazon's own label-printing service. First, Stamps.com offers more mail-class options - "Amazon's Shipping Label platform doesn't provide all the mail class options," said Nash. "They don't directly offer Regional Rate Boxes or Priority Mail Padded Flat Rate Envelopes." Both of those shipping options can provide huge savings in shipping costs, he says, and Amazon sellers can access those options via Stamps.com software.

The other advantage is, again, speed: "Stamps.com can process orders and print labels much faster than on the Amazon platform," says Nash. "Amazon requires you to print labels one at time."

And another "side benefit" - if you are a Stamps.com customer, you can get the $0.07 fee waived that Amazon Shipping Labels charges if you do decide to print labels on Amazon's platform.

Pricing
Stamps.com offers a free 4-week-trial; it costs $15.99/month for its basic service; "all of our shipping features are included" in that, says Nash.

It also offers an Enterprise solution; the cost for this depends on the features that your organization requires. See more at the Stamps.com Enterprise FAQ.

And, as mentioned above, Stamps.com has a special free program for eBay sellers.

Discounts Available to Stamps.com Customers
Aside from saving on the 7-cent Amazon label fee, Stamps.com offers a number of discounts for its users.

"Metered Mail" letter rate discount: Pay only $0.48 instead of $0.49 - this discount is built into the software and automatically applied when a stamp or envelope postage is printed.

Commercial Based Discounts: These discounts are automatically applied when a shipping label is printed inside Stamps.com (or any online postage vendor for that matter). You can see rate discounts on the Stamps.com website.

Commercial Plus Pricing: Discounts that are greater than Commercial Base. (USPS requires the shipper to ship a minimum of 50,000 packages annually to qualify for this pricing.) To qualify, the shipper must sign an agreement with the USPS.

Thermal Printer Integration
Some companies who process a lot of orders use what's known as a thermal printer. Nash explains, "Some organizations (usually high-volume warehouses) find that by using one printer all the time (typically a thermal printer), they save a lot of time." The thermal printer may be right next to a shipper's desk, and they don't need to switch printer configurations in the software. (Sometimes the regular paper printer may be in a separate room or cubicle.).

"Stamps.com offers thermal printer capabilities for First Class Mail Letters, allowing shippers to save time by managing all shipments from a single printer," says Nash.

For example, if a shipper wants to use First Class Letter mail to ship items (such as an instructional manual or a warranty card) to keep shipping costs low, using Stamps.com's new thermal printing feature, "they can just print the First Class Letter mail right on their Thermal Printer and attach the label to the letter," says Nash. The thermal printer will include the return address, the delivery address, the FIM (facing identification mark - vertical lines on a letter) and the postage. "There is no change in their basic workflow."

New Features
Some recently added Stamps.com features include:

The ability to print First Class Letters in Batch Shipping (important for eBay sellers who sell small, thin items like stickers, clothing patterns, etc.).

The ability to send return shipping labels to customers via email. (Sellers pay up front for this feature.)

New Keyboard Shortcuts so users can easily do common actions to help save time.

Stamps.com also recently launched a Mac solution: "Over the last few years, we've been building out our web-based solution called "Stamps.com Online,"" said Nash. This service is built to access the Stamps.com service via a website, and is open to all platforms including PCs, Macs, mobile browsers and tablets. At some point, they hope to have all the features from the software built into the Stamps.com Online version, "but we're still working on that," said Nash.

"Next on our list is Batch Shipping labels which will allow Mac users to import data from the marketplaces and shopping carts, that same way that our software does. I've been playing with the beta and it looks great - sellers are going to love it!" he said.

In Sum
Is Stamps.com right for you? Picking an online postage service may involve making a list of your needs and ranking the importance of each, then factoring in what time and money savings and other benefits the service can bring you.

Stamps.com also offers how-to and educational materials on a variety of topics of interest to online sellers. Information is available on the Stamps.com Learning Center.

"We invite all sellers to check out Stamps.com to see how we can save time," said Nash. He said many of their latest features were suggestions that came directly from their customers. "So we value all feedback and are constantly adding more features."


About the author:

Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.


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