Subscription Box Shipping Guide
Recently I added up how many boxes the subscription businesses I’ve founded have shipped… It was mind blowing to see that the number is well over 1.5 million packages! Multiplied by the average shipping costs, I’ve spent almost ten million dollars on subscription box shipping… and I’ve learned a lot along the way! The fact is, you can make or break your subscription box business with the way you manage your shipping process and shipping costs.
Early on with one of my first subscription businesses, Conscious Box, my co-founders Jesse, Bjorn and I quickly realized we had completely overlooked subscription box shipping logistics when designing our business. We didn’t properly plan for postage in our COGS or pricing strategy, and the PayPal checkout we’d thrown together was quickly becoming a huge problem when it came time to export our orders and turn them into shipping labels. This lack of planning didn’t kill us, but it was certainly a missed opportunity to build a more scalable, intelligent foundation for the business.
The brutal truth is everything about a subscription box business revolves around shipping. Everything from the size of your custom packaging, to the average weight of the products you’re planning on curating, to the price of your service should be planned around how you’re going to ship. But it’s nothing to be intimidated by! On the costs side, it’s really just as simple as identifying which shipping service you’re going to use and working within the ideals of that service.
The bigger challenge is the process of actually buying all your shipping labels each month. It’s a task that at the peak of Conscious Box literally took us days to accomplish. Bjorn once stayed up for 48 hours straight trying to fix the terrible Windows-only shipping software we were forced to use! Plus if you have more than a couple variations of boxes, it gets significantly more complicated.
Back in 2011 when we first started experiencing these problems, there were extremely limited options for buying large batches of shipping labels, and even today there are still huge limitations with most shipping software. This is because the supermajority of ecommerce businesses use pick-and-pack fulfillment models, where every order is unique. This is very different from a subscription service, where you just want to buy huge batches of identical labels as quickly as possible. A handful of shipping platforms claim to have batch shipping support, but they are all either extremely limited (with capped batch sizes or slow processing speeds) or are absolutely useless for the unique needs of a subscription box business. Even today, I still hear horror stories of subscription businesses processing hundreds of labels individually, one at a time! Ouch!
All of this is why Bjorn and I founded Pirate Ship, the only shipping software built for subscription boxes. Launched in April 2014, our goal was to create an easy-to-use but fully-featured shipping platform that’s specifically designed for batch shippers. There’s nothing to install, it only takes a few minutes to start shipping, and it’s totally free. Today, thousands of subscription box businesses use Pirate Ship every month to process their shipping labels.
Why do subscription box shippers love Pirate Ship?
The short answer is easy; Pirate Ship is the only shipping software built by subscription box founders and tailored to the needs of a subscription box business. We prioritized crucial features for subscription boxes that keep them shipping with us month after month. Pirate Ship is also the only shipping platform that’s completely free and doesn’t add postage markup. Here’s some of Pirate Ship’s subscription-focused features and specific examples of why they’re important:
High-Volume Shipping Rates & No Fees
One of the biggest frustrations as a subscription startup is not having enough volume to get deep discounts on shipping. For example, normally you won’t even get access to key services like Priority Mail Cubic on your own until you’re shipping 50,000+ packages per year! But by consolidating your volume with other subscription boxes through Pirate Ship, you can get access to the best shipping methods and the deepest discounts that USPS offers. Plus, as subscription box founders like you, we know how much monthly fees can add up—which is why Pirate Ship is free. No matter whether you’re shipping just a few packages or tens of thousands per month, I know we can help you save on shipping costs.
Integrations with Every Subscription Management Platform
Pirate Ship has integrations with subscription management platforms like Cratejoy, Chargify, Shopify, (compatible with ReCharge and Bold), Recurly and WooCommerce. Importing directly from your ecommerce platform makes it extremely easy to filter & separate your orders into shipping groups and buy batches of labels. Plus, as soon as you’ve successfully purchased the shipping labels, Pirate Ship automatically sends the tracking numbers back to the platform and marks the orders as Shipped. With some platforms, you can even configure Pirate Ship to automatically change the renewal date, so that all your subscriptions billing dates stay synchronized. And even if your platform isn’t supported yet, as long as you can export your orders to any type of spreadsheet you can simply drag and drop that spreadsheet into Pirate Ship to create a batch, with no special file formatting required.
Scheduled Tracking Emails
To anyone who’s ever run a subscription box, this will probably seem like an obvious feature… But most shipping platforms don’t allow you to control when a tracking email gets sent out, and they’ll just email your customer the same time a label is purchased. But this doesn’t fly for subscription boxes! It can typically take 2-3 days (if not more) to pack up all the boxes, but labels need to be purchased and printed out to start packing, and the dilemma is setting customer expectations correctly. You don’t want the tracking email to go out immediately, because then the customer would feel like they’re waiting much longer for their package to arrive. Instead, you want to schedule the tracking email to be sent out when the packages are actually handed to the shipping carrier. This is super simple with Pirate Ship!
Domestic & International Addresses… In one batch!
This is another feature that seems obvious, but is missing from most platforms. Many subscription boxes ship to both domestic and international customers, but with Pirate Ship there’s no need to separate those customers into different batches. In a single preset you can specify both the domestic and international shipping service to use, and easily fill out and auto-sign the customs declaration. This allows you to process all your orders at the same time in one big convenient batch, so all you have to do is slap the labels on the boxes.
Pay-on-Use Return Labels
This is a popular feature for subscription boxes like Trunk Club or Stitch Fix where part of their concept is supplying the customer with a return label to send unused or unwanted items back. With Pirate Ship you can either generate a batch of only return labels OR you can have a return label generated along with regular postage (Pirate Ship reverses the customer’s address and your return address automatically).
USPS Scan Forms
Do you ever get a funny look from the people at your local Post Office when you drop off hundreds or even thousands of boxes? It’s because unless you’re giving them a Scan Form for your entire batch, they’ll have to scan every package into their system individually. With Pirate Ship you can easily generate a Scan Form that includes one barcode for your entire batch (no matter the size).
Print Extra Reference Information on Labels
Do you have multiple versions or ‘variations’ of your boxes going out each month? With Pirate Ship you have the ability to add extra reference information called “Rubber Stamps” to your postage label so your packers have a quick reference to know which type of box to stick the label on! You can map any information to these fields, such as the variation’s name, the SKU, or the order number.
Those are just a handful of the features that save me the most headaches for my own businesses, but we built Pirate Ship to be the perfect shipping solution for all kinds of subscription boxes, including ones with overnight shipping needs or other special needs, so there’s lots more to discover. Read more about Pirate Ship’s features, or sign up for your free account here.
Your website is very elegant and helpful. Thank you!
Im developing my blog and prelaunch and the thing that makes me the most confused is the logistics of shipping.
Arrgghh!???? (pirate joke)
Been researching shipping options and this PirateShip sounds to good to be true. And btw the name is so perfect.
Question regarding the usps bar code that scans for the entire batch as opposed to scanning individualy.
Amazing! But do you know if that happens to leave more room for error on the usps end when it comes to physically losing track of a box when its initially accounted for?
Also, if its not too personal, would you mind sharing how you are able to offer this product for free? Lots to learn!
I have more questions but I dont expect you to answer them all but just in case…. like-where do u even print the labels to save money if you still boxing yourself and not using fulfillment? Kinkos etc? (Probably an obviousanswer)?? Ha.
I appreciate your generous info and time. Stay awesome
And Rock on!
My apologies. I should more of your articles before I ask questions that are answered in them.
Thank you again!
Totally subscribing to you.
(My websites not up yet so dnt even bother checking)☺️
I’m so glad to see there are softwares like these, as I’m about to start a subscription box business and am having the most trouble with shipping logistics. As our products are from Asia, we’re planning to ship directly from there to make use of the epacket shipping service. I was wondering if you have any services/software compatible with international shipping into the US or if you have any general experience/advice with this. Thanks so much in advance.
I love your blog in regards the subscription box space. I’m looking to start a box for active girls.
What size box should I be looking to order, Needless to say I’m trying to keep shipping cost as low as possible.