I have shipped, posted and delivered cookies all over the world by mail, courier and hand delivered through my customers. Here’s how I do it, from customised boxes of 6 to pallets of 2500.
Whatever size or number of cookies you want to post, the fundamentals remain the same:
Postage or shipping, is spectacularly complicated when it comes to exporting, especially for food. I’ll show you how I keep it simple, for both gift boxes to granny and commercial cargo.
Let’s start with granny. A customer has found my website, liked the look of the cookies and placed an order.
I’ll receive an email to say an order has come in, with the details of the contents, any personal note to be added and the order value. I’ll take a box of cookies off the shelf and pop it in a box with some packing material around it. Then I seal the box and pencil the persons initials on the box where the label will go.
Next I go to the Royal Mail Click and Drop website, where the order will be waiting for me with all the delivery details pre-filled. I check the weight is correct, apply the postage, pay for it, and print out the address to my 6×4″ label printer. I then book a collection if I’m not going to be passing the post office today or tomorrow.
I apply the label and pop the sealed box on the “out shelf.” If I’m going to the post office, I’ll take it with me later, or lift it in the morning and leave it in my collection box at the front door for the postie to pick up.
While that sounds wonderfully simple, it wasn’t always that way. It took me months to get that system built, refined and working beautifully. I’ll break it down here, so you can replicate it and save yourself days of research:
Choose Your Packaging First
Firstly, choose your postage packaging. I finally refined my postage packaging to two box sizes. I’ve tried soo many boxes, it’s totally bananas.
Box one will hold a single packet of cookies. It’s purely for those one off orders of a single box. It’s a little slower to pack than the big boxes, but a single box of biscuits has the most profit, so it covers my packing time. The customer gets a secure box, that ensures their biscuits are intact with the lowest postage cost. For Royal Mail, costs are calculated by a combination of size and weight, so always check the range of your shipping provider. A slightly smaller box could shave a fortune off your shipping costs just by fitting within a smaller category of box.
(I’ve even shipped biscuits in poster tubes to send more at Christmas while keeping costs down, but they take up a ton of space to store and a lorry to get them delivered).
My second box will hold three boxes of biscuits, or a box of biscuits and two boxes of Belfast tea plus cushioning (more on cushioning below). It’s my gift box, ideal for Christmas, birthdays etc. It’s a little nicer than regular packing boxes, comes with a tear off strip to open it up and looks good with extra space inside for more packing material, ideal for worldwide shipping. I use recyclable paper tape to seal it closed, completing the look and keeping it safe. I can also post it with just two boxes of biscuits inside and extra packing material.
You’ll have to choose the box that’s right for your product and your target market. How many cookies or boxes of cookies do they order at one time? Will they break in transit or are they quite soft and bendy, or firm and crunchy but not brittle? The easy way to test them is to send them to yourself first. Then send them to people around the world to test it out. Ask for volunteers on social media. You won’t have a problem finding people willing to receive free cookies in return for a photo of the delivered box and contents.
When I first started, I made individually iced biscuits and posted them in letterbox size packs, ideal for dropping through people’s letterboxes. (If you’re in the US, our letter boxes are a standard size slot in the front door, we don’t normally have a mail box, and our postie doesn’t collect mail, they only deliver, but that’s slowly changing). My iced biscuits were hugely popular, individually wrapped and never broke. They had a linen bag lying flat underneath them (putting them in the bag would have stopped them fitting through the letterbox), a postcard on top with a nice local photograph and all the labelling information printed on the back. The whole setup was super low cost (except for the biscuit) but made a nice expensive gift when opened up, and people didn’t have to sign for the box or worry about it sitting on their doorstep. I tried exactly the same setup for my shortbread biscuits and found every delivery was smashed. Without the icing, the exact same biscuit didn’t survive the drop from the letterbox to the floor. So make sure you do a drop test – pack your cookies then drop them from the height of a letterbox, the back of a van and the back of a lorry. If they can survive that, they should survive most deliveries.
Automate Your Website
Most ecommerce platforms connect to the most popular courier services. Royal Mail, DHL, UPS etc. all provide software which connects websites with their booking system.
I use WooCommerce for WordPress and Royal Mail and DHL both provide integration options for free. It’s a bit of a read through their help files to get set up, but what you’re trying to achieve, is minimum order processing time. If you can automate it, i.e. prefill a box, auto send an email, upload a picture of your signature or anything else which you normally do to fulfil an order, do it. It’s a ton of work to do it the first time, but once you’re set up, you’re no longer limited to 10 or 20 or even 100 orders a day, because you no longer have to copy and paste in delivery addresses, send order complete emails or update stock on your website.
Just by printing a label with Click and Drop, the Royal Mail website tells my WooCommerce software that the order is complete, triggering an order complete email to the customer and adjusting the stock levels on the website. All I have to do is pick, pack and stick, which also makes my job easy to replace, with easy to train hired help as business grows.
Each shipping provider will have a minimum number of items to fill in, e.g. delivery name and address, product contents, box size and weight. From choosing your packaging you’ll already know the exact box size and weight range for your products. Put these in your product information for feeding to your shipping software, then you can adjust it at the point of printing your label, if needed.
The 6×4″ Printer
This might seem like a very oddly specific recommendation for a printer, but Royal Mail use a 6×4″ template for their labels. I used to buy A4 sheets with 4 labels on them, copy and paste addresses, print them out, and peel the label off. If I was only printing one or two labels, the next print out would stick in the printer as the backing paper was so flimsy after the first labels had been peeled off. Eventually I bought a 6×4″ printer. You have no idea how brilliant it is until you’ve tried it! Even for small order volumes, it’s a huge time and headache saver. They’re around £100 and work like a Dymo thermal labeller. I got mine on Amazon. This is an affiliate link to the same one.
When it comes to exporting, things get wildly complicated, if you let them.
I’m in Northern Ireland, one of the most complicated import/export control areas in the world. I’ll not bore you with the details (they are spectacularly dull) but the first time I imported a product (moved a pallet within the UK, which Northern Ireland is part of), the documentation took three months to clear customs. There’s an import/export portal for the paperwork, endless webinars, training materials, helplines and more acronyms than the military.
If you’re using regular postage services, keep it simple. In the UK, you need a CN22 form. This can be prefilled and pre-signed with a photo of your signature in Royal Mail’s Click and Drop. If you’re posting outside the UK, put a CN22 form on it and declare everything. When it comes to customs and delays, transparency is your best friend. Put every piece of information on every parcel.
Also include the HS codes for your products.
HS Codes are Commodity Codes, used to identify goods moving in and out of the UK.
In the UK it’s free to find out the code for your product, you just have to clearly define it, based on the ingredients.
UK Government code finder: https://www.trade-tariff.service.gov.uk/find_commodity
To get you started, here’s mine for my pure butter shortbread biscuits: https://www.trade-tariff.service.gov.uk/commodities/1905313000
Don’t forget, if you include anything else in your delivery, like a gift box with your cookies and a tea towel, merchandise, or other product, each product will need it’s HS code on the shipping label. Have these codes in your product data, so it’s available automatically to your shipping provider software. (I told you it was a ton of work to set up). At the same time, I’ve never had a product delayed or rejected at customs.
If you’re using couriers, rather than a postal service, there’s a good chance they need commercial invoices. These have to be available on the outside of your parcel, so you’ll need a Document Wallet. These are sticky backed clear packets which can hold paperwork for customs and clearing houses to access. They’ll cut them open, take out the copy they need and (sometimes) tape them back up again.
Buy a pack of wallets for your bigger and heavier boxes that only couriers will move and put the required number of copies of the order from your ecommerce site inside. Your courier will tell you what they need but don’t be surprised if they want 7-10 copies of the order invoice inside each packet.
Don’t put your invoices inside your box, time is money for couriers, they won’t be delicate with opening your parcel or they’ll just reject it and you’ll only find out when they return it a week or two later.
If you’re getting into pallets, you’re entering a whole new world of volume, which is really exciting!
Until your first courier arrives without a pallet truck, then it’s just heavy.
I have a separate post about pallets here.
Box Filler – Cushioning
Box filler or more formally, Void Fill, is the material you stuff between your product and the outer postage box. It’s much simpler than postage labelling, but don’t get caught out like I did. Read this post first.