If you have read my FBA overview post, you undoubtedly know that I am a proponent of Fulfillment by Amazon as a strategic partner. Avoiding the Post Office, reducing shipping costs, expediting deliveries, offloading customer service duties, and increasing profits make my time and money invested in FBA a worthwhile expenditure. Unfortunately, I learned most of what I know through my own mistakes, but experience is our best teacher. To help you navigate the FBA shipping process, I have provided an overview of my inventory management flow process.
Step 1: Acquire Inventory
If you do not know how or where to acquire inventory, then FBA will be a moot point. Expect a thoughtful write up on inventory acquisitions in the coming weeks. This tutorial assumes that you have a wealth of inventory and have done some research on FBA.
Step 2: Organize Inventory
Get yourself a shelf. I buy them at yard sales, thrift stores, and major discount stores for a reasonable price. I have even garbage picked a few in my day. Get something sturdy because books are heavy.
Excuse the extension cord in the picture. I only have a few outlets in my basement and need to run a cord to power a few devices. This is one of many shelves I acquired for free. Curb alert.
Step 3: List Your Inventory
Develop your process for listing the inventory you have purchased. Clean your books and list them for sale, noting all condition issues and pertinent information. Price accordingly, and do not forget to include your markup for FBA. Standard shipping reimbursement for Merchant fulfilled (that's you in your abode) orders is $3.99. Make sure you add $4 to cover your "shipping" cost, which should cover most of the fees associated with FBA. If you would sell your book for $10 + $3.99 Merchant fulfilled, then you should charge $13.99 for the same book sold through FBA.
I use an Excel spreadsheet to list my items for sale. Again, there's a learning curve, and it will be covered in a separate post.
I always have cleaning supplies handy to remove price stickers and dirt, gunk, filth, and muck from the books I buy secondhand. You can see the tools of the trade in the picture to the right.
When I am done cleaning and listing my books, I place them face down on the table in the order in which they appear in my spreadsheet. From left to right, the first book in my spreadsheet is at the bottom of the leftmost pile. The second book sits atop the first, and so on and so forth, until the stack gets too high and I find myself in need of another stack. I do this for two reasons; I organize by size and I need to affix FBA labels to the books before I ship them. When my labels print out, I start with the last label and put it on the last book (which would be top of the rightmost stack) and work my way down the stack and over to the left side of the table. Additionally, I organize the books by size because I ship the books to the Amazon Fulfillment Center in cardboard boxes, and it is far more efficient to squeeze them into boxes when you know the sizes of the books you are shipping. I'm not always perfect, but I try to put large textbooks with large textbooks, trade paperbacks with trade paperbacks, and so on and so forth.
Step 4: Affix FBA (FNSKU) Labels
Every unit that enters the Amazon Fulfillment Center needs a special barcode label. This special label has a FNSKU on it, which likely means Fulfillment Number Stock Keeping Unit. It is different from the SKU you give your item in your inventory. This is Amazon's SKU for keeping track of your item in its network of massive Fulfillment Centers. As you travel through the backend of the FBA process, deserving of another tutorial in itself, you will have the opportunity to print out these labels. You will need 1" x 2.625" (2 5/8") address labels and a good printer to make these labels. Essentially, you tell Amazon how many labels you need, they assign the FNSKUs, and send you a PDF of your labels to print out and stick on your items. I use Avery 5160 knockoff labels with a good HP laser printer. Inkjet ink has a tendency to smear. Smeared labels could mean lost inventory. Go laser or thermal.
I deal in single units of used merchandise most of the time, I have to have an effective way of laying out my inventory for labeling purposes, which goes back to the point I made about stacking in Step 3.
Remove the label from your sheet and plaster it over the barcode on the book. You need to cover the barcode entirely to prevent any confusion in the Fulfillment Center. This barcode label identifies the item as your item. Failure to cover the barcode completely could result in loss of inventory.
Additionally, Amazon offers a labeling service at the cost of $0.20/item labeled in your shipment. If I send in 100 books and let Amazon do the labeling, I will be charged $20 for the service. No thanks! Labeling is quick and easy if you organize your inventory and have an effective workflow. Labeling 100 items will take me 10-15 minutes and cost me less than a dollar.
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Step 5: Place Inventory in Shipping Boxes
Once you have all of your items labeled, it's time to stick them in boxes and get them on their way to the Fulfillment Center. I reuse boxes that have been sent to me from online orders and I occasionally buy new boxes from Walmart for less than a dollar each. I'm a small volume seller, so I never need more than 3-5 boxes at a time to send out my inventory. Make sure you have a sturdy box rated for at least 75 lb Edge Crush.
Step 6: Weigh Your Boxes
Once you have your boxes packed, you will need to weigh your boxes. When I am shipping relatively heavy boxes to Amazon, I always use the Amazon Partnered Carrier, aka UPS. Usually, I can ship out my boxes for $0.20 - $0.30 / lb to the Fulfillment Center. You will need a good scale to weigh your boxes. I recommend the Ultraship 75 Lb Electronic Digital Shipping Postal Kitchen Scale.
I try to keep my boxes under 50 lbs, but I go over sometimes. When I do, I write "Heavyweight" or "Team Lift" on the box to satisfy Amazon's safe lifting requirements.
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Step 7: Ship Your Boxes
After weighing your boxes, you will have to print out packing slips and shipping labels and put them in and on your boxes. This packing slip identifies the goods as yours, acting as a second level of identification beyond the FNSKU stickers you stuck on each item. This piece of paper would be critically important if you went with stickerless commingled inventory or used Amazon's labeling service.
Simply lay the packing slip atop the items in your boxes. You will need one packing slip in every box. Print them out on plain paper, no need for fancy stock. There is a checklist on the packing list, but I never check the items off of the list. No one at the warehouse seems to mind.
I ended up with five boxes full of used books in this shipment: 159 total items, 156 SKUs.
Seal up your boxes with good packaging tape. Go over the seam of the box a few times. You need these boxes to survive their journey to the warehouse. Your Fulfillment Center may be a few hours or a few days away from your home/business. Make sure you pack them well for the long haul. As for dunnage or filler, Amazon prefers the little airbags or rolled up Kraft paper. Do not use shredded paper or packing peanuts.
When you select the Amazon Partnered Carrier, UPS, you will be able to print out your shipping labels from the comfort of your home. Get some self-adhesive half-sheet shipping labels (Avery 5126 compatible). No need to tape them unless you feel like you cannot trust your adhesive. These are also great for creating shipping labels for Merchant Fulfilled orders. Again, I recommend a quality laser printer to avoid the smudgeability of injket ink.
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Finally, I gather all of my nicely labeled boxes and drag them up from the basement and put them on my front porch. This shipment was 246 lbs and cost me $54.99 to send from my home to the Fulfillment Center in Indianapolis. $55 sounds costly, but it works out to $0.23/lb. That's a great deal. On smaller shipments, I have sent in items through Media Mail or Fed Ex if the price was right. Amazon doesn't mind how your items get to the warehouse.
I choose UPS because I like the convenience of having a driver pick up my packages. Pickup is not free, but it is a small cost that I choose to pay because I own a small car and hate lugging heavy boxes to my local UPS drop off location. If I tack on the extra $6.50 for pickup, my total cost is ~$61.50 for 246 lbs shipped, bringing me to $0.25/lb shipped. Looking at a per unit perspective, I spent $61.50 to ship 159 books, which works out to $0.39/book. That's an unbeatable price with most of the hassle of shipping eliminated. I boxed everything at home, printed my labels at home, and had my packages picked up from my home.