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The Theory of Constraints and Getting Your Ship Together

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Last Edited 09:08:46 AM by News Team



Have you heard of the Theory of Constraints? It’s basically a business methodology that helps you identify procedures that put a strain on your operations or hinder your business output. The idea is that once you pinpoint the bottleneck between you and your overall business goal, you can improve your processes until you eliminate the constraint.


What does this have to do with selling on eBay? Well, what if that constraint—or what stands between you and selling more—is the shipping aspect of your business? Not the task associated with setting your shipping and handling times, but the actual act of finding scissors, fetching boxes, wrapping items, and printing labels.


Could a lack of organization in this department be a liability for your eBay business? Take this quiz to find out:


  1. Do you feel elated and then immediately panicked when you sell something?
  2. Do you risk life and limb, navigating inventory bins and laundry, to access your shipping supplies?
  3. Does your kitchen table double as a shipping station?
  4. Do you frequently lose your tape gun under a pile of toys?
  5. Do you long for a dedicated shipping space, stocked with boxes, mailers, and tape that looks something like this?

RW9_030217_TheoryConstraintsShipTogether_620x400_2_FINAL_ASSET.jpgAlan and Sherry Gilson’s (eBay store: MyLittleGeneralStore) garage-based shipping station.

If you answered “yes” to all of the above, you’ve just identified an operational inefficiency in your business—one that, once remedied, could help you grow by leaps and bounds.


Getting your ship together.


To kick off this blog post, I posted a request for shots of real-life shipping stations via various eBay Facebook groups. I used a small stylized, pie-in-the sky shipping nook that I found on a design blog to accompany my request for photos.


A funny thing happened. About 50% of sellers were inspired by the concept of optimizing their shipping space, even sharing the post with fellow sellers. The other 50% laughed it off as not realistic for a busy seller. Someone even said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”


Granted, what works for one might not work for another, but there’s something to be said for organization and preparation when it comes to shipping on eBay. So, if shipping is a business constraint for you, let’s fix that.


Designing your shipping station.


If money and space were no object, I’d tell you to order a shipping bench, load it up with supplies, and call it a day. But since most of us don’t have an extra $1500 lying around, let alone space for a 750 lb. workbench, it makes more sense to start with the basics.


Find a dedicated space.

This is the most important part. If you don’t have a fixed space, you’ll waste time looking for supplies, and your operation will slow to a crawl every time you sell something. It doesn’t matter if you take over a whole room, a small closet, or a corner of your garage. Just make sure that you have a space for the sole act of processing orders. You’ll need a flat surface or table for packing and shelves or racks for your shipping supplies.  


RW9_030217_TheoryConstraintsShipTogether_620x400_3_FINAL_ASSET.jpgeBay seller Theresa Cox’s (eBay store: ClubRed97) shipping space in her unfinished master bathroom.

Stock your space with shipping supplies.

When you sell something, the last thing you want to do is go on a box hunt. If you typically ship Priority Mail, march on down to the Post Office and grab a large assortment of free boxes and mailers or place your order online. If you use eBay branded shipping supplies, buy a large array of boxes and mailers to keep on hand. If you swear by recycled boxes (please, no Bisquick), make sure they’re broken down and sorted by size. Here are some other supplies that you’ll need:


Now, just make sure all of these items are within arm's reach. Think of your shipping space like an assembly line and order each step for maximum efficiency.


Keep it neat and organized.

Many of you chimed in on Facebook to say that you’d surely win an award for messiest shipping station should that contest ever come up. I get it. You’re probably an army of one, and having a Martha Stewart-inspired shipping center is not on your priority list. However, just a little organization and foresight could help you avoid losing precious time searching for your missing scissors.


Plus, there’s a psychological element to the look and feel of your shipping station. If it’s a pleasant place to spend time, your whole day will be brighter. If it’s a chaotic, dark dungeon, well…you get the picture. Also, contrary to what some of you might think, there’s no law against having a vase of flowers on your shipping table. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your space!


Of course, these are largely tips for small-scale sellers. If you grow to the point where you have a big warehouse (fingers crossed), you’ll need a large rack of well-ordered supplies and a long workbench for packing orders. But, the rest of the advice above applies. Keep it neat and well-stocked, for the win.


 RW9_030217_TheoryConstraintsShipTogether_620x400_4_FINAL_ASSET.jpgeBay seller Nathan Rathel’s (eBay store: RecycledChurch) large-scale shipping supply space.

Remember, the first step in this process is identifying whether shipping inefficiencies are a constraint to your growth. If they are, you can improve upon your operations and free yourself up to doing more selling.


And, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can keep going with the Theory of Constraints and move on to the next area of your business that needs work. You’re the boss.


Are you inspired to up your shipping game? Tell us in the comments below. Feel free to share this article with your eBay colleagues via email, and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.


You are so right!  When I started out the shipping was very difficult.  Once I made my space, which is really a bed in the guest room, a place where nothing else could be, got in habit of placing the tape, scissors, etc. back in the place they belong, each and every time, things went much better.  I don't have the time to not be doing this!



by lan_coll · Adventurer | Updated

I totally agree with your presentation. The bottlenecks we identified were immediately removed when I attained this position and we have since been flowing much more easily. How do you feel about overhead or handing rolls of bubblewrap, foam or peanuts, I have found that while slightly awkward to hang, these can be quite effective tools for managing a packing and shipping area.



by nwspicegirl · Scout

I work out of a spare bedroom where I have eveything for the business - inventory, listed items, computer, printer, photo area, shipping area and supplies. I recently conquered the storage problem for large rolls of bubble wrap. I got an over the door coat hook and threaded an old macrame cord through the core. Now the roll is suspended from the hook on the back of the door. Very easy to roll off a sheet or two and it's off the floor!

by lindyslucky · Guide

We have a better solution.

we both are in charge of purchasing. That's the fun part.

Partner #1 , that's me is in charge of research, listing, repairing.

Partner #2 is in charge of shipping.

Therefore, partner #1 does not care or worry about shipping.

Thats me.

Seriously, of course, we have a space with all supplies. And a space where listed items are stored and labeled. This is a bottleneck. Things for sell, but sometimes takes forever.

 The easiest is when lots of things sell at once. Then packing and shipping is done quickly.

 Sadly, that does not happen often enough. 

 Trip with one item to post office is way too costly.


I have ten very helpful tips for anyone who might be struggling as far as keeping shipping supplies within eye view:


1. Use separate storage bins (like you would find at Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Home Depot, or any big box grocery store) to house extra packing peanuts, large and small bubble mailers (very handy if shelf space is at a premium like it is in my case with a steady supply of inventory ready to be shipped within a day's notice in most cases).  Invest also in large size masking tape (the one that measures about 1 7/8 inches tall) and thick, black color Sharpies with the Chisel tip so you can read what contents you have inside from a reasonable distance.


2. Go to Staples online and order some bubble wrap.  This way, you can save the box that they use to ship it to you.  Just simply tear off the size that you need, whether it is one 12 inch space or several spaces to cover up that precious, fragile item that needs to be shipped cross-country.  Make sure also to expose what is left so you can use what you need in the future.


3. If you cannot afford a bin or space is a premium, reuse large shopping bags.  I find it handy using bags from J.C. Penney, Kohl's, and Michael's to store my extra envelopes.


4. Use the edges of the bins to store your extra shipping tape and occasional Scotch Cover-Up rolls--so all my boxes can look really nice and neat without spending excess time ripping off old shipping labels for gifts originally sent in time for last Christmas.


5. I have my scissors and current rolls of shipping tape within arm's reach of my keyboard.


6. Also, consider using a USB connection on either your desktop or laptop to store your shipping scale.  Again, Staples has plenty to use but the best bet is to get a digital one that can weigh items up to 10 pounds.


7. Sometimes, when an item is bid on succesfully, but the auction has not ended--I find it handy to hunt the item down and place it in a prominent space (a simple desk should suffice) to know that it will eventually be shipped once the auction ends.  This way, if any buyer might have other questions--I can easily refer to the item and answer any questions that people might have about size, color, chips or dents if it is a fragile or rare item, etc.


8. Consider using separate bins for paper bags, since they come in very handy to ship any size boxes of women's shoes and especially those large size boxes containing women's boots.


9. Dry plastic bags from department stores also make great filler bags if you don't have enough air pillows.  Also, keep a separate area away from any electrical source to store some cardboard.  This way, it can be used one or several layers to neatly cover a box and give the impression to the buyer that you took some extra effort to pack your goodies with extra care.


10. And probably the biggest thing of all, it is best to secure dry, good condition boxes that are not affiliated with USPS Priority Mail.  Not only will it save you a lot in unncessary expenses, but also you will be helping out area churches, some hospitals and other not-for-profit groups.   Best to email or call ahead of time if they have any empty boxes they are looking to find new homes for, instead of some landfill or recycle bin.


I hope these tips help you grow your business.



by saro1434 · Adventurer

I totally agree with your presentation. Great!

Shipping is the #1 pain point for beginning sellers ( and many more experinced)
Great tips Shana!
Great reminder to all sellers to think through shippping.
How do I set up my shipping (if new).
How can I improve?( when more experienced) 
If you don't have the space, have a box with your esential supplies( your list is great) of packing tape, scissors etc and basic mailers.
Boxes can be flattened and put under a desk, behind a book case or under a bed.
Jump on the USPS webiste and order an assortment of the FREE shipping supplies for USPS Priororty mail so you have them on hand.
Be sure and WEIGH items as you list  WITH packing materials. You don't want to lose money on a sale because you skipped this important step!
Like anything, think it through and keep it simple.
Taking a few minutes to think through shipping saves you precious TIME and MONEY.
Then list, sell and enjoy running your eBay business!
Soon you'll be a bigger seller with an entire areas dedicated to shipping and or a shipping staff!

by balletmom1 · Adventurer

I am a very small seller and I do recycle sturdy, clean corrugated boxes (never flimsy chipboard) whenever possible, and some of these boxes do have branding on the outside.  However, I think finding the right size is most important so an item can safely ship for the lowest cost.  I use USPS provided boxes when it is the most economical for my buyer.  I also provide a handwritten thank you and encouragement to leave feedback on the bottom of every PayPal packing slip.  I also prefer to pack as I list, and store the items ready-to-ship.  It takes up more room, but allows me to ship almost immediately, even if someone buys something overnight, I just have to print a label and mail on the way to work in the morning.


The article and comments are all reminders how important it is to be organized.  Last year I worked out a corner of the bedroom and my wife complained because I was putting stuff on the bed to work.  When I wanted to ship a box, I had to get the supplies from the garage and bring them into the bedroom.  

I cleared a corner of the garage, put some tables in, made one over the hot water heater and soon I will have more shelving to separate personal stuff from business stuff.  I have a desk just for shipping where I keep my scales, paper cutter, stamps and a couple of bins mounted on the side of a cabinet for Priority mail and eBay envelopes.  I print a label on one desk, swivel around and I have all my shipping stuff ready to use.  I print shipping addresses on #10 envelopes so I don't have to mess with putting labels on and having a place to store supplies.  For me, shipping is the easy part.   

by jun-harte · Adventurer

Thanks for this article.  I have just dedicated a table and wall with shelving for my shipping area and the whole thing is off limits to anything other than shipping! As precious as space is in my EBay room, I make it a point to NEVER place anything on that table.  The rest of the room looks like a bull just went through it most of the time but not that table.  I guess you have to start somewhere but thanks for the motivation to keep it up


How to use PS Form 5630 to group packags for the post office. Having this will help save ime.

by saro1434 · Adventurer
by honeyhole101 · Adventurer | Updated

100% agree....Thank You for opening my eyes to the obvious issue that I have been "working around"  rather than "making it work ".....Your article has really inspired me to make some radical but yet easy changes in how I operate my eBay business..... Organization = Success = Smiley Happy 


I looked all over eBay to find information on shipping and this blog post did it. I still need to understand how to figure the postage amount, include it in the advertisement, and print out postage.


That is why the USPS.com site has Postage Calculator.
Figure out where you are shipping from and what zip code it is going to.

Make sure to weigh it and measure the box if it is in fact more than 12 inches in length, because they will definitely charge you more in that case (unless of course, you are using Priority Mail--then you locate which box you are planning to use and then stick with that flat rate price).