If you don't have a scale already, I recommend getting one--they are well worth the small investment and you can usually get one for less than $30 including shipping from places like Amazon and Ebay (plus they are a tax write off). Sometimes you can get a used one free--we got one free from my husband's office a few years ago when they no longer needed it, you can also see if you can get one free through free recycling groups in your area like Freecycle ( www.freecycle.org -- also great for recycled shipping supplies like boxes, packing peanuts & bubble wrap).
A scale will help you set your rates when listing & will help you when you are printing shipping labels with postage online-a great time and energy saver! (You also get discounted postage and free Delivery Confirmation online, so the scale will save you money too.)
We always package up an item to see what it will weigh, even if it will be unpacked to store it until it sells. Once you know what your item in packaging will weigh, it will be easier to set accurate shipping rates.
Shipping from the US, we use First Class Mail whenever possible--affordable and pretty fast.
First Class Domestic goes up to 13 oz, the rate is the same per-ounce anywhere within the US so it's very easy to set up.
Domestic packages over 13 oz will need to go Priority Mail or Parcel Post which can be a bit tricky since the rates are very different based on how far your package is going (see the "Priority Mail: by Weight or Flat Rate?" post for info on when flat rate packaging is a good way to go--link below). Often the online rates for the two services are pretty similar, so for the extra 50 cents to $1, we often just go with Priority & use the rate for the farthest shipping zone to be sure we aren't short.
On occasion we use Fed Ex for domestic packages because the rates are better for certain heavy & bulky items--it's best to comparison shop for those over-sized/very weighty packages until you get a feel for what is best for both your business and your buyers. (Get the Etsy-FedEx discount here: www.fedex.com/fcl/ALL?enrollmentid=bh11921310 )
First Class International goes up to 4 lbs and has only 3 main zones--Canada, Mexico & everywhere else--which makes it easy to set up. (You can see how it all works out in the "Getting a Handle on International Shipping" post--see the link below.)
Generally we avoid courier services (UPS & FedEx) for international shipping because they charge high brokerage fees* when using their non-express services, so either the cost of shipping is much higher when you purchase it (because you pay for the broker up front) or the prices look realllllly cheap compared USPS, but your buyer gets a surprise bill for the additional brokerage fees when the package goes through customs. They buyer can't get the item without paying the brokerage fees in addition to anything the customs department determines is due, and if they refuse the package the brokerage bill can be sent to you.
It also means that all packages the broker takes through customs will be assessed and if the contents are over the duty-free amount (which changes for every country), the buyer will be billed for duty and taxes when applicable. (All customs fees are the buyer’s responsibility--make a note of that in your shop policies.)
When you ship through USPS, it's hit or miss as to whether packages get stopped even if they are over the duty-free amount. The buyer might still owe taxes on the item to their government, but it's up to the buyer to deal with that. There is usually a small handling fee when a package is stopped by customs when you ship through USPS, but much smaller than the brokerage fees (think $10 vs $30--not exact numbers, just an idea of what it is like).
The link below takes you to a page with active links to many topics--I'm sure the list of posts will grow as topics come up which is why I don't link to each post in this thread. On the "Shipping Basics" page you'll find the full list of on-topic links that I can add to as new posts go up so you don't have to dig through this thread to find links to new posts:
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Shipping Basics ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~
Please give this thread a bump by posting in it if you found it helpful. :)
*Brokerage fees: When a package goes through customs, the courier service hires an independent party to present items to the customs department for possible duty/fees/taxes. While customs fees are the responsibility of the buyer (make a note in your policies just to cover yourself), hidden courier fees are not nice for anyone.