Anyone who has ever helped their significant other pack and move will tell you it is best left to the professionals. I have found this holds true for my own online businesses. For a number of years I sold used books on Amazon and shipping the orders was a thankless task. I resented how much time I spent printing packing slips, affixing shipping labels and running to and from the post office. The time was disproportionate to what I spent sourcing quality books (which is what I really enjoyed). When I decided to launch an online art gallery I wanted to ensure it didn't happen again. Here is my strategy if you don't want to run your own shipping department.
Print on Demand
Print on demand suppliers print artwork on an individual basis--only when there is an order placed. They will have digital files of your artwork and will simply print a single copy of your painting when it is ordered and then ship it to the customer. PODs can go beyond art prints. Many of them will print T shirts, tote bags, and other accessories.
Some PODs offer a hosted solution in which you can sell your prints directly on their website and they handle all the details. This is rarely profitable. They don't promote your work like you would and if you send paid traffic to your product, either the commission you earn is less than what you paid for the traffic, or your visitors end up purchasing art from another artist on the site. On top of these problems, you generally can't sell your originals on these sites, nor can you add products from other vendors.
Shopify, an ecommerce platform, allows you to connect to various POD suppliers with Apps. Shopify boasts that whether you sell online, on social media, in store, or out of the trunk of your car, that they have you covered. When you receive orders through Shopify they are seamlessly processed through your online dashboard. Shopify is a turn key solution. In addition to listing POD products in your inventory, you can add your originals, products from other vendors, receive orders from sales channels such as Amazon, and process your orders using 3rd party fulfillment companies all with a few simple clicks.
Sell Other People's Stuff
Dropshipping is a common method of selling products from other vendors on your website. When you receive an order it is sent through the online system to the vendor to fulfill. Orberlo is a popular App available through the Shopify App Store that allows you to easily add hundreds of products to your store and never worry about packaging or shipping. Delivery time can be lengthy if products are shipped from overseas so make sure handling times are clearly marked on your website. If you only have a few pieces of art, this may be a good way to offer complimentary products that you can acquire at wholesale prices.
Working with Distributors
Keeping an inventory gives you higher profit margins than if you use a POD supplier. PODs are useful when you first launch a product and you want to gauge its selling potential to determine how many of the products you want to manufacture in your first run. Once you have an inventory, you can apply to distribution networks like the Shopify App Modalyst which is well-known for their curated marketplace of 600+ handpicked suppliers. If your products are accepted they'll be distributed to their network of websites. All orders are processed through your Shopify Dashboard for ease of use.
Outsource Your Shipping
Just because you have items in stock does not mean you have to ship them yourself! You can use a third party fulfillment partner. Often an entrepreneur’s first experience with a third party shipper is through Fulfillment by Amazon. In which, for a higher fee, Amazon will keep your inventory in their warehouse and ship it when they receive an order through their website.
Using third party fulfillment means your products are going to be shipped in a timely manner. If you are like me, you have a 100 items on your task list and getting products shipped is only one. Orders can get overlooked or you can run out of packaging materials. Fulfillment companies have sophisticated tracking software that tracks the order through the entire process and they keep packaging materials in bulk so they never run out. Plus, because of the quantities they ship, they receive discounted freight charges which they pass along to you.
If you want to sell on other sales channels besides Amazon (such as your own website) you might want to look at some of the third party fulfillment companies available through the Shopify App Store if you don't want to pack and ship yourself. They'll store your products, and when you receive an order on your website, they'll receive notification and send it out.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC published “Art in Transit Handbook/Packing & Transporting Paintings” which is available as a free PDF online. It outlines many considerations when shipping originals. Temperature, humidity, shock and vibrations can severely damage your works of art and specific preventative measures should be taken. PODs know how to pack and ship their products so that they arrive safely. However, if you use third party fulfillment partners they may not be equipped to manage your art business correctly. By reviewing the National Gallery of Art's handbook, you'll be better prepared to evaluate the capabilities of your shipping provider. Using an e commerce platform like Shopify can give you a turn key system for receiving, processing, and shipping orders. With a little ingenuity, you really can avoid having to pack or ship anything yourself.