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One of the many things online retailers face is shipping products. While it seems straight-forward on the outside, it's a bit more complex than you may think. I say this not to scare you, but rather to prepare you. In this post we're going to cover some of the things I've come across as I've helped business set up shipping with different carriers and services.
Not All Carriers Are Created Equal.
Carriers are the companies that you use to ship items through. UPS, USPS, and FedEx are the big three here in the states. The job of carriers is to help you get things from Point A to Point B, but how each one goes about it is different and costs different.
My advice to eCommerce business owners is to pick one, sometimes two carriers to work with.
Each carrier has multiple different shipping options ranging from budget to premium. Typically, the cheaper services ship slower and are not given the white glove treatment that the more expensive services offer.
When selecting a carrier to partner with, consider what it is you're shipping regularly, and when your customers would need to receive it. For instance, USPS is great at shipping books, t-shirts, and other light, small items. Where-as UPS is better at the bigger boxes. Also, when selecting a partner carrier, you need to consider the platform you're selling on. If you're using WooCommerce, USPS has a good free integration, while FedEx and UPS have paid ones. You need to look at features like printing shipping labels right from the dashboard, etc.
Looking into each carrier in detail will help you know which one offers the right services and integrations for you. Picking a shipping carrier from the out-set helps you hit the ground running.
The Competitive Advantage
Once you have your carrier(s) picked out, the next step is gaining an advantage. This is the step I see business owners often miss-out on.
One thing that some business owners don't know is that you can negotiate rates with the individual carriers. The more volume and the more exclusively you ship through a carrier the better the rate they'll give you. You have two options with you negotiated rate. You can either, a). Pass the savings along to your end customers so they're paying less, or b). Charge your customers the standard rate and keep the savings for yourself. Option A is what I recommended, anytime you can keep costs down but deliver on the same service it's a win!
Building on that, another competitive point is offering free shipping. Customers love free stuff and shipping is no exception. Customers will even pay an extra dollar or two per product if they know they get free shipping. Some companies offer free "standard" shipping on all purchases, some set a minimum order price for the free shipping to apply. In my experience, setting a minimum order threshold of $25, $50, or $75 is the way to go. If most of your products are sub $25, set a threshold of $25 that way it encourages customers to add something else to their cart to get the deal. This method can be applied at any price point.
One last point for a competitive advantage is to make sure you have some options for customers to choose from. Giving people the option to choose between a budget 5 business day option, a 3-day option and a next-day or same-day option, is a great way to be competitive.
Products and Boxes
If I haven't told you anything you didn't already know yet, I bet I will now. You need to have the weights and dimensions of your products listed out somewhere.
Almost all eCommerce platforms and their carrier integrations require that you have the weights and dimensions uploaded into the product details so that the system can quote accurate rates to customers at checkout.
Another little secret that could also belong under the "Competitive Advantages" section as well is having a standard boxing system. Having boxes of varying sizes already predetermined takes the guess-work out of packing items. I recommend having 3 or 4 box sizes that you use fir shipping. If you have a order come through with one small products, you know it'll fit in the small box, but if it's 10 of those products, it may need to go in the large box.
When you have standard boxes, you can bulk order them thus saving you some money. You can also, and this is where the competitive advantage kicks in, brand the boxes. Branding your boxes by ordering a custom color or putting your logo on the side helps increase user experience and customer happiness.
The last thing I want to talk about is fulfilling orders. The is arguably the most critical step and the biggest competitive advantage. It's also one of the biggest untold parts or the process.
Fulfilling an order is the act of looking at incoming orders, picking the products of the shelves, packing them up, and shipping them. There are lots of services out there that aim to help businesses owners with this process, I recommend checking out ShipStation.
As a business owner you need to have a standard in place for fulfillment. You need to make sure that orders get filled in a timely manner with as much accuracy as possible.
Nothing will upset a customer more than if they paid for next day shipping, but you don't ship it for 3 days. That defeats the purpose and I assure you, you will lose that customer.
One option you have is whether you want to drop packages off at carrier drop-off points or if you'd rather they come to you. When you set-up an account with your carrier, you can dictate a pick-up schedule so you know what time and when they'll be coming, this allows you to be prepared and to have a standard in place.
I hoped this post helped you out! If you have your own tip or trick you'd like to share, comment it below and we may add it to this post!