3 Things to Consider When Shipping Your E-commerce Products
These past few years have shown us the power of e-commerce. For several months, many of us relied on personal items, gifts, and necessities to be delivered to our doorstep. While brick-and-mortar stores have (thankfully) reopened their doors, it’s clear that online orders are here to stay.
Whether you’re an artist selling custom prints online, a local farmer shipping products across state lines, or side-hustler looking to formally establish your business, understanding the shipping process is key to growing your business in 2022.
Pick Your Partner
One of the first steps when crafting your shipping plan is to select a partner in the process. There are three big players in America: U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx. They all have their own strengths, so this decision is about discovering what makes the most sense for your business.
U.S. Postal Service
The USPS is the most affordable option of the group and a great choice if you’re regularly shipping smaller items. They’re also the only partner that has direct access to your customers’ mailbox. If you have created a line of men's hats or have a side-hustle making candles, then USPS is a great option for your business.
If you’re shipping heavier items that don’t align with the postal service’s weight guidelines, then UPS is the carrier for you. This partner allows for up to 150 pounds per shipment. They also offer expedited shipping and insured deliveries. With these special details, UPS is the trusted carrier for many custom furniture businesses or vintage collectors items, since both parties can track the package every step of the way.
When it comes to time or temperature sensitive shipments, FedEx is the go-to option. This partner is known for their express and overnight shipping, along with temperature-controlled deliveries. (They have exclusive cold packaging that can keep items chilled for up to 48 hour.) If you’ve just launched a small-batch chocolate boutique or sell wild seafood, then FedEx will ensure fresh delivery to your customers’ homes.
Calculate Your Expenses
Once you’ve found a carrier that fits your needs, it’s time to calculate expenses. Take into account how your shipping partner prices their deliveries. Some offer flat fees, while others base rates on weight or size. While your orders may vary in dimension, knowing how your carrier prices shipments will give you an idea of the average cost per package. Once you have that number, consider how it will impact your customer. There are three ways to navigate this cost:
Have the customer pay it all
This option may make the most sense for your business, particularly if you’re just starting out. The key to passing along the carrier rate to your customer is being transparent. If you’re fulfilling orders directly, make sure your shipping policy is clear from the get-go. However, if you’re working with an e-commerce platform, they can automatically calculate the delivery costs at check-out so there are no surprises.
Charge a flat fee
Remember that average cost you calculated a moment ago? That’s a great starting point if you’re interested in charging a flat fee for shipping. While this option isn’t ideal for every business or side-hustle, it’s a great choice if you’re consistently shipping items of similar size or weight. So if you have a jewelry business that relies on the same envelopes for most orders, a flat fee will help you keep a consistent budget even as the orders vary in number.
Offer free shipping
It’s always an option to absorb the cost of shipping altogether. One way to do this is using free shipping to incentivize growth. Maybe you create a special holiday promotion for anyone on your mailing list. This will help drive people to your site, just in time for the end-of-year rush. You can also offer ongoing free shipping for minimum purchase amounts. This tipping point may encourage customers to add additional items to their cart, which justifies the covering the shipping costs for a bigger order. It’s a win-win.
Share Your Schedule
While Amazon Prime has become synonymous with quick turnaround times, there is more to building a loyal customer base than speedy deliveries. We don’t need every order dropped on our doorstep within 24 hours. However, we do want to know when to expect our purchase to arrive. Fortunately, there are a few ways to manage these expectations before checkout.
Outline Your Shipping Terms
If your customer knows ahead of time that their item will be arriving by next Friday, you won’t have to field complaint emails in the meantime. Check in with your carrier on standard shipping times. In general, USPS can take anywhere from 2-8 business days, while UPS and FedEx ground deliveries arrive in 1-5 business days. However, there are multiple factors at play – like express shipments or international orders – that can alter that schedule. A shipping policy that’s displayed on your website, FAQ section, or Etsy profile will serve your business’s reputation in the long run.
Include Tracking Numbers
Once you’ve mailed the order, send your customer a tracking number. That way, if any delays happen along the way, they’ll have the resources to check in with the carrier directly.
Clarify Your Return Policy
You’d be surprised what types of items folks will try to send back, so get clear on your return policy. If you offer free returns, establish guidelines on how to handle those with your carrier. If you don’t offer returns or replacements, make that clear before checkout. (People will try to return costumes the day after Halloween, so be careful!). Be clear from the get-go, and you’ll save yourself the headache and shipping hassle.
Establishing your shipping process takes a bit of time at the beginning, but it’s certainly worth the extra prep. Understanding your schedule, accounting for expenses, and choosing the right carrier for your business will ensure smooth shipping as you grow your business.