What You Need to Know to Make Your Online Store’s Shipping More Efficient

John Rambow
What You Need to Know to Make Your Online Store’s Shipping More Efficient
Amazon, Walmart, and the other big retailers have trained customers to expect ever faster and nimbler shipping (preferably free), so it’s essential for online stores to provide reliable, cost-effective shipping choices to stay competitive.

If you disappoint shoppers, they will readily abandon their carts and go somewhere else. The platform provider BigCommerce surveyed nearly 3,000 digital consumers in the US, the UK, and Australia in 2019, and more than three in four (77%) said they had pulled the plug on a purchase due to “unsatisfactory shipping options.” 

It gets worse: The survey revealed that “another 58% had actually stopped shopping with particular online retailers as a result of a negative shipping experience.” In case you’ve ever wondered, shoppers are very capable of carrying a grudge when things don’t go right. You’ve probably done the same as a consumer. 

Of course, being accurate and fast is one thing, but you also have to keep an eye on your costs to stay competitive. It can be a tough challenge, so here are six useful tips that will help you stay on the right side of the shipping equation. 

1. Perform a Parcel Audit

Look, mistakes happen, and that’s almost certainly true of the invoices you’re getting from shippers. But you’ll never know if you don’t look into whether anything’s amiss. If you spend tens of thousands on shipping each month, you may find it worth your while to either use software or hire an outside company to track how accurate shippers’ invoices are and to request refunds for wrong weights and other mistakes, incorrectly applied surcharges, or late shipments. 

But even if a major audit doesn’t make sense given your business size, taking the time to look through several bills from several different times of the year could reveal some questionable charges worth bringing up the next time you talk rates with your shippers.

2. Talk to Other Businesses — and Then Your Shippers 

Take some time out to talk with other business owners to see how they manage their shipping, especially if their merchandise or their shipping patterns are similar to yours. And if it’s been a while since you’ve talked to UPS and FedEx and USPS (or even if you never have), make an appointment to see if the rates you’re getting are really the best they can offer. 

You may be able to do better, based on how you ship, how much you ship, or even what kind of packaging you use. And shipping policies and rates could have temporarily changed due to the pandemic, and maybe you didn’t get the memo. Either way, a conversation or two could help you bring costs down, just in time for months leading up to the holidays (which will be here sooner than you think). 

3.Assess Your Shipping Supplies 

So you audited the shippers, and now it’s time to inspect the physical packaging you send out into the world. Are you paying excessive fees for damage because your boxes aren’t up to the task? Or are you paying for fancy packaging when the (free!) supplies from a shipper might work just as well? Or are you missing a chance to really brand yourself through a unified look on your packages? Either way, you’re going to need a variety of shipping containers, so see whether there are any gaps in your supply. Here are two additional tips: (1) because most shippers charge by dimension as well as weight, try to pack things in as small a container as is safe, and (2) the advice you’ve probably heard a lot before still holds: For packages under a pound or so, USPS is usually the best option.

4. Don’t Forget Your Ecommerce Platforms

The best Ecommerce builders like Wix, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Squarespace can often provide solid advice on the most efficient ways to charge for shipping, depending on the kind of items you sell and whether they differ a great deal in size. After all, if you’re doing well, then these software vendors are doing well, too. 

If you don’t use this type of platform or shipping software, it may be time to consider them. Just be sure to find a solution that integrates well with the shippers you’re likely to use and your style of working. You should also make sure that whatever you use can scale up as your business increases and that it gives you the data you need to plan for future domination. The software should also provide a demo period, so that you can see if it really does work right for you.

Read the full Wix review

5. Stay Flexible on Labor

No one could have been prepared for the coronavirus pandemic. It forced so many companies to become more flexible and leaner with shipping. For many businesses, the orders came in like it was the Christmas season, but without any time to prepare for the crazy-high volumes. At the same time, it underlined how essential it was to be ready for demand to fluctuate. Although holidays and most other peak demand times are thankfully more predictable, it pays to have backup systems and redundancy built into your shipping policies. These systems may cost more upfront, but if they also help you retain customers and their goodwill, they will likely pay off over the long haul. 

6. Consider Farming Out Fulfillment

Depending on the size of your company and other priorities, having a third party handle your fulfillment (shipping, inventory management, packaging, returns, etc.) may be a good option for at least some of your sales. Amazon, Walmart, and FedEx all do fulfillment, but there are lots of other options, and all of them are looking for your business. In general, many third-party fulfillers work best for relatively small items, and you’ll need to keep a vigilant eye on fees. But if you’re running out of room to store your inventory and shipping materials, and wondering how you’ll get shipping times down any more, this could be a powerful way to solve several problems at once. Be sure to think about where exactly the fulfillment center is located: You’ll want it fairly close to your customers. 

The Benefits of a Shipping Assessment 

Shipping can have a big impact on your costs. Taking the time to review and improve your shipping processes will help boost your online store’s bottom line.

John Rambow
John Rambow is a writer and editor in New York City.