After the excitement of marketing your products to customers and convincing them to make a purchase, the shipping process can get overlooked by small businesses. This can lead to various issues, from long delivery times and unsuitable packaging to products going missing and dissatisfied customers. By taking the time to plan your shipping process thoroughly, you can improve how it works, making it more streamlined for you and your product buyers.
As a small business, the resources available when shipping products are different from larger enterprises. Rather than being able to delegate someone to the process, it’s likely you’ll be managing to ship alongside your business call recording, product designing, and marketing campaigns. To make this easier for you, your shipping needs to be streamlined. In this article, we have some tips on how you can do this.
What is Small Business Shipping?
Shipping involves all the steps that happen after an order has been made, taking your product from your warehouse or storage and delivering it to the customer. This can be more complex than anticipated, having to navigate postage costs, delivery services, and appropriately packaging your item. For small businesses, this challenge is added due to the smaller team of staff used to manage and implement the shipping process.
Whereas larger enterprises may invest in specialised shipping services or have dedicated teams for it, small business shipping can require more planning and reliance on external companies and OMS systems. These allow small businesses to ship their products further afield, extending their commerce beyond the local area. However, it takes some learning to use these services effectively and work out what they can do for your business.
Stages of Shipping
There are some key stages involved in the shipping process that help to transport your products from you to the customer. Within these stages, there are various tasks to complete, which can be done in whatever way suits your business. For businesses new to shipping, being aware of the following stages can help you to streamline these, making them as simple and efficient as possible. These stages include:
- Placing the order: This step is mainly completed by your customer paying for your product, although your checkout process starts to gather information necessary for shipping.
- Packaging: Once the order is placed, the products need to be carefully packaged to prevent damage during shipping. How you package your products can also affect the shipping costs.
- Postage: Small businesses usually use shipping services to complete the postage stage, dropping the packages off or collecting them. Different services have various rates and shipping options available.
- Delivery: Your product arriving with your customer completes the shipping journey. This should happen within a suitable timescale to keep your customer satisfied, delivering the product intact.
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1. Set Out Your Returns Policy
Giving customers information about your returns policy upfront can be useful to those who aren’t sure about your products. Likewise, providing cancellation information can help customers who want to cancel their orders sooner. Having a clear policy and making your free virtual phone number available to customers can build trust, making them more willing to try your products.
Of course, you don’t want your customers to be constantly returning your products, as this suggests something wrong with the item itself. However, sneaking additional customer costs into returns or cancellations can make customers feel misled. In both situations, having a visible policy improves your relationship with the customer by admitting any costs or limitations from the start.
2. Anticipate Delivery Time
Although it would be great to deliver all packages the next day, for small businesses, this isn’t always possible. On your ecommerce web pages and at the checkout, remind customers of the expected delivery time. It’s better to overestimate how long it will take, as customers will adapt to the timings you give them and this can give you a couple of extra days as a leeway in case of unforeseen delivery circumstances.
However, if there’s a major delay in your supply chain that will significantly disrupt delivery times, use the customer support feature on your ecommerce platform to contact customers to make them aware of the delay to their order.
Accurately anticipating delivery times improves your ecommerce customer satisfaction and saves you time, as you won’t receive unhappy emails from customers chasing up their parcels. Also, if your shipping provider gives updates on where your packages are, share these with customers. This reassures them that their delivery is coming, reducing the hassle they give you.
3. Research Shipping Companies
There are many shipping companies available, each with different services, prices, and timings. Depending on what packages you’re sending and the delivery features you need, there may be specific shipping companies that suit your needs. For example, if you prioritise a flat rate for standard box sizes, the company you choose may differ from services that provide good ecommerce shipping insurance deals.
Also, some services may provide packaging and printing shipping labels for your business. This can add to the cost-effectiveness of some services and reduce the work needed to source suitable packaging. The right option for your small business may be a combination of companies, using a particular service for some packages whilst using another for larger items or when shipping abroad.
4. Get Your Packaging Ready
How you package your products can make the difference between them arriving in one piece or be easily damaged throughout the delivery process, costing your business money. Look into the variety of packaging options, including recyclable packaging, finding sturdy boxes as well as cushioning materials and strong tape. Choosing the cheapest option probably won’t be the best, instead putting your package and customer relationship at risk.
Ensure your boxes or mailers fit your products well. Too big, and you’re going to be wasting cushioning materials and delivery costs. Too small, and the package may rip, dent, or break. If you choose to use custom packaging, check the measurements will fit your products and common product combinations, as well as meet the size restrictions for your delivery service.
5. Make Bulk Purchases
Once you’re familiar with what you need to package your products, bulk order the materials. As a small business, it can seem optimistic to make large orders of packaging materials, however, you will need them in the long term. Bulk orders often get better deals and discounts, saving you money and ensuring you always have the materials ready to go as soon as a new order comes in. This also saves the hassle of remembering which dimensions or items you used previously
Where possible, use bulk shipping discounts to reduce the costs of delivery for your business. This may depend on the number of orders you receive, so encourage customers to make larger purchases through sales and promotions. Using free shipping can also act as an incentive, making customers buy more items that can then be bulk delivered, saving both of you money.
6. Automate the Process
Shipping and delivery software can automate the process and make it simpler for you to manage. This takes you through the steps of your shipping, ensuring you stay up-to-date with new orders and integrate with your unified communication service. As your small business gets more orders, this makes it easy to see them at a glance and track them within the shipping process.
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Some shipping automation software also looks for the best delivery deals without you having to spend time researching different companies. By knowing your delivery requirements, the appropriate options can be sourced and suggested to you. Meanwhile, you have more time to spend on other areas of your small business, minimising the input demanded of you.
7. Use Fulfillment Services
Alternatively, as your small business takes off and has more budget for shipping costs, using a fulfilment service can take the process off your hands. Outsourcing your shipping means all the tasks involved with packaging, posting and delivering are taken care of by another company that specialises in this area. This allows you to focus on running a successful marketplace store.
Fulfilment services cost money, so it’s your decision whether this is a good investment for your small business. However, these services are often able to find better shipping deals and offer you discounts depending on how many packages you want to ship. They can also store your products in multiple warehouses, making it easier and cheaper to distribute them further afield.
How Streamlined is Your Small Business Shipping?
Even if you’ve been shipping orders for your small business for a while, it’s good practice to review your shipping process and ensure it’s as streamlined as possible. This can highlight new options available to you, system integration software that could help, and check you’re getting a good deal with your delivery company. If you don’t plan your shipping process, you’ll likely make it more complex than it needs to be.
Try out some of our tips to see if your shipping process could be more streamlined, freeing up your time and resources to focus on other areas of your small business. What works for your business and products may differ, and as you get used to managing your shipping, you may notice other ways of streamlining the tasks involved. The important thing is that it should suit your business and help make managing easier.