eCommerce Shipping Solutions & Best Practices: Your Complete Guide
So, you’ve made the decision to set up your online store—congratulations! eCommerce has shown consistent growth over the past decade, more than doubling its percentage of total retail sales. As eCommerce continues to grow, having the ability to service customers in a seamless and efficient way will be a key differentiator for any online store.
Whether you’re an established business looking to take operations online to better serve your customers, or are just getting started, there’s one area you’ll need to start thinking about that is central to the entire operation: shipping.
Some might see shipping as merely a tactical piece of the eCommerce process, with both businesses and consumers looking to each other to foot the bill. But that shouldn’t—and doesn’t have to—be the case.
Shipping is your business’s opportunity to—literally—deliver the final act of an amazing customer experience.
Think about it, you’ve done all the hard work to develop or feature an amazing product, drive people to your site, provide an excellent shopping experience and get them to the checkout page in a purposeful way. So, why stop there?
You now have the opportunity to wow them even further with a shipping experience that is efficient and unexpected at once. Think about this as taking the concept of customer service to its highest degree. We will get into the dynamics of this further into this article. But, starting out with the right philosophy around the importance of shipping as part of your overall brand experience is key.
How to Ship Products to Your Customers
As you read through this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to set up shipping for your online store. Simply follow these 7 steps:
Define Your Shipping Guidelines
Acquire a Shipping Software Solution
Understand Shipping Options and Calculate Shipping Costs
Choose the Right Packaging
Explore Printer Options
Consider Shipping Insurance
Handle Post-Purchase Communications
01. Define Your Shipping Guidelines
It’s important to establish clearly defined shipping guidelines so that you have a foundation in place in the event customer questions or queries come up. As both shipping cost and shipping speed can be determining factors in the minds of consumers on whether or not to shop with you, having a central place where they can find this info on your site is very important.
How do you define your guidelines? The right guidelines are the ones that work best for your customers and your business.
Charging or Not Charging For Shipping Products
There are three main ways to approach how to charge—or not charge—for shipping.
Today’s eCommerce customer has come to expect it, in large part due to the runaway success of Amazon Prime. But for many businesses, this can be a tough call. One way to offer free shipping is to fold the shipping cost into the product’s price. To do this properly, you’ll need to figure out what the average cost of shipping is per order, and adjust pricing accordingly.
If you sell expensive items, free shipping can be a nice incentive for shoppers to buy more, and you may see a direct benefit from increased orders. But, if you offer it on smaller, less-expensive items, the shipping cost alone could outweigh the cost of the item.
If you are not in the position to be able to offer free shipping, you may want to consider a minimum threshold that a customer must surpass before they receive free shipping, as in, “A minimum purchase of $25 earns complimentary shipping.”
This way, while you pay for shipping, you’re helping to drive an increase in your average order value. You can also offer incentives like the inclusion of a featured product into the order that will qualify the entire order for free shipping (hint: if you have old stock lying around, this is one way to help move it).
Another way to utilize free shipping to your advantage is by offering it as an incentive, or as part of a rewards program. The possibilities are many—you can offer occasional promo codes for free shipping based upon spending thresholds, provide them as seasonal promotions, or offer them as part of a bounce-back once customers have made an initial purchase, just to name a few.
While there may be some upfront costs in maintaining a policy of free shipping, consumers have come to expect it or at the very least, are highly incentivized by it. So much so, that 48% of shoppers will place additional items to a cart if it qualifies them for free shipping.
Charging a Flat Rate
Just like the name implies, this is where you’d have a singular fixed rate to cover shipping costs for orders that fall within a certain weight or value. With this method, customers may feel relieved to see a flat price, as opposed to waiting for the late stages of checkout to find a variable rate.
Variable Shipping Rates
This is where the shipping fees you charge are based on the actual carrier rates at the time. Variables can include: dimensions, weight, destination, and timing (as in, how quickly the item is needed).
While online businesses will often openly advertise free or flat-rate shipping up front, the variable approach will not show up until the customer is in the checkout process and has entered their zip code, at which time, the system will calculate shipping costs based on the above variables.
Where Will You Ship To?
Are you planning on shipping only within the continental United States? Do you plan on shipping abroad? How about military bases? These aspects should be clearly communicated on your site so that your customers can make informed decisions upfront.
Different customers have different needs. Be sure to list the services you offer to help guide them through their choices including:
Deciding which carriers to work with is also an important aspect of your shipping program. Globally, there are hundreds of carriers to choose from, so making a selection may feel overwhelming (and this is where having a shipping software solution such as Shippo’s can really come in handy).
The United States Post Office (USPS) can be a very economical and convenient solution for small businesses—and is often the carrier of choice for startups. Think about it, USPS letter carriers are everywhere, delivering to every address in the country, rain or shine, six days a week.
Since USPS already travels these routes daily, your customers—no matter how remote they are—will be serviced efficiently. Once you’ve packed your items and printed your labels, you can also easily schedule pickups, saving you more time and potential costs. And since USPS already delivers on Saturdays, there is no extra fee to do so, whereas some private carriers do impose fees. For smaller and lightweight packages sent to residential addresses, it is an especially good option. While your shipping software should be able to calculate the best rates for your business, you can also get instant estimates by using an online shipping calculator for USPS.
Other carriers such as UPS and FedEx also bring their own expertise and benefits. UPS is often a great option when it comes to shipping heavier items, and is known for having excellent ground service. FedEx has a reputation for its strong tracking capabilities, and is often seen as a strong option for shipping heavier items fast to both domestic and international destinations.
Regional carriers such as OnTrac or Lone Star Overnight can also be viable options for saving costs when shipping locally or shorter distances.
02. Acquire a Shipping Software Solution
So now that you’ve nailed down your shipping guidelines, it’s time to set up your shipping process, which will be made a thousand times easier by using a shipping software solution. Having the right program on hand will help you save time, money, and ultimately, enable a more efficient shipping process.
A shipping software solution such as Shippo’s will allow you to streamline and automate several shipping-related tasks as well as manage communications at various customer touchpoints.
For businesses that want to get started right away, you can easily link the Shippo app to your Wix online store from the App Market, open an account, enter some basic info, sync your orders and create your first shipping label. Shippo’s software also allows you to automate many of these tasks and customize your needs as your business grows.
All carrier interactions are standardized, which makes it easy for businesses to:
Compare carrier rates
Get timing estimates
Print labels and packing slips
Schedule pickups (for USPS and DHL Express)
Get on-demand tracking status
Send customer notifications with shipment updates
Streamline returns with scan-based labels and tracking
As mentioned at the start of this article, shipping is a vital part of the overall customer experience. And one of the most important ways of forging and maintaining great customer relationships is by providing clear and accurate communications at every stage of the shopping experience.
03. Understand Shipping Options and Calculate Shipping Costs
Having a shipping software solution will greatly simplify the selection of shipping options. But, here are some popular options to keep in mind.
USPS First Class
For packages weighing less than 13 ounces, this can be a good way to go. Note: Maximum dimensions will apply.
22 inches x 18 inches x 15 inches
USPS Priority Mail
For packages weighing over a pound, this would be your next option. There are two main types:
Priority Mail Express, which delivers 7 days a week.
Priority Mail, which delivers in 1-3 days for domestic delivery with a flat rate option.
USPS Cubic Pricing
If the package is small to moderately sized, is below 20 pounds and each side measures below 18 inches, then you may be able to qualify for USPS’s Cubic Pricing .
Cubic Pricing factors in the size and distance traveled as opposed to the package’s weight. So, even if your package is fairly heavy but small enough in size, you could qualify for the program and save as much as 90% off retail rates.
The catch? Traditionally, the program has only been available for retailers with more than 50,000 monthly shipments. The good news is that as a Shippo user, you’d get to take advantage of these excellent rates without the high shipping volume requirement.
Flat Rate Shipping
Flat rate shipping is an option offered by several carriers, and happens to be one of most popular services offered by USPS. When you use the service through USPS, you are also utilizing its Priority Mail service, hence the name, USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate as listed on the box. These shipping boxes can be picked up free or charge, and even ordered from USPS. The beauty of the service is that if your items fit in the box, you pay one flat rate. This includes weights up to 70 pounds and shipping to any state in the US—within three days. Done. It’s one of the most cost-effective shipping options available if your package weighs more than 20 pounds.
FedEx One Rate offers branded packaging ranging from envelopes to extra-large boxes and tubes at no cost. Limits for boxes are 50 pounds, and 10 pounds for envelopes. Delivery ranges between 1-3 days and are priced differently by package size.
The UPS Simple Rate service allows you to use your own packaging. The way they handle it is by having the sender measure their packages, calculate cubic inches, then categorized by:
Extra small: 1-100
Extra Large: 1,051-1,728
The maximum weight allowed is 50 pounds and the packages can be sent to all 50 states. Depending upon the size, weight and service selected, the time in transit can vary from 1-5 days.
04. Choose the Right Packaging
There’s far more to packaging than just the utilitarian aspects of getting your customers’ orders from point A to Z. You should think of your shipping packaging as an extension of your brand. But first, as you’re putting your shipping program together, it’s important to choose packaging that will ensure your items arrive safely and securely to their destination.
In fact, 58% of shoppers stated that a damaged package would negatively impact their buying decision. Receiving a damaged package in the mail can be disappointing and frustrating, especially when someone has really been looking forward to receiving it. It can also negatively affect the unboxing experience, which for some is akin to a religious experience and is the topic of countless YouTube videos.
In selecting your packaging, think about what fits your products best. If you sell delicate or fragile items, you’ll need packaging that can accommodate the delicate nature and withstand a long journey. But, you also need to look at the types of packaging that will help you save money on shipping.
While some may have the inclination to pack their items in the smallest packaging possible to conserve space and save money, you’ll definitely need to take the fragility of the items into account first. If your items are not fragile, then padded envelopes and poly mailers can help you save on weight and space on delivery trucks, as opposed to cardboard boxes.
Protecting From Within
There’s almost nothing more disappointing than receiving that highly anticipated order and finding the contents damaged inside. While ultimately, you want to try and keep your packages as light as possible, skimping on packaging materials will most definitely cost you more in the long run—in time, returns, and replacements. The protective packaging inside should be tailored to specific items. If you sell lightweight, somewhat sturdy items, then tissue and peanuts may be just fine. For more delicate items, consider materials such as:
All of these reinforcements will help prevent the items from shifting inside the box, and ensure a safer delivery experience.
Using Free Carrier Packaging
If you’re unsure about packaging or need something in a hurry, one convenient option is to utilize branded carrier packaging. Some of the top carriers—including USPS, FedEx Express and UPS—offer various shipping supplies free of charge. You can generally pick up free packing materials from carrier locations, or order them.
Your packaging should be seen as an extension of your brand’s story—and as a pivotal part of your customers’ overall experience. Gain inspiration from other business’ eCommerce packaging ideas to create custom-designed boxes, envelopes and related items to exceed expectations, and reinforce your brand’s reputation at the same time. Every classic brand has one thing in common—a highly identifiable outward identity.
Whether it’s Apple , Coca-Cola, McDonald’s or IKEA, when you see the logos, type treatments or packaging, it evokes certain feelings that transcend the transactional—these brands have forged emotional connections with their customers.
You, too, can start building deeper connections with customers by treating them to a more branded and customized experience. The goal is, over time to forge similar feelings of anticipation or excitement when your customers see one of your packages on their porch.
Here are a few packaging ideas to explore:
Custom packages: Adding your brand’s unique touch—such as a logo, distinctive shape or providing a clever or different way of opening the package will help forge a lasting impression.
Custom stickers, tape, or messaging: Branded stickers, colorful accents, or specific brand messaging that can also add some extra style and charm to your packaging. This approach can also be useful in the event that you want to change things up for the holidays or other retail moments.
Wrapping materials: After you’ve decided which direction to go with the external packaging, it’s time to think about what’s on the inside. To continue the brand experience during the unboxing of your special items, consider tissue to match your brand color scheme, craft paper tied with ribbon, or even special seals with your logo.
A personal touch: Taking a personalized approach to packing and preparing your packages will go a long way in showing your customers how much you value them. Enclosing a handwritten note or card is a thoughtful way to show your appreciation. For repeat customers, including a small unexpected token or gift is also a nice touch.
05. Explore Printer Options
Printers for eCommerce shipping and corresponding labels tend to fall into three main categories. Depending upon your shipping volume, you’ll want to take cost and maintenance into account.
Printer categories include:
Inkjet printers offer inexpensive printing onto paper and label sheets.
Laser printers offer the same printing options as inkjet printers, but with significant quality upgrades. The print quality is noticeably better, but you’ll pay a lot of more for the printer, plus toner/ink refills
Thermal printers print directly onto shipping labels that come on rolls. If you ship in higher volumes, thermal printers would be your best choice as they print fast, can print high quantities for labels at a time, do not need toner refills, and take up very little space.
06. Consider Shipping Insurance
You’ve put a lot of time and effort into the products you offer, and have come up with creative ways to save money on shipping, while building your brand in the process.
To help ensure all goes well, there’s another piece to the process you should consider, in the event that things happen beyond your control. For higher-value items, shipping insurance could come in very handy. Think about it, one loss or damaged item could set you back some serious cash. You may have to issue a refund for the loss of the original shipment, plus pay the cost for return shipping on a replacement.
FedEx and UPS will automatically insure up to $100 against damage or loss on domestic shipments. USPS offers $100 of coverage on some of its expedited services such as Priority Mail Express and Priority Mail Express International.
If the value of your shipment exceeds $100, you will want to look into additional coverage at an extra fee—from the carriers or a third-party insurance company. Note: You can easily set all of this up through Shippo, as you’re processing your shipments.
07. Handle Post-Purchase Communications
Once your packages have been wrapped meticulously, shipped, and sent, there are still ways to connect with your shoppers on a personal level, to help ensure you’re delivering top customer service.
If you’ve integrated your online store with Shippo, you can stay on top of the post-purchase experience by using the following tools:
Send email status updates: Keep your customers informed. Let them know how much value you’ve placed in the transaction.
Track packages: Easily pinpoint where things are.
Confirm delivery: Verify that your packages arrive safe and sound.
Automate returns: Include a scan-based return label that you only pay for if it gets used.
While it may seem like a lot to take in, setting up your shipping program shouldn’t be too difficult. Once you’ve got your program guidelines or policy in place, the rest of the process will begin to take shape. You can always adjust as you go, and having a software solution such as Shippo’s will allow you to easily scale as your business grows—so you can offer the best customer service possible, and save money in the process. Best of all, getting started is easy.
Ready to start selling? Create your online store today!
Shippo Content Lead
Jim Kazliner is Shippo's Content Lead and Editor-in-Chief. His background spans business, retail, financial, and automotive sectors, as well as music and film journalism. When not spinning yarns on his long-suffering laptop, you’ll find him collecting vintage vinyl and obscure BMX bike parts.