Google “e-commerce tips” and you’ll get endless pages of great advice on how to leverage content marketing, social media, conversion rate optimization, user experience design and lots of other techniques to sell more stuff. Unfortunately, these articles commonly omit advice on one of the most important e-commerce business-building disciplines: shipping.
Shipping makes everything you do tangible to your customers, and is without question the primary business function that puts the products you sell into customers’ hands. It’s also something that can have a huge impact on customers’ behavior. According to VWO’s Cart Abandonment Report, unexpected shipping costs are U.S. consumers’ top reason for cart abandonment.
The first step in building e-commerce operations for retail success is to look at the capabilities you want to offer, and then at the systems and services that will enable them.
Your shipping operation is at the center of your store’s “back office,” and can support a range of capabilities as broad and diverse as your customer-facing website. Some critical capabilities to consider in order to get the most value from your shipping operations are:
- Order management: Receiving orders from your selling platform(s), splitting and combining them, sorting and filtering them, using rules to facilitate their movement through your pick/pack/ship process, reporting on them, and managing any returns are all core functions of a shipping platform.
- Inventory management: A good shipping platform can help you manage inventory to reduce the risk of stock-outs, as well as automate the sending of purchase orders and supplier management.
- Stores and fulfillment locations: If you sell on multiple websites and/or fulfill from multiple locations, the right shipping platform can help manage this complexity.
- Shipping option support: Odds are you offer customers options like expedited delivery, delivery to multiple addresses, choice of carrier and international shipping. Your shipping platform needs to support these options and may provide access to discounted shipping and insurance rates, which will save you and your customers money.
- Email marketing and campaign management: Your shipping platform contains incredibly valuable information on customer behavior that can be leveraged in targeted campaigns that will have a direct impact on sales.
- Label and packing list generation: Your shipping platform needs to support the process you use for generating pick and pack slips and shipping labels.
Systems and Services
Once you understand the capabilities you want to support, it’s time to evaluate the systems and services you use to enable them, which include:
- Software: Think about what kinds of e-commerce stores best serve your business goals, and be sure your shipping platform will integrate with each of them. If you use separate order, customer and/or inventory management software, you’ll want seamless integration between them and your shipping platform.
- Hardware: Fast, reliable printers with low operating costs will become more critical to your operation as you grow. Accurate, durable, USB-connected shipping scales are important, especially if you weigh every order (vs. calculate package weight based on stored values). And if you really want to automate, barcode scanners can help streamline and increase the accuracy of the pick/pack/ship process.
- Services: A good shipping platform will support all major carriers, and may even help you qualify for discounted rates. You also may be able to negotiate your own discounts with private carriers like UPS and FedEx. If you're shipping high-value items, it’s worth looking into insurance providers, and if you ship internationally, you may find value in an international consolidator, such as Global Post.
Your shipping operation is as complex as it is critical to the success of your e-commerce business. If you want to take an even deeper dive into how to get your shipping right, check out ShippingEasy’s Definitive Guide to E-Commerce Shipping.
Katie May is the CEO of ShippingEasy, an online shipping software that saves retailers money through discounted shipping rates.