If you want your online shop to thrive, it’s imperative to abide by eCommerce shipping best practices. A smooth shipping experience is at the heart of eCommerce. If a customer doesn’t receive their items in an easy or timely manner, they may end up leaving negative reviews and discourage other customers from doing business with you in the future.
In this post, we explore some of the top eCommerce shipping best practices so you can improve your eCommerce business processes and overall customer satisfaction levels.
Variety in Shipping Methods
Every eCommerce store must make a decision as to whether or not they will charge a shipping fee when a customer makes a purchase. But the choice isn’t as simple as merely charging for shipping or not; it involves offering customers a variety of options as well as understanding how different cost models can impact your eCommerce business. First, let’s take a look at the different types of shipping options that are available then explore the ways in which a shop can handle shipping costs.
Types of Shipping Options
Offering a variety of shipping methods is essential to eCommerce shops that want to differentiate themselves from competitors and provide a great Customer Experience (CX). eCommerce shipping best practices acknowledge this need and call for businesses to not only offer a range of shipment options to customers, but also place a certain degree of control on customers to choose upgraded shipping methods, should they desire.
Below are a few of the most common types of shipping methods US-based eCommerce stores can offer their customers:
- First Class Mail: The most traditional shipping method, First Class Mail, is the most cost-effective and best for smaller items.
- Priority Mail: Faster than First Class Mail and usually accommodates items up to 70 lbs.
- Expedited Shipping: This includes two-day or overnight shipping and is more expensive due to the faster delivery times.
- Drop Shipping: This option is for eCommerce shops that don’t keep their items in stock. Instead, items are ordered from a 3rd party company, which assumes responsibility for shipping.
Types of Shipping Rates: To Charge or Not to Charge?
The ultimate shipping question for eCommerce businesses often boils down to shipping rates and who should be responsible for them. There are several kinds of shipping fees and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. It’s important to carefully evaluate each option because the choice you make regarding shipping rates can affect overall customer satisfaction. Let’s explore them further.
eCommerce stores can choose to charge shipping costs based on the specific item that was purchased. With this cost method, the price of shipping is entirely dependent on the size and weight of the item.
Pros: Sellers don’t spend any money on shipping and consumers spend the fair market value of shipping for the item they purchased.
Cons: The consumer takes on the cost of shipping. If the item is one that can be found elsewhere, there is no customer incentive to purchase it at your eCommerce store when they might find cheaper shipping options elsewhere.
If you opt for item-specific shipping rates, make sure that the shipping fee is carefully and fairly calculated.
Flat Shipping Rates
Flat shipping is a popular shipping method. With this model, shipping costs are fixed, regardless of the item size or weight.
Pros: Stores choose a shipping price they are comfortable with and shipping fees are regulated. They will never have to worry about keeping track of fluctuating shipping costs. Consumers can also have peace of mind knowing they will always pay a fixed price to have their items delivered. They may also purchase multiple items and save on shipping whereas, with item-specific shipping, they would have to pay individual shipping fees. This encourages customers to purchase more items in a single shopping session.
Cons: eCommerce stores may lose money when shipping larger or heavier items and multiple individual sales, but these types of losses can be minimized when customers make multiple purchases at the same time.
Companies can add expected shipping fees as part of their overall item price to reduce any ambiguity for both themselves and their customers.
Pros: Many customers are accustomed to low or non-existent shipping fees when purchasing items from online retailers and eCommerce shops, so this is a workaround for companies that don’t want to lose money by having to cover the cost of shipping themselves, but also want to keep customers happy.
Cons: For this to work, companies should research market pricing for similar items and keep the inflation price to a minimum.
eCommerce shipping best practices recommend free shipping, but it’s understandable that some shops may be hesitant to do so. Mostly because, from a company perspective, the costs of shipping will be paid for by the company. Still, free shipping offers several benefits for both companies and customers. Here are some of the pros and cons to this method.
Pros: With free shipping, eCommerce stores forgo shipping rates altogether (including incorporating shipping fees into the item price), which would definitely increase customer appeal. Customers are searching for the best deal possible, and are much more likely to purchase goods and services from stores that don’t charge shipping fees.
Cons: Your company will have to eat up shipping costs. This may or may not work, depending on the types of items being sold and the delivery location. More expensive items tend to pay for themselves, so forgoing shipping fees may not be that detrimental to a company’s profits. However, brick-and-mortar shops or individuals selling on an online or mobile marketplace who don’t ship a large volume of items may end up losing revenue in the long run with this model.
It’s up to you to determine what is most important: losing a few dollars in shipping costs or losing customer satisfaction ratings and potential recommendations for additional business.
Regardless of the shipping option you choose, you can also give customers the choice to pay extra for faster shipping.
Pros: This is especially beneficial when customers need an item within a specific timeframe, such as for a birthday, anniversary, or holiday. This way, the extra cost lies on the customers instead of on your business, plus gives customers a sense of security and control on how and when their items will be delivered.
Cons: There aren’t really any cons with upgraded shipping because it’s an add-on feature that customers themselves can choose and be responsible for. It ends up being a win-win for everyone involved in the transaction and gives customers full control over the extra costs they choose to incur.
Transparency with Shipping Policies
Although the cost of shipping can influence a shopper’s decisions, customer satisfaction is a bit more complex than that. It’s not so much a question of whether an eCommerce business should impose a fee or not as it is about how transparent they are about their overall shipping policies.
Being upfront about shipping policies is one of the most important eCommerce shipping best practices. After all, one of the worst experiences for a customer is finding out they were charged an unexpected fee AFTER making the purchase or realizing they are not satisfied with the item but can’t return it.
Regardless of whether you charge or not, it’s imperative that you always make any and all shipping policies extremely clear prior to and during the checkout process. Provide an accurate shipping fee upfront, expected delivery times, and the timeline to return items (or if item return is not an option). This way, the customer won’t get any unwanted surprises that may negatively affect their shopping experience, and in turn, their chances of returning to your store to shop.
Provide Tracking Numbers
Most types of shipping methods provide the option to include tracking numbers so that both shops and customers can follow the item from the moment of departure through order fulfillment. If tracking isn’t automatically offered, eCommerce shops can pay a minimal fee to include it (usually no more than a few dollars) or they can opt for delivery receipts.
This minor cost can go a long way toward improving customer satisfaction ratings and is considered among the best eCommerce shipping best practices. By providing a tracking number, you can keep customers updated as to where exactly their items are during transit and when they can expect to receive them.
Stay on Top of Shipments
It’s not enough to simply offer a tracking number and wipe your hands clean of the delivery; as a seller, eCommerce shipping best practices recommend you to stay on top of deliveries throughout the entire shipping process.
Communication is key when it comes to eCommerce transactions, so it’s important to track orders and report delays or other shipment issues to the customer as soon as possible. It’s also up to you as a seller to ensure customer information was entered correctly and to check with carriers to see when items will arrive and what might be causing a delay.
Customers are much more likely to be understanding and accept these kinds of complications if you are forthcoming about them. This shows your customers that you care about their needs and overall shopping experience, and especially, that you value their business and want them to have as smooth of a transaction as possible.
Resolve Shipping Issues and Follow Up with Customers After Delivery
By staying on top of shipments, you’ll also be able to take quick action should the item be lost or damaged during transit. Follow up with your customers the moment the item arrives to confirm the shipment got there within the expected timeframe and that it was delivered to their satisfaction. These can be done using software automation tools like Python.
Should the item be delivered in a subpar condition (broken, missing components, or the wrong item altogether), offer the customer a choice of either a replacement item shipped free of charge or their money back. These may seem like minor details, but to a customer, these actions show that you are serious about your business and their shopping experience.
Remain Up-to-Date with Your Shipping Software
Technology is ever-evolving, and your shipping software is no exception. There are a variety of shipping software options available to eCommerce businesses, and the choice you make as far as software goes should be based on the types of items you sell and how often you ship.
Some of the top shipping software options include Shippo, Shipping Easy, ShipStation, Freight Club (great for larger items), and more. If your eCommerce shop is integrated with Shopify Plus, we definitely recommend taking advantage of their platform to its fullest, as Shopify will handle all the details of your transaction for you, from payment processing, to order fulfillment, to shipping.
eCommerce Shipping Best Practices Summed Up
In sum, staying on top of your shipments throughout the entire process and remaining transparent about your shipping policies will help to boost your customer satisfaction ratings and encourage shoppers to not only remain loyal but recommend your eCommerce store to friends and family. The more you remain aware of your customers’ needs and try to fulfill them through a powerful Customer Experience, the more you’ll attract new business opportunities and stay ahead of the competition.