Shipping is the final stage of e-commerce fulfillment, and it’s an important one: Your customer is far more likely to remember whether your startup business got your product to her quickly, and in one piece, than to recall exactly how your shopping cart works.
So like other parts of your infrastructure, speedy and dependable shipping can be a great boon to how customers perceive your startup business – or a big negative.
Here are four tips to turn shipping into a positive for your business:
- Choose your partners wisely
- Pack it up
- Watch those bills
- Consider outsourcing
Choose your partners wisely
The United States Postal Service is an obvious option, and most e-tailers use the good old USPS for at least some of their shipping needs. “I have a mailbox right across the street from me,” says Ken Weinstein, co-owner of the Numero Group, a compact-disc label out of Chicago which collects and reissues obscure but high-quality music in a variety of genres. “So, for single CD shipments, I can drop them in the box every day.”
United Parcel Service (UPS) is another familiar shipping choice. You can easily schedule parcel pickups online, or you can take your packages to their shipping depots. Typically, there are locations of The UPS Store nearby, making them a convenient option. If you anticipate a large amount of business, you can get the deluxe treatment. “We have a UPS representative,” says Sam Meyer, who runs, along with his father, Gary Meyer, Fog Hollow, one of the nation’s largest mail-order suppliers of new and used motorcycle parts. “He works with us to make sure our packages get handled in the best manner possible.” Just contact UPS and ask if you qualify for your own rep.
Of course, there are other options – Federal Express, DHL, and others. It’s usually better to have at least two shipping partners, as your customers may prefer one over another.
Pack it up
No matter what you are shipping, you’re going to find yourself looking for packing materials. Office-supply companies will sell you what you need – mailing envelopes, boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, labels, and so on. But there are ways to save a little money in this department.
“We do a lot of recycling,” says Weinstein. “We cut down all the old boxes we get to use as mailing flats. We re-use old mailers and boxes when we can.”
Meyer recommends scouring the internet for bargains. “We found a company that had thousands of boxes for sale very cheap,” he says. “It turns out that when they printed boxes for Tide detergent, they spelled Tide wrong, and they had to get rid of them.”
Watch those bills
The big shipping companies deliver millions of packages, and it’s entirely plausible that they’ll make mistakes now and again. “I make sure to read all my shipping bills very carefully,” says Weinstein. “I’ve been charged shipping fees for days when there were no pick-ups, or I’ve found out that packages weren’t delivered overnight when I was paying for them to get there right away. You can fight your bills, and that can add up to big savings.”
At first, you’ll be excited to ship every package, because this business is your baby, and you want to be involved with everything. But as your business grows, you may find it worth your while to use a third party for your shipping needs. “When you finally create significant demand for your goods, then you’ve got a significant supply problem,” says Joel Bush, CEO of Amplifier.com, a company that handles inventory storage and shipping for 200 clients in a wide variety of businesses. “Even at small order volumes, shipping orders gets tedious.”
Amplifier.com – as well as other companies like it -- will store your inventory, pick your orders, pack them, and ship them, and make it look as if it all came straight from your door. “Amplifier can manage fulfillment better than individual customers can because of our experience, systems, scale, and lower supply costs,” says Bush. The cost varies according to what your product is, and how many orders you receive, but it becomes a nominal fee for each piece you sell, and can be passed on to the customers as handling charges.
Our Bottom Line
In an online startup business, product delivery is the most important aspect of your relationship with customers. Consider your options carefully, and give your customers choices. And look for ways to save your company money short-term and long-term, possibly including outsourcing.