Effective Shipping Management for Your Online Store

Managing your shipping processes well is critical to the happiness of your customers and ultimately your profit and growth. Most shopping carts offer at least basic functioning for shipping out products. Basic may be fine for a brand new store, but you’ll quickly outgrow it. Fortunately there are great software options that make effective shipping management for your online store more accurate, faster and often save you money. Thus we typically recommend these two programs depending upon the needs of the specific store. Note these programs are compatible with BigCommerce, Shopify, WooCommerce and Magento. They may also work with other carts as well.

Online store shipping consists of two different functions

The first function of shipping is the customer facing front-end. In other words, charging the customer the correct price. There are many ways to set up shipping and how you do it should match the needs of your customer and business. Your cart needs to reflect your shipping options accurately and cleanly to avoid confusion and unpleasant surprises which reduce conversion rates.

There are two parts to the shipping and fulfillment process for ecommerce

Everything ships free to everywhere

The easiest way to manage front-end shipping is to offer all orders free to the entire world. Your shopping cart should be able to handle this natively, without the need for extra software. However this is not always a good idea for your business.

  1. If you, the merchant, are paying for shipping you have to build the true cost into the product. This means either raising your price or making less profit. Most customers love free shipping and will pay a bit more for it, but your prices still need to be competitive or your conversion rate will suffer.
  2. Shipping for drop shipped products are often paid by the supplier. This is good for you and your customer, provided the item is delivered in a timely fashion. I’ve seen stores built on drop shipping from AliExpress in China with 2-5 week delivery times. Unless you have something that is otherwise hard to get, or your prices really are the lowest out there, the long wait is not going to please your customers. Expect much lower conversion rates, cancellations, and poor reviews.

Customers want their products yesterday

Even if you choose to offer free, slow shipping (slow as in more than 5 days), it is generally a good business idea to also offer upgraded shipping methods including 3 day or USPS Priority, 2 day and overnight methods. Now configuring shipping gets more complicated. Among the options you’ll have to consider:

  • Does your store offer flat rate pricing for each service tier? Will this vary by shipping zone or country?
  • Will you calculate shipping for some methods, ie. overnight, and flat rate for others, ie. USPS Priority?
  • Do you want your cart to compute and charge using real time shipping rates from your chosen carriers?
  • Will flat rates vary by weight, shipping zone, or both?
  • If you have some products that are drop shipped for free, some you ship from your warehouse via USPS, UPS, FedEx or similar carrier, and larger items that ship freight, how will this be computed, especially on an order that contains a combination of each type of product?
  • Do you charge a handling fee, or discount shipping rates, on some or all of your products?
  • Are their residential delivery fees you need to pass on to your customer?
  • Do your shipping options, or rates, vary by customer group (such as retail versus wholesale)?

Front-end shipping, what you charge your customers, can be either very simple and managed adequately by your cart, or it can be complex. When it requires the type of details above, you need specialty software to manage it. Note as with all factors that may impact your conversion rate, it may be worth doing A/B testing to see what works best with your customers and shoppers.

ShipperHQ for front-end shipping fee management

If you have a need for complex shipping computations, ShipperHQ handles it like a true champ. ShipperHQ lets you set rules and integrate real time shipping rates for more than 30 carriers. You can set different rates and combinations for groups of products or customer groups. Your customers will be oblivious to how instantly the combined shipping is computed for their 5 item order that includes items that ship via different methods. In other words, you can provide a smooth customer experience while still ensuring you are collecting the right fees so you aren’t losing money or overcharging your customers.

Among the scenarios we’ve seen work with this software:

  • Furniture that is delivered via freight is subject to a residential surcharge of $95. Whether or not the delivery address is commercial or residential can be validated during checkout so only the correct shipping rate, with or without the surcharge, is shown. This way your residential customers are not surprised when they fail to manually select “residential delivery” because they either missed it, or chose to avoid the added fee.
  • Products that offer customers the ability to choose a delivery date or in-store pickup.
  • Stores that ship different products from different warehouses or locations.
  • Stores that offer different shipping methods for their wholesale customers than they do their retail clients.

Shipper HQ sample shipping rulesShipperHQ starts at $50 mo.

Managing your fulfillment and returns processes and shipping costs

The second function pertains to order fulfillment – how you ship your orders. Actual shipper fees are a cost of doing business that can quickly reduce your profitability if not well managed. In addition, your time, or your team’s time, is also an actual financial cost. Better management of both your actual shipping cost and the efficiency of your operations boosts your profitability.

It is really important not to understate the value of your logistics management in your value chain. In English, this means that the value you bring both your customers and your business relies on managing both shipping and returns as quickly and cost effectively as possible. If you are using a carrier website to calculate shipping costs and print labels, you are spending a lot of time on each order. When your volume is low, this may not seem like a big deal but it is. What else could you be doing with your  time to grow your store faster?

You’ll make more money if you use your time efficiently, focusing your personal time on things that generate revenue instead of handling the minutia of operational tasks.

Fulfillment is really several processes

  1. Picking and packing the order in preparation for shipment, or, placing an order with your vendor for drop ship delivery,
  2. Computing the lowest price shipping option (unless the customer selected and paid for a specific method),
  3. Paying for postage,
  4. Printing a label and attaching it to the box so it is ready for carrier pickup,
  5. Updating your shopping cart with tracking information and emailing tracking information to your customer,
  6. Accurately recording actual shipping costs, ideally attached to each order so you can better measure net profit.

As part of your logistics plan, a system for processing returns is important

BigCommerce carts have a basic return processing system built-in. Most carts do not. However, merchants often handle returns in different ways. Some companies allow customers to return for nearly any reason (within a specified time period), and having a system that gives immediate instructions and prints a return label, with or without prepaid postage, is very handy. Even if your team is handling returns manually, there is still work to both print a return label, attach that information to the right order, and return shipping costs if the merchant pays for return shipping.

ShipStation is your shipping best friend

We are so happy with the robust capabilities of ShipStation that we recommend it as a core addition to all stores we work with unless they are using an Order Management System (OMS) that has a good, built-in shipping system. In fact, ShipStation is so robust that we have worked with stores that do have OMS in place but prefer the feature set in ShipStation. Alternatively, we also like ShippingEasy for those stores that also need a basic inventory manager. The inventory manager allows you to create bundles and kits, as well as use the same inventory across multiple sales channels and websites.

In addition to managing all of the above back-end shipping functions, ShipStation makes it easy to create nice looking, branded printed invoices and emails, create pick lists and packing sheets, and even print additional branded marketing materials as box inserts. Robust analytics offers valuable insight into your business, beyond just what is spent on shipping.

Among the things easily done with ShipStation – calculate the average, actual price of a shipment to ensure your flat rates are not losing money.

Manage shipping for all your sales channels

Most businesses with online stores actually have more than one sales channel. They may have more than one website store. They may have physical locations. Perhaps they also sell on marketplaces like eBay, Amazon and Walmart. One of the advantages of ShipStation is that you can feed orders from all your channels into ShipStation for  easier fulfillment of all orders. ShipStation will even upload tracking information into each channel and notify customers that their package is on its way!

ShipStation saves you money

ShipStation can save you money, increasing the profitability of your business in several ways.

  • Quickly compare shipping rates to find the cheapest method to get the package delivered in the time frame promised.
  • Create pick lists so you can pull all your product for today’s shipment at one time.
  • As a bonus, ShipStation is owned by Stamps.com so all subscribers get corporate level, maximum discounts for USPS. These discounts can more than pay for the use of the software.
  • Import real time rates from your carriers so you know immediately what shipping is going to cost.

“Big” store features at a small store friendly price

Providing an excellent customer service experience is an absolute must for an online store. This can be hard for a smaller business to afford. Fortunately ShipStation has a lot of enterprise-level features available to its users. Among these features we really like:

  • Barcode scanning – you can scan your products off the shelves and into your shipping boxes. This can greatly reduce shipping errors and accompanying returns. It also speeds up fulfillment.
  • Beautiful, branded packing slips, invoices and emails that can include images of your products, your logo and even coupons you may want to add. They also offer the ability to create mini-catalogs or flyers as part of your packing slip to encourage customers to reorder. You can even add important info to your packing slips such as return procedures, or care instructions.
  • Basic inventory management – can clue you in on  low inventory so you can reorder before you run out.
  • Branded tracking page – your customers can click their tracking email and arrive on your private page to get an update, instead of being directed to the carrier’s site.
  • Customer-initiated return system – also branded for your store. You have access to reports to track which items are returned and why they come back – powerful information for business decisions.

ShipStation is a good fit regardless of how big or small your store may be. They offer plans as low as FREE. Paid plans start at $9 mo. It isn’t often a smaller store can get enterprise software at a price they can handle.

Effective shipping management for your online store doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive

We all start somewhere, but “looking” big and providing an excellent customer experience build consumer trust which can result in higher sales and  faster growth. It is far too easy for a new store owner to underestimate how important their fulfillment part of their operations is to their overall profitability and success.

While nearly every store can benefit from adding ShipStation, ShipperHQ is useful for stores with more complicated shipping offerings. The fact that both programs easily integrate into your store and are inexpensive mean that even a startup business can compete with big business when it comes to order fulfillment and customer experience.

Need help streamlining your fulfillment processes or installing and setting up your software? Redline Minds can absolutely help. Contact Us.




By |March 20th, 2018|

About the Author:

Lori Appleman has been involved with startup Internet businesses since 1998 which marked her transition from a sales-based career to marketing. She designed her first commercially viable websites in 1999, where she strategized, visualized and ultimately built seven financial websites. By 2003, she was solidly committed to building a career in ecommerce. So much so, she went back to school and earned a degree in E-Business in 2012. As a startup specialist, she has helped grow a number of businesses from their inception, as well as turn around several failing online sales revenue. This has allowed her to develop insight into the entire business, including planning, operations, procurement, customer service and fulfillment. She has also been actively involved in all aspects of online marketing since 1999, including both strategic planning and tactical implementation. When she isn't working, she's active in the Austin Startup community, out enjoying Austin and the Texas Hill Country, working on needle arts, hanging out with her children or playing with her dachshunds.