As a small business, having an effective shipping strategy is essential for success.
Thanks to Amazon, the modern eCommerce consumer expects a lot out of online vendors when it comes to quality control, shipment tracking, shipping cost, and returns.
In today’s competitive market, being able to provide customers with fast and reliable delivery of their orders can make or break your business.
That’s why it’s important to have a well-thought-out shipping plan in place.
In this post, we will cover 19 shipping tips for small businesses to improve shipping processes, reduce shipping costs, and create an efficient system that will help you ship more product in 2023.
From leveraging the right shipping carriers and optimizing packaging materials to tracking shipments and managing returns efficiently – these small business shipping tips are designed to help you streamline your operations for maximum efficiency and customer satisfaction.
So let’s get started!
Tips for Packaging Products
1. Use shipping supplies that are durable and lightweight
This will help to keep shipping costs down while ensuring the product is adequately protected against damage during transit.
The best place to find lightweight and durable shipping supplies are places like Uline.com or PackagingSupplies.com.
These companies offer a wide range of shipping supplies, including boxes, envelopes, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts.
Another option is to buy materials from a company that specializes in eco-friendly or sustainable packaging, such as EcoEnclose or The Better Packaging Co.
These companies offer materials made from recycled or biodegradable materials, so you get the added benefit of sustainability.
2. Package items securely so they don’t shift during transit
When packing your products, make sure to fill any extra space with bubble wrap or other cushioning material. This will keep products from shifting and getting damaged during transit.
Here are some best practices for making sure your products stay safe and secure until they reach their final destination:
Use the appropriate size box: Make sure the box you use is the right size for the product you’re shipping. A box that is too big can allow the product to shift around, while a box that is too small can put pressure on the product, causing damage.
Use proper cushioning materials: Use shipping supplies such as bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or foam to cushion the product and prevent it from moving around.
Secure the product in the box: Use tape or ties to secure the product in the box so it doesn’t shift.
Fill empty space: Use additional cushioning materials to fill any empty space in the box. This will prevent the product from shifting during transit.
Tape the box securely: Use heavy-duty tape to seal the box, making sure to tape all flaps and seams. This will prevent the box from opening during transit and protect the product inside.
Consider using additional protection: If you are shipping fragile items, consider using additional protection like corner protectors or edge protectors to prevent damage during transit.
Test the package: Before sending out the package, test it by shaking it gently. if you hear or feel any movement inside, re-pack it.
3. Consider shipping products in bulk when possible
This can save on shipping costs, as shipping one large package is often more cost-effective than shipping several small packages.
For example, freight shipping is often less expensive than parcel shipping. And if you’re doing large quantities on the regular, you might consider investing in a 3PL service to help offload that burden and find even more cost savings.
For more information on what 3PL is and how it can help, check out our post on the topic.
4. Use custom-branded packaging materials
Sick of shipping generic-looking brown boxes? Invest in custom packaging to make your products stand out.
Custom packaging can include custom-printed boxes, branded tape, and special inserts.
These serve the double purpose of protecting your products while also helping to create a memorable unboxing experience for your customers.
If you’re interested in getting your own special packaging materials or branded tape, check out a company like StickerMule. It’s the little details like this that often make the biggest impression on your customers!
Shipping Label and Documentation Tips
5. Use pre-printed labels with barcodes or QR codes to reduce shipping time
One of the biggest ways to reduce friction and lower costs in your operations is to use pre-printed labels with barcodes or QR codes.
Here’s why it helps:
Increased efficiency: Pre-printed labels with barcodes or QR codes can be scanned quickly, allowing for faster processing and shipping. This can help to reduce errors, speed up the shipping process, and improve customer satisfaction.
Automation: With pre-printed labels, you can use automated systems for tracking and processing orders. This can help to save time and reduce errors, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business.
Cost savings: By using pre-printed labels, you can save money on printing costs and reduce the need for manual labor.
Branding: Pre-printed labels with your logo and branding can help to increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.
Here are some practical ways small businesses can use pre-printed labels:
Use an in-house label printer: Purchase a label printer and print your own labels with barcodes or QR codes in-house. This can save you money on printing costs and give you more control over the process.
Use shipping software: Use shipping software such as Shipstation, ShippingEasy, or Endicia that allows you to print shipping labels with barcodes or QR codes.
Outsource to a 3PL: Partner with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider that can handle the printing and application of labels for you.
Use a barcode scanner: Use a barcode scanner when receiving and shipping packages to reduce errors and increase efficiency.
6. Include additional documents such as invoices, packing slips, and shipping confirmations inside packages
If you’re just packaging and shipping your product and nothing else, you’re leaving a lot of opportunities on the table.
Every business should have a checklist of what needs to go inside each package.
There’s the essential stuff, such as:
- Invoice: Your customers need to know what they’re paying for and how much.
- Packing slip: This helps with tracking and inventory management.
- Shipping confirmation: Make sure your customers have the information they need to track their packages.
And then there’s the nice-to-have stuff, such as promotional materials, thank-you cards, stickers, and more.
By including these types of documents in each package, you can build relationships with your customers, show them that you care about their experience, and potentially increase sales.
7. Invest in shipping software
Shipping software is designed to make it easier for businesses to manage all the complexities associated with shipping products.
Shipping software can help with everything from tracking orders and creating labels to calculating taxes and customs fees.
Additionally, some shipping software solutions offer features such as product recommendations, shipment history, customer segmentation, automated returns management, and more.
All of these features can help to streamline operations and save time and money.
8. Implement a quality control checkpoint for all shipments
No matter how much money or time you invest in improving your shipping processes, mistakes can still happen.
In order to avoid costly errors and ensure that your packages are delivered on time and in good condition, it’s important to establish a quality control checkpoint for all shipments.
This could include making sure the correct documents go inside each package, verifying that packages are sealed correctly and properly labeled, double-checking shipping addresses, and more.
By implementing a rigorous quality control process, you can reduce the risk of something going wrong during transit and give your customers the best possible experience.
Inventory management platforms like SkuVault come with built-in quality control features like automatic order checking which can help streamline the process.
9. Meticulously track all shipments
Once packages have been shipped, tracking them becomes an essential part of the shipping process.
Tracking packages not only helps you to detect any potential issues that may arise during transit, but it also allows customers to track their orders and stay updated on delivery times.
You can do this manually, but using tracking software such as SkuVault or Trackr can save you time and money (and a lot of headaches).
10. Leverage advanced shipping features
Advanced shipping features such as delivery date selection, special handling instructions, and more can help to make your customers’ experience even better.
Giving customers the option to choose a delivery date that works for them can help ensure their packages are delivered on time and eliminates unnecessary stress.
Additionally, allowing customers to leave special instructions or requests can help you provide more personalized service and potentially increase customer satisfaction.
11. Use data tracking to make improvements
Once you have your shipping processes in place, it’s important to constantly monitor and evaluate them.
Using data tracking software can help you measure key metrics such as order fulfillment times, delivery success rates, customer satisfaction ratings, and more.
This data can then be used to make improvements to your shipping processes and ensure that you are providing the best possible customer experience.
By using data tracking to continuously monitor, evaluate, and improve your shipping processes, you can grow your business in the long run.
12. Stay up-to-date on shipping regulations
Finally, it’s important to stay informed on all relevant shipping regulations.
Shipping regulations can vary from country to country and even between states in the US, so it’s important to keep up with any changes that may occur.
You should also research the different requirements for international shipments, as these can be complex.
Failing to comply with shipping regulations could result in fines and even the loss of your business.
By staying up-to-date on all relevant shipping regulations, you can ensure that your shipments comply with the law and that your business is protected.
Tips for choosing the right carrier and shipping method
13. Research carriers to find the best shipping cost for your business needs
One of the biggest sources of overwhelm for eCommerce business owners is trying to parse out all the different shipping providers and their various offerings.
Should you use USPS or UPS? What’s the difference between “FedEx Ground” and “FedEx Express Saver”?
Most importantly, how much is each shipping service costing you?
The best way to figure out which shipping provider and services are right for your business is to do some research.
Compare rates, delivery times, shipping cost, and customer support offered by each carrier and decide which one best suits your needs.
Of course, that’s no easy task, and quite time-consuming.
Here are some things to consider to speed up your shipping provider research process:
Define your shipping needs: Have a firm grasp on the type of products you sell, the average size and weight of your packages, and your shipping volume.
This will help you to determine which shipping services and options are most appropriate for your business.
In fact, you should know your average parcel dimensions and weight by heart (or at least have them written somewhere close). Trust us, this will make things a lot easier going forward.
Compare shipping providers: The three big players you’ll want to research are FedEx, UPS, and USPS.
Look at factors such as delivery time, shipping rates, package tracking, shipping discounts for bulk shipments, and additional services such as insurance and signature confirmation.
Check for discounts and promotions: Many shipping providers offer discounts and promotions for businesses that ship frequently or in high volumes.
Look into these options to see if they can help you save money on shipping costs.
Read reviews: Read reviews from other business owners who have used the shipping providers you’re considering. This can help you to get a sense of the provider’s reliability and customer service.
Check for integrations: If you’re using a shipping software or eCommerce platform, check if it integrates with the shipping providers you’re considering. This can help to streamline the shipping process and save time.
Understand the difference between services: For example, “FedEx Ground” is a ground shipping service that delivers packages within 1-5 business days, while “FedEx Express Saver” is a more premium service with a delivery time of 3 business days.
UPS and USPS also offer similar services, like UPS Ground, UPS 2nd Day Air, and Priority Mail from USPS.
Understand the difference between these services, the delivery times, and the costs.
Compare rates: Compare the rates of the different shipping providers and shipping services to find the best option for your business.
You can use shipping rate calculators provided by each shipping provider or third-party shipping rate comparison tools.
Test the services: Once you have narrowed down your options, test the services by shipping a few packages to yourself or to a friend.
This will give you a firsthand experience of the service and will help you to make a final decision.
14. Negotiate carrier contracts for better rates and services
Once you have identified the shipping provider that best meets your needs, consider negotiating a contract or an agreement with them to get better shipping rates and services.
You may even be able to negotiate a discounted rate for certain shipping services depending on your volume.
15. Utilize multiple carriers (and manage them with software)
In many cases, it makes sense to utilize multiple carriers depending on the products you ship and their final destinations.
For example, you may use USPS for domestic shipments and UPS for international ones.
Similarly, you can consider using shipping software to help you manage multiple carriers, shipment tracking, and international shipping.
Small business shipping tips for shipment tracking and customer returns
16. Offer tracking numbers to customers
We know it sounds like common sense, but make sure to provide your customers with their shipment tracking numbers. This will enable them to keep an eye on their package during transit and make the shipping process more efficient.
Also, make sure to include the tracking number in their order confirmation emails. This is typically the first place a customer will search when they need to get an update on their package.
17. Have a clear, detailed return policy in place
Be sure to have a clear and detailed return policy in place for your customers, including information about accepted forms of payment and how long it takes for the returns process to be completed.
This will help to ensure that your customers know what to expect regarding any potential returns and refunds.
18. Use prepaid return labels for customer returns
Many shipping providers offer prepaid return labels you can use for customer returns.
This can help simplify the process for both you and the customer, as well as save you money on return shipping.
Plus, if the customer has already had a negative experience with your product, making them pay for return shipping is a bit like adding insult to injury, and is sure to sour them on your brand.
19. Monitor your returns process
Finally, be sure to monitor your returns process on a regular basis.
Make sure that the customer receives their refund in a timely manner and that any necessary paperwork is completed.
This will help to ensure that both you and the customers are satisfied with the outcomes of any returned products.
20. Offer free shipping
Thanks to Amazon, it’s become the industry standard in eCommerce to offer free shipping. Even if the cost would be the same either way, customers are psychologically conditioned to balk at any shipping price.
As a small business, you don’t have the luxury of competing on price with Amazon, so the best you can do is bake in the “free shipping” cost into the actual cost of the product.
Creating a robust shipping strategy is no easy task, but these tips will certainly get you on the right track.
If you feel overwhelmed and you’re not sure where to start, begin by evaluating your current shipping rates and services and compare them to other carriers.
You may find you’re drastically overpaying on shipping, or perhaps you need to pay more to ensure faster delivery and higher customer satisfaction.
After that, look into software options to help manage multiple carriers, shipment tracking, and international shipping.
SkuVault is a warehouse management system that helps eCommerce businesses and retailers with inventory management, order fulfillment, and shipping.
More to the point, SkuVault includes shipment tracking as one of its many features, it allows users to track and monitor their shipments from the warehouse to the customer.
It integrates with major shipping carriers such as FedEx, UPS, and USPS, which means users can easily print shipping labels, track packages, and calculate shipping costs.
Additionally, SkuVault also offers a barcode scanning feature that allows users to scan barcodes and track inventory movement, as well as track in-transit packages and shipments.
To learn more about how SkuVault can help you work on your eCommerce business and not in it, check out our features page or sign up for a live demo via the button on this page.