Whether you’re a small business just starting out or a more established ecommerce brand, applying careful strategy to your shipping practices can help your company succeed. Things like unexpected shipping costs, the ability (or lack thereof) to track packages, inventory, return shipping costs, orders, and more can have an immense impact on your customers’ experience. Below, we’ll cover what customers have become accustomed to when it comes to shipping, as well as some best practices that can benefit your online store.
Customers are expecting quick, free, and convenient shipping now more than ever
The pandemic brought on many changes, one of which was a dramatic increase in online shopping. Global online sales grew 11% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2021, according to 2021Q3 data from Salesforce. At the height of the pandemic, consumers increased their online shopping out of necessity, which meant that brands were also forced to change how they approached their shipping and other ecommerce strategies.
We can speculate that during this time period, customers became even more aware of gaps or flaws in certain ecommerce brands' strategies. With more consumers shopping online than ever, ecommerce businesses must meet the growing and changing expectations of online shoppers. These customer expectations include:
- The quicker, the better - Amazon’s free two-day delivery for Prime members has set the bar quite high for other ecommerce companies, though many can’t compete with the retail giant. According to Invesp, 80% of consumers want same-day delivery while 56% under 35 years old expect it.
- Low or free shipping costs - In recent years, customers have upped their expectations when it comes to shipping costs. In the past, many were okay paying extra for expedited shipping, but as of 2019, over 75% of customers expect free shipping on all orders, as the National Retail Federation finds. This figure was up 7% from 2018.
- Convenience - Overall convenience is another factor that customers care a lot about. 83% of consumers are willing to admit that convenience is important, according to a 2020 survey from the National Retail Federation. The same survey also finds that 97% of cart abandonment is due to inconvenience.
- Package tracking - Lastly, consumers want to know when their orders will arrive. As stated in Metapak’s fourth annual Global Ecommerce Consumer Research Report, 69% of customers say that the ability to track orders is one of their top three considerations when shopping online.
9 shipping best practices your ecommerce store will benefit from
Now that we have an idea of what customers expect when shopping online, let’s look at some of the top shipping practices for your online business that both you and your customers will benefit from. Remember, ensuring top-notch shipping practices can help retain customers, bring in new ones, and even increase your business’ profit margins.
1) If you offer free shipping, make it a part of your marketing strategy
In order to make the most of a free shipping policy, try making it part of your business’ overall marketing strategy. This means promoting it just as you would other products or sales. “The most popular shipping-related promotion is offering free shipping,” as explained by ShipBob. Even more, 60% of ecommerce companies report that “free shipping with conditions” is their most successful marketing tool, as a study from Wharton reports. Wharton’s study also finds that many customers would even prefer free shipping than a $10 discount on their purchase.
Retailers have taken note of this. Brands like Nordstrom and Zappos are well-known for offering free shipping on all purchases, without minimums. Both of these companies do an excellent job of marketing this through banners on their websites, popups during check-out, and promotional emails. When considering similar strategies for your online store, you may even think about creating marketing campaigns on social media related to free shipping.
2) Track your customers’ orders and shipping statuses for them
When it comes to tracking customers’ orders and shipping statuses, consistency is key. Again, customers expect a way to track their purchases. Beyond simply creating a top-tier customer experience, proactive tracking can be an additional marketing strategy. As Forbes reports, “compared to typical marketing emails with open rates of 10% to 20%, tracking notifications can see open rates between 50% and 80%.” So, use emails to your brand’s advantage, and include as much information as possible to ensure the customer experience is positive.
This goes beyond just showing when the package is expected to arrive through a USPS or FedEx link. Ecommerce brands that use Shopify can employ the company’s tracking add-on, Shop. Customers download the free Shop app, and as soon as they purchase from an ecommerce business that uses Shop, the order will pop up in their app. The app shows the customer all of their order details, tracking number, carrier info, and a live map of where their package is with detailed tracking info every step of the way. Brands that use Shop for a standout customer experience include Allbirds, Outdoor Voices, and Credo.
3) Provide estimated shipping costs and arrival dates before the final checkout stage
Another best practice you can implement is providing estimated shipping costs and arrival dates before the final checkout stage. Amazon is best known for this, as the company shows estimated arrival dates right on the product page — even before a customer adds the item to their cart.
This is an extremely important feature to provide, because 63% of customers abandon their carts due to high shipping costs, according to Statista. So, if your ecommerce site offers this information before customers add products to their cart, this may significantly cut down on your abandoned cart rates and avoid potential customer dissatisfaction.
4) Use automation tools and ecommerce shipping apps
To provide the best customer experience, it’s often necessary to go beyond simply providing tracking information to customers. Automation tools and ecommerce shipping apps can help your ecommerce business keep track and organize everything having to do with shipping. These tools can also provide necessary metrics and analysis to further improve your shipping strategies.
Automation tools can also benefit your customers. Because these tools offer in-depth information about the customer’s order, it’s less likely that they will need to reach out to your customer service team for assistance.
Some apps you may want to consider include:
- NetSuite - This cloud-based app is designed as an all-in-one solution to help your ecommerce business stay organized when it comes to financials, CRM, and ecommerce.
- Shipup - This app is specifically for delivery and tracking information. It follows each customer’s package in real-time and can even send notifications to customers, redirect them to other tracking pages, and allows your team to proactively manage potential delivery issues.
- LateShipment.com - This app can help your business reduce shipping costs by up to 20% by utilizing automated service-failure refunds. It also proactively resolves delivery errors, ensuring a seamless customer experience.
- ShippingChimp - This app works alongside customer service platform, Gorgias, to automate all of your business’ order statuses and fulfillment queries.
- AfterShip - This web-based platform helps ecommerce brands provide shipment tracking and proactive notifications to customers, as well as brand updates.
- Wonderment - This app helps prevent, “Where is my order?” complaints from your customers, and can help improve your post-purchase customer journey.
- ShipBob - This global logistics platform is specifically for fulfilling ecommerce orders for direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands.
5) Cover the cost of shipping on faulty products that need to be returned
Returns and exchanges are unavoidable in the ecommerce world, but how your company handles them can make all the difference when it comes to retaining customers.
Research by ShipBob shows that the majority (80.2%) of customers report they return online purchases if the item they ordered arrives damaged or broken. However, 95% of shoppers who are happy with a company’s return process say that they would buy from the same retailer again. With these statistics in mind, you may want to consider covering the cost of shipping returns if the product is faulty. This return policy can put customers at ease knowing that they won’t be hit with a shipping fee on an unusable product.
6) Offer multiple shipping methods to accommodate customer needs (from “green” options to expedited shipping)
Giving customers options when it comes to shipping will increase their likelihood of buying from you. This could include shipping options like overnight or expedited shipping, or environmentally-conscious shipping options.
As far as eco-friendly shipping goes, a recent survey by Sifted finds that a whopping 91% of customers want an eco-friendly option at checkout.
One company that provides a carbon offset option at check is ethical clothing company Everlane. The company’s model simply includes a toggle to add a surcharge (which rounds your order up to the next dollar) at checkout to offset carbon emissions from shipping.
7) Communicate shipping issues quickly, transparently, and in a human way
We covered how automation and shipping apps can curb shipping issues before they happen, but sometimes issues still arise. We have all experienced shipping delays around the holidays, or at various points during the pandemic. When a customer faces a shipping issue like long delays or a lost package, the best way your team can handle it is with honesty.
Customers want to be able to trust the company they're purchasing from, and sensing that the company is lying is not an ideal way to keep customers. Inc finds that dissatisfied customers tell between nine and 15 people about a bad experience.
So, be transparent, honest, and human in your responses. If you know their package was lost, tell them that and offer a solution. Consider sending the product again, or offering a gift card if the product is no longer available.
8) Have a shipping strategy with business goals
High-level thinking about your ecommerce company’s shipping strategy can have excellent benefits. It’s important not to create your shipping strategy in a vacuum: Involve team members from every department to ensure your shipping strategies align with overall business goals and the bottom line. You can ask yourself and your team questions like:
- How much should we focus on increasing conversions?
- Do we need to grow our customer base more, or analyze our current audience?
- How much do we want to increase our average order value to align with growth goals?
- How much would we like to decrease costs?
9) When possible, utilize multiple shipping carriers
The last shipping practice we want to cover is the importance of using multiple shipping companies. In addition to the numerous shipping issues that come and go as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, there are additional legitimate reasons to consider using multiple shipping carriers, including reducing shipping prices.
First, you’ll have more leverage in negotiations if you don’t box your company into working with only one carrier. Second, you’ll have more flexibility when performing local delivery versus international, as some carriers are more cost-effective when it comes to delivery distance than others. And third, using a multi-carrier approach will help avoid potential risks. If something goes sour with one carrier, you have backups (think about the USPS issues we faced during the height of the pandemic).
Integrate your shipping software with Gorgias to streamline your customer service workflow
Feeling confident about creating your business’ ecommerce shipping strategy? Now we encourage you to take the next step — review your overall customer service strategy and think about implementing an all-in-one platform that can bring everything together in one place. Gorgias’ customer service platform was built with the needs of ecommerce businesses in mind. Our platform can keep all of your team’s support tickets in one place, automate responses to customers, and integrate with numerous shipping apps.
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