Guest Column: Eight Shipping Tips for Ecommerce Sellers
By Ina Steiner
With the volume of orders that must be shipped out to customers every day, even a small change to a merchant's operations can net major savings in time and money. Jason Hodges, founder and President of Auctane LLC, offers up eight ways sellers can realize such savings when it comes to shipping their products.
Auctane's cloud-based shipping solution ShipStation integrates with marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Sears, Etsy and Buy.com, as well as numerous shopping cart platforms. ShipStation processes over 1 million shipping labels each month for approximately 2,500 online retail stores. Here are eight tips provided by Hodges you should consider for your business.
The term "shipping" typically conjures up a few choice words for ecommerce sellers. To avoid the risk of being censored, I'll go with complicated, tedious, and expensive. Let's face it - shipping is no fun, and there's a considerable learning curve. Shipping can be the difference between profiting on a sale or losing money. Here are a few tips to help make sure you stay in the black.
1) Ship with multiple carriers
You can improve your bottom line by shipping with multiple carriers. The US Postal Service is a great option for small packages - especially if they are residential; however, it may not be the best choice for large packages or international destinations. Using software that can allow you to quickly retrieve rates for various carriers can really save you money.
2) Utilize free shipping supplies
Most carriers offer free shipping supplies. For example, the US Postal Service offers free Priority Mail packaging that can be ordered from shop.usps.com. UPS and FedEx provide free labels and other shipping supplies. These can add up to big annual savings!
3) Create a shipping "cheat sheet"
Once you switch to multiple carriers, you'll begin to notice some patterns in which carriers and services to use for various types of orders. The choices typically boil down to a few variables: weight, size, distance (zone), and whether the destination is residential or commercial.
For example, you may find that it always makes sense to ship to zones 1 through 4 (destinations that are relatively close to you) using a USPS Regional Rate Box A if the package weights between 2 and 15 pounds.
To help you remember all of these "rules", create a shipping cheat sheet. Every time you notice that you're shipping a new type of package using a particular service, jot down a note on your cheat sheet. Before long, you won't need to compare shipping rates for the various carriers and services. You can just refer to your cheat sheet!
To take things a step further, there are a number of shipping systems that will allow you to configure a set of shipping rules. Once in place, all of your settings (carrier, service type, package type, insurance, confirmation, etc.) become fully automated, making your shipping operation much more efficient!
4) Take advantage of the USPS SCAN form
If you ship with the US Postal Service, consider printing a SCAN form at the end of each day. The USPS SCAN form (Shipment Confirmation Acceptance Notice) consolidates all of your shipments for the day into a single barcode. USPS employees then scan this barcode instead of each individual package. (Learn more about SCAN form here.)
This allows the tracking information for all packages to be recorded in the USPS tracking system, providing your buyers with confirmation that their package has entered the mail stream. This can really help to reduce the "Did my package ship?" question from your buyers.
5) Automatically fill out customs forms
International order fulfillment can extremely time consuming - especially if you are filling out customs information one order at a time. Several shipping solutions can automatically populate your customs forms with information from your ecommerce system. This can make international shipping as easy as domestic shipping!
6) Invest in a thermal label printer
If you are printing labels on a laser or inkjet printer, consider switching to a thermal printer such as the Zebra ZP 450 or DYMO LabelWriter 4XL. These printers can speed up label generation and they don't use ink or toner!
UPS leases the Zebra ZP 450 thermal printer for only $2 per week and they provide thermal labels for free.
If you are not ready to move away from your laser printer, make sure you are printing on label sticker sheets instead of plain paper. You can waste a significant amount of time by cutting and taping labels.
7) Process orders in batches instead of one at a time
If you are creating a single shipping label at a time, you're likely fulfilling 30 to 60 orders per hour. If you use software that can print labels in batch, you can double or triple your efficiency!
Some sellers are concerned that batch shipping will increase the chance for human errors, but this can be minimized with a few safeguards. Many shipping solutions can print identifying information such as the order number or product SKU(s) on each shipping label. You can also print a shipping label on half of a page and a packing slip on the other half so that you can easily match labels with inventory.
8) Use a consolidated shipping solution
If you are selling on multiple channels, consider using a software solution that will consolidate all of your orders into a single place and automate the communication between those channels.
There's no need to log into each selling account to process your orders and paste tracking information. With a single click, you can create a shipping label with packing slip, email the tracking information to your buyer, and communicate tracking information to the sales channel.
This is a great way to ensure that you meet marketplace shipping requirements without any extra work.
With a few changes, your shipping process could go from complicated and tedious to simple and fun! Well, okay, maybe not FUN.
About the Guest Author
Jason Hodges is the founder and President of Auctane LLC, a provider of cloud-based shipping solutions for ecommerce merchants. Jason has been building ecommerce software since 1996 for small and large retailers such as Best Buy, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard. Auctane's premier solution, ShipStation, integrates with marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Sears, Etsy and Buy.com, as well as numerous shopping cart platforms, to provide a seamless shipping process for online merchants. Auctane's first application, Auctane Shipping Manager is the #1 rated shipping application for eBay sellers.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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