Ecommerce Shipping Options Save Merchants Time and Money
By Greg Holden
Every online seller needs to choose shipping options that get their merchandise to buyers reliably, fast, and affordably. But businesspeople on a limited budget are busy. They don't always explore all the shipping options available to them.
The fact is that well-known services like the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), DHL, and FedEx aren't the only alternatives. This article provides a variety of opinions about how to choose the best shipper for your needs, especially options that help with overseas shipments.
For Mark LaVine, CFO of Bubblefast, the three biggest shipping considerations are: Weight; Dimensions; and Distance. Bubblefast ships shipping items like bubble wrap to customers eager to save money with their own shipping needs. "We examine every item we ship for the best carrier and service," he says. "We try to match the best price with the fastest service."
In many cases, that means the USPS, he says. "Our favorite product is the Priority Mail Flat Rate Padded Mailer. It ships anywhere in the country for one low flat-rate price." Bubblefast also uses the USPS's regional Flat Rate Priority Boxes as well as first-class package mailing, which now includes free package tracking. In fact, Bubblefast uses the USPS for about 50 percent of its mailings.
LaVine offers these shipping-related tips to sellers:
"Size DOES matter," he says. "You need to know what dimensional weight means and how it affects your shipping costs. Keep in mind that, for FedEx or UPS Ground, any package over 3 cu. ft. is billed at the greater of actual weight or dimensional weight. For Priority Mail, in zones 5-8, any package over 1 cu. ft. is billed at the greater of actual weight or dimensional weight.
Know the size and weight of your package before you list it, he says.
"Create a chart based on weight and zone for each service you use. Select the best shipping method based on this chart. I suggest a fantastic chart created by Stamps.com. It is called the 2013 USPS Priority Mail Rate Guide. Use this to compare all Priority Mail shipping options throughout the country.
"If you sell on eBay and ship USPS through eBay you are eligible for a commercial plus discount on some of the USPS services. This is in addition to the online discount you already receive."
Whenever possible, print your postage online in order to get discounted rates.
For many items, the USPS offers the best options. But other services can help cash-strapped businesses save money and time. Darius Banasik, COO of Simple Global, a company that handles a variety of logistics functions for e-tailers, uses his company's own proprietary network of shippers to keep charges down in selected countries.
It may not be well known, but in some nations it's cheaper and faster to use private shippers such as couriers rather than the USPS or DHL. "Right now we can ship something and get it to Korea in four days, which is an expedited level of service," Banasik explains. "Whereas DHL will charge us $45 for the first pound, we can do it for $10 and give people the same level of service using a courier that does door-to-door delivery."
Banasik praises DHL for the level of service and price it provides to many countries. Of the USPS, he says that "it works for millions of people; not to knock them, but the price is low, and it's a low-level service." In between these two, he says, are "hybrid mailing services" that often provide good delivery times and package tracking to places like New Zealand.
"What I'm seeing is that a lot of e-tailers are becoming comfortable shipping using these hybrid products instead of DHL. As the market get saturated they say, "I've been using DHL for a couple of years now, and maybe I'll use this other service. It'll take an extra day or two or three but I can offer free international shipping to my customers.""
Banasik says business owners should keep in mind that there is no single shipping solution. "Tailor it to the product and the destination. The big destinations are Russia, Canada, Brazil, China, and other Asian countries; that is where the volume is and where you will be more likely to find alternatives."
Rafael Zimberoff of the ecommerce shipping software provider ShipRush suggests that sellers consider using a mail consolidation service if their primary concern is to save money. "The lowest cost options for parcels up to three or four lbs are via mail consolidators, and they are slow," he explains. "For example, FedEx SmartPost is often a really great deal, but it can take 5-10 calendar days for delivery (typically the shipping time is 4-6 days). Other consolidators include DHL Global Mail and UPS Mail Innovations."
Zimberoff suggests the following simple system for online businesses on a budget:
- Everything 13oz and down goes out First Class Parcel.
- Everything 14oz and greater is sent either via consolidation (like FedEx SmartPost) or Ground.
He also suggests that if the weight is right, the USPS's First Class Parcel option is unmatched. "There isn't anything competitive in this space: amazing service, amazing price."
Jessica Hardecke of the shipping software provider ShipWorks says that price and speed are important but that service is critical. "Our entrepreneur customers want to ensure that they give their customers good customer service. This includes things like making sure the package arrives in good shape and in the designated timeframe." They also want to make sure they have a good relationship with their own carriers, she adds.
Sometimes, the products you sell require special solutions. Glenn Napurski, Technical Director with MMI Technology Solutions, said his company ships rechargeable lithium ion polymer (LiPo) batteries. MMI turned to a shipping option I wrote about recently, Direct Link. "USPS no longer allows shipping of LiPo batteries Internationally and they restrict package size," explains Napurski. "Direct Link does allow shipping of LiPo's and oversized boxes so they immediately filled a business need for us." About one-third of MMI's customers are overseas. The company also saves between $10 and $50 on each shipment compared to other services, he adds.
But in some situations, the good old USPS is still the winner, says Eric Nash, director of online marketing for Stamps.com. "Unlike FedEx and UPS, the USPS can deliver to all military addresses (APO/FPO) and P.O. Boxes," said Nash in one of eight bullet points he gave in favor of the USPS. One of his comments, though it was about the USPS's international delivery options, could apply to any shipper: "The world is shrinking as ecommerce sales grow, allowing ecommerce sellers to become a global business regardless of size."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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