Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.
The side hustle is on the rise in the UK. Exact data is hard to quantify as many side hustles are not perceived as a formal business. However, one 2018 study found that as much as 25% of the adult population in the UK have a second source of income.
What is the best shipping method for small businesses?
Shipping is a vital component of any side hustle that involves selling tangible products, ranging from handmade crafts and jewellery to baked goods, vintage clothing or unwanted household items. In the age of Amazon Prime, consumer demand means being able to ship cheaply and quickly with a viable returns policy is essential for any small business looking to achieve sustainable success. There are various shipping options available in the UK, each with their own advantages.
Royal Mail – tracked
The tracked delivery service from Royal Mail offers peace of mind for sender and recipient in the form of complete monitoring of the parcel’s journey from start to finish. Email or SMS updates can be sent with predicted day and time of arrival, with online delivery confirmation.
Business customers, defined as those that send a minimum of 1,000 parcels each year, can establish a business account. This grants access to faster delivery services, with options for 24-hour and 48-hour service, as well as a free collection option and free management reporting.
Royal Mail – standard
Royal Mail standard delivery is cheaper than tracked and is highly reliable according to their website, which aims to deliver 99.9% of all items correctly.
Royal Mail will provide loss or damage insurance of up to £46 per parcel. Royal Mail only delivers parcels of up to 20kg directly and uses Parcelforce for larger items. There are no specific options with Royal Mail for delivering parcels that are fragile or valuable.
Using a courier service typically gives the sender more say over specifics such as delivery dates. Many UK couriers, including Yodel, Hermes and UK Mail, offer next-day delivery for UK-to-UK items. For international deliveries, DHL has a strong reputation for reliability and offers delivery timescales ranging from next day to 7-10 working days.
Working with a parcel distribution provider such as Parcelhub can help small businesses making a lot of deliveries to benefit from economies of scale.
Choosing the right pricing options for delivery within your online store can make or break a sale. Online shoppers are increasingly looking for the best value deals, including affordable and transparent pricing for shipping costs.
Free shipping is one of the best ways to attract and retain customers shopping online. One survey found that 93% of shoppers prioritise free shipping over any other type of discount. While many small businesses cannot afford to offer free shipping for all orders, there are advantages to removing these costs once a customer spends over a certain amount.
UPS found that 58% of shoppers would rather buy an additional item to qualify for free shipping than pay for delivery. Even if the total overall cost ends up higher, most shoppers would rather add something tangible to their purchase than pay for delivery.
Flat rate shipping
Flat rate shipping allows online sellers to be transparent about shipping costs at every stage of the purchasing journey. This has been shown to help reduce cart abandonment. A study of US online shoppers from the Baymard Institute found that hidden costs, including shipping, were cited as the number one reason for online cart abandonment. The survey found that 49% of shoppers abandoned their purchase due to unforeseen costs and a further 17% because they could not see or calculate the total order value up-front.
Real-time rates for shipping are most likely to suit B2B businesses or those selling specialised products and oversized items. By offering real-time shipping quotes, businesses reduce their chances of accidentally overcharging or undercharging their customers, which can result in higher levels of consumer trust.
Tracking and returns
How to allow returns
As customers cannot test or try out products before they buy online, they are far more likely to need to return their purchases. Online returns are almost four times as high as returns to brick-and-mortar shops. Success in eCommerce therefore can depend on having an attractive returns policy.
Creating a hassle-free returns policy can help ensure repeat business even from those that do not want to keep one particular product. This could involve offering free returns or including return shipping labels with each package. The returns policy should be transparent, easy to find and easy to complete.
There are many reasons why people return goods they have purchased online and most will not prevent future purchases, provided the returns policy makes things easy.
The importance of tracking numbers and receipts
Having a comprehensive system for receipts and tracking orders not only helps to manage an effective returns policy. It also helps you maintain records for your small business. Customers can see exactly what the status of their delivery or return is and you can keep track of your stock and shipping costs. When thinking about how to set up shipping for an online store, consider the returns policy as well as how to get goods to customers.
What to consider before shipping
Certain items require more consideration in terms of shipping than others. Perishable goods are a prime example. These require special packaging and a fast delivery time to ensure they arrive at their destination in optimum condition.
However, this does not necessarily mean next-day delivery. Many perishable items will be fine in transit for an extra day provided they are properly packaged. This allows you to offer better rates for shipping, which might result in more repeat business. Insulated packaging ideas include Styrofoam, bubble wrap, ice packs and insulated liners and pads.
The choice of shipping partner is also important for perishable items as you need to be able to ensure goods will be transported in an environment that will not cause deterioration.
Your choice of shipping method may need to be adaptable to account for increased or decreased volumes of sales. Higher volumes typically attract lower prices per package but many couriers will have a minimum delivery requirement for discounts.
Packaging for your brand
Selling products from a personal online store means there are fewer guidelines in terms of packaging than when selling through a larger marketplace such as Amazon. This gives you as a retailer a unique opportunity to establish your brand and make a great impression on your customers through packaging.
There are more than 90,000 searches each month on YouTube for the term “unboxing”. A survey from Dotcom Distribution found that 55% of those who watch these videos are inspired to buy the product themselves. Taking the time to consider packaging can generate a lot of business.
Customisation is key to engaging customers with packaging. Find ways to include branding and company logos, wrap goods in branded tissue paper and create unique custom boxes. The possibilities are endless. Adding small personal touches such as free stickers or a handwritten thank-you note can go a long way towards making each customer’s “unboxing” experience memorable.
Starting a side business from home can be a fantastic way to boost income. Embracing delivery and setting up shipping for a small business means you can reach more people and expand the business naturally. The Square Online Store and Online Checkout provide a one-stop solution that lets you get started selling for free, as you only pay when you make a sale. You can also sync your Square account to Shippo or to Shipbob for a seamless tracked delivery service with real-time price comparisons.