As customers change the way they shop, ensuring satisfaction requires more than in-store support. With the continued rise of eCommerce, direct-to-consumer sales are more important than ever. Shipping is now at the forefront of the customer experience.
While this can be another challenge and expense for you as a business owner, it’s also an opportunity. Being able to scale your shipping operations as your business grows and personalize the shipping experience to meet your customers’ expectations allows you to thrive in the new retail world.
The rise of eCommerce and the importance of shipping
More and more retail sales are now happening online. According to the U.S Census Bureau, in the first quarter of 2022, eCommerce made up 14.3% of all retail sales. While this is down slightly from the pandemic-induced peak of 2020 when the share rose to over 16%, it is still more than double where eCommerce was about ten years ago when it accounted for under 6% of sales.
To keep up with this growth (and to combat pandemic-era restrictions on in-person shopping), businesses had to be creative. Implementing omnichannel selling strategies and online selling capabilities has allowed businesses to adapt to changing consumer habits.
But reach is only one part of the challenge: You also need to deliver your goods. Shipping should be considered in any omnichannel sales model. And customers have certain expectations. A consumer survey by Oracle sheds some light on what people expect:
- 66% of global consumers prefer home delivery. The United States is consistent with this figure, coming in at 64%.
- 71% of respondents mentioned speed of service, checkout experience, and delivery options as important elements to building brand loyalty.
How to scale your shipping with your business
When you first start selling online, you may be able to easily handle all your shipping needs. As your business grows, you’ll want strategies in place that allow you to scale. What works for a small business may not prove efficient for larger operations. And while bigger businesses will have more resources to dedicate to this issue, they also face greater challenges as production needs grow.
Many merchants are able to handle shipping on their own when they first launch their business — people print out labels, procure materials, and pack items. But there’s only so much one person can do. Once sales start growing, you’ll need to invest more resources in your shipping operations and consider automation tools.
Some of the potential benefits of automation include:
Speed – Automation tools can replace the need for many manual processes, allowing them to be completed much faster. Examples include:
- Printing labels
- Stocking Inventory
- Data entry
- Choosing carriers
Accuracy – In addition to speed, the elimination of manual processes will lead to fewer human errors.
Driver support – Focusing on driver support for last-mile delivery by automating dispatch and routing leads to greater delivery accuracy and more transparency for your customers.
Tracking – Tools that allow you to track your deliveries throughout the shipping process eliminate surprises and create opportunities for better communication with customers.
Lower cost – Cost reduction is another major benefit of automation. By allowing you to monitor labor costs, choose the best materials and carriers for each package, and decide on the best shipping options, automation can save you money in the long run.
Use existing resources
When you think of shipping and fulfillment, it can be easy to overlook the fulfillment part. As you’re scaling up and expanding your eCommerce operations, you will need to make sure you have enough product to meet your orders. While you may eventually need to look into warehousing options, as the USPS points out, you can begin scaling by using your existing retail outlets as distribution centers to meet your fulfillment needs.
Partner with third-party providers
Scaling your in-house shipping operations takes both time and money. Not every business is equipped with the resources to meet this challenge. Thankfully, third-party shipping and fulfillment providers have filled the gap, allowing you to satisfy increased shipping needs even if you aren’t yet ready to scale your internal operations.
Advantages of a third-party partnership include:
- It can be a good solution for small and midsize businesses that lack the monetary resources to handle their shipping needs in-house.
- Partnerships can buy you time so you can develop your infrastructure at a thoughtful pace.
- You’ll be able to benefit from the expertise of shipping specialists.
- Many third-party providers have easy integrations in place that will work with your existing software.
Personalizing shipping experiences
Simply meeting your business’ shipping needs may be your first goal, but it shouldn’t be your only goal. The shipping experience is a way for you to directly impact your customers’ experiences, provide valuable information about who your customers are, and create loyalty through personalization.
- Understand what your customers want: It’s important to know what experience your customers are looking for before investing in or scaling a certain shipping experience. Look at your customer data and buying history to glean insights into what items or experiences are creating repeat customers.
- Use insights to decide what experiences to explore: Your data can be one of the best tools available for fine-tuning your business and the customer experience you create. As you try out new personalization methods, keep track of what resonates with your customers.
- Aim for loyalty: A personalized package makes your customers feel special and creates a relationship between your business and them. Your goal with personalization should be to continue understanding your customers to create experiences that resonate with them and encourage them to stay loyal to your business.
Ways to personalize shipping
By using the guidance above when exploring ways to personalize your shipping, you’ll be able to do so through the lens of what’s important to your customers, figuring out what personalizations they’re likely to respond to and integrating those personalizations into your shipping process. Some ways you can achieve these goals in your shipping include:
- Provide multiple shipping options for different price points and delivery speeds.
- Be sure that your online inventory is always up to date and accurate to avoid customer disappointment.
- Utilize advanced tracking tools and communicate with your customer about any unforeseen delays.
- Offer loyalty rewards and free shipping options to loyal customers.
- Clearly communicate your return policy to customers ahead of time and make sure your process is easy for customers to use.
- Follow up with your customers to make sure they had a great experience and see what you can improve on.
Utilize your packaging as a way to communicate with your customers and show them you understand what’s important to them. For example:
- Small touches, like handwritten notes, especially for brand new customers.
- Personalization on packaging based on your customer’s shopping history. For example, references to previous purchases.
- Small gifts or discounts to repeat customers.
- Sustainable packaging as a standard practice or offered as an option for environmentally conscious customers.
Any changes in customer behaviors create challenges and opportunities. As sales move online, shipping is one of the few ways you are still able to have direct contact with your customers. By providing a smooth, personalized shipping experience you can show your dedication to customer satisfaction and create loyalty that will last.