The cost of shipping is a major competitive differentiator in ecommerce. Shoppers will quickly abandon a cart or buy from a competitor if it means they will save money on shipping. To reduce shipping charges for your customers, you'll need to go beyond investing in cheaper dunnage or renegotiating with carriers for better rates. In addition to those strategies, here are some more holistic considerations for improving the cost efficiency and customer-friendliness of your packing and shipping operations.
Evaluate current packing materials and processes
From material and labor costs, to DIM weight optimization and customer experience – you may find there's a lot to "unpack" by doing a comprehensive review of your current approach to packing and shipping. Some useful questions to ask during this process include:
- How do factors such as total weight, dimensional weight, oversize charges, special handling, and the number of packages shipped per order affect your total average shipping expenses?
- What do your customer service and operations reports show about damages from improper packing or packing materials?
- What is the average labor cost on oversized items requiring special labor and materials to pack?
Consider the potential benefits of branding
Stylized packaging helps to create a memorable, positive experience for customers. When done well, customized packaging can improve your brand perception and boost your marketing reach through word-of-mouth and social media. Besides adding your brand messaging to packaging materials, interactive packaging inserts with social media instructions (“follow us at…”), post recommendations (“take a picture and tell us how excited you are to start using this product”), and hashtag suggestions are an inexpensive way to get more ROI from stylized packaging.
Right-sized packaging & kitting
Customizing your packaging to an optimal size and level of protection can save you money on shipping costs over the long-term. Right-sizing the cartons for each order will help get you the best DIM shipping rate every time. Customized dunnage that is lighter and less voluminous dunnage also contributes to getting better shipping rates. Depending on the level of variation in your typical order sizes, the best solution could range from onsite box-making equipment, to custom packaging and kitting services.
According to research from the National Retail Federation, 73% of consumers ranked “sales and price discounts” as top factors for deciding where to shop. In the heyday of brick-and-mortar retail, it was common for stores to attract these prudent shoppers with highly-publicized mega-sales (typically held on a “Sunday, SUNDAY, SUNDAYYY!”). With the instantaneous nature of internet shopping, today’s ecommerce equivalent would probably be “flash sales.”
Like their predecessors, flash sales are great for attracting consumers’ attention, driving brand awareness, and boosting sales. However, the surges in traffic to your site and order volume can strain your internal resources and hamper customers’ experience. To ensure a successful flash sale that satisfies your customers, use the following tips to prepare.
Get the word out
Besides good deals, flash sales are known for their hype! Take the time to analyze your target audiences and develop a marketing strategy to stoke those fires so your flash sale is truly effective at engaging consumers and driving business.
A good flash sale quickly cycles through lots of different discounts, which engages shoppers who stick around to see what deals come next. Your assortment should be large enough to entice the widest variety of customers.
Flash sales foster a sense of competition to seek and find deals faster than other consumers. If your site search bar is ineffective at finding products, you stand to lose the many mobile users who are accessing your flash sale throughout the day. Make sure your ecommerce site's search functionality has mobile-friendly features, such as autocomplete and search refinements (e.g. brand, color, size, price, etc.) with tap-friendly dropdown lists.
Ease of Transaction
The checkout process should just as speedy as your flash sale. Make sure to eliminate as much checkout friction as possible. The longer it takes to checkout, the more likely that shoppers' excitement from scoring a deal will wear off and they'll abandon their carts.
Free shipping is the most effective promotion you can offer ecommerce customers, hands down. However, not every ecommerce site has the ability to shoulder the shipping costs for 100% of their orders. Fortunately, there are many different ways you can have free shipping, and some cost less than others. Below, we go over some ideas you can use to offer free shipping at a reasonable cost.
Set a minimum order condition
Look at your product margins and calculate how much a customer would have to spend on an order to make free shipping easier for you to offer. You can help customers reach that minimum requirement by showing them either products based on their browsing history, or low-margin "add-on" products that cost just enough to make the order qualify for free shipping.
Reserve free shipping as a reward for repeat customers
In ecommerce, returning customers are your bread and butter. In fact, returning customers generate about three times more revenue than new customers. Invest in these customers by offering free shipping as a reward for actions like:
• Placing an order for the first time
• Signing up for your email list
• Participating in a survey or submitting other useful data
• Placing a certain number of orders over time
• Referring new customers
Try free returns instead
It may not be free shipping, but it can relieve customer anxiety about paying for shipping. As the next best thing to free shipping, a free and easy to understand returns process can be a great selling point that increases trust in your brand.
Negotiate with your shipping provider
Review your current shipping expenses to find the major cost factors, and research the prices from competitors to get a better understanding of average shipping costs. If your carrier can give you a better deal, free shipping may become a more viable option for you. At Fulfillment Works, we are always negotiating with carriers for the lowest price so we can pass those discounts on to our clients, which allows them to give better shipping rates to their customers.
“Shipping” is more than just an added cost at the end of the checkout process. Speed, cost, communication, logistics – all of these and more combine to form the shipping experience your business is known for. If you can improve on these areas, you can turn your shipping options into a competitive differentiator that attracts more customers. In order to make effective improvements, be sure to consider the following:
Total Cost to Customers
It’s no secret that ecommerce customers love free shipping. However, it's important to remember that the reason customers love free shipping is because it's a discount. If customers can find the same product with a cheaper total cost elsewhere, it no longer matters whether or not the shipping is free. When using shipping discounts as a selling point, make sure that customers aren’t just absorbing the shipping costs through inflated product pricing or other charges.
Outbound vs. Inbound
If you are having trouble finding an effective way to provide your customers with discounted shipping, consider the benefits of reducing the cost of returns instead. Many customers decide to commit to a purchase based on the seller’s return policy. If the return’s policy is customer-friendly, customers are more likely to purchase from a seller – but not necessarily more likely to return their orders.
The order fulfillment process is mostly invisible to customers. But if you do your due diligence here, it can make a big impact on customer service. For example, don’t limit yourself to only one carrier. By negotiating with multiple carriers (or working with a 3PL who can negotiate on your behalf), both you and your customers can save a lot of money on shipping.
Upsells are an important ecommerce tactic because they can increase customer satisfaction with an order while increasing your revenue. But, you don't want your upsells to come off as pushy or be intrusive to the user's shopping experience. As the saying goes, "you catch more flies with honey." Consider these tips when crafting the messaging for upsell opportunities.
Well-timed discount incentives
Find creative ways to grab your customers at the end or near the end of their purchase journey with various discounts. Amazon.com's "Subscribe & Save" program is a popular example of this tactic - with many prominent calls-to-action to increase the size of the subscription order to get an additional 10% off the total. Similarly, you can also opt to only show shoppers discounted items as upsell suggestions, encouraging them to take advantage of deals while they can.
Refined CTA messaging
You may be surprised by the effectiveness of changing passive calls-to-action on upsell suggestions. Instead of a standard "Products you may like" title, try something more engaging like "Must Haves" or "Perfect Accessories." You can always use A/B testing to find the wording that's most effective.
Free shipping with order minimum
Conditional shipping discounts are a great idea if you don’t have the capabilities to show users upsell suggestions that are either relevant to what’s in their cart, or based on their shopping habits and purchase history. More often than not, users will add items to their cart just to qualify for these types of promotions.