Communicating your Shipping & Returns Policies

There are LOTS of moving parts under the hood of a well-oiled ecommerce operation. Try as you might, unpredictable situations are bound to occur. To help customers with common questions, have your shipping and returns policies outlined on your website. In most cases, an FAQ-style page allows you to clearly state your policies in a format that customers will understand.
    
When developing this content, your customer service staff should be able to provide frequently asked questions that are specific to your business. At minimum, you’ll want to address the following general areas:

Shipment lead time

Most online customers assume that their orders ship out the same or next day. If your average lead times don't fall into that timeframe, you should explicitly state how long it takes an order to ship. Otherwise, you may see a higher number of calls from customers asking about their order status.  

Military addresses

Military destinations require customs forms for deliveries and restrict on the types of items they will accept. Plus, not all carriers deliver to military addresses. Clarify whether you ship to military addresses, which products are eligible for military delivery, the carrier used for military shipments, and any additional rules or restrictions.

Undeliverable orders

Packages can be returned as undeliverable if the address is wrong or incomplete, or if the recipient refuses to accept delivery. Make sure your customers understand that it takes time to process packages that are returned as undeliverable - which can impact how long it takes to re-ship or issue a refund.

Shipping Strategies to Improve Customer Satisfaction

“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.

Order Fulfillment

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.

Are Subscription Services Right for your Ecommerce Site?

A recent consumer insights report from Hitwise found that visits to subscription box-based ecommerce sites have increased by about 3,000% in the U.S. over the past three years. With the success that start-ups in this industry - such as Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club, and Loot Crate - have enjoyed, it’s worthwhile to consider if a subscription model would be a viable extension of your ecommerce site.

Subscription-based services generally fall into two categories. Discovery-based subscriptions provide customers with new products in each delivery. As customers receive packages with some products they like, they return to the company to purchase more of the items. Discovery-based subscriptions can be a great way to market certain areas of your product catalog and generate buzz about the products that come in each delivery. Convenience-based subscriptions deliver customer-specified products on a schedule at a discounted rate, which makes this model great for customer retention.

When deciding whether a subscription model is a good fit for your ecommerce business, there are two main factors to consider: the types of products you sell, and whether you have the bandwidth to monitor customer behavior and preferences to keep the subscription service interesting. A wide variety of products in the low-to-medium price range are well-suited for discovery-based subscription program, while a convenience-based subscription program would require a product catalog mostly comprised of essential consumables.

As for your customers, you need to make sure that your subscription service consistently makes the customer feel special through product variety/novelty (discovery-based) and delivers value (both discovery-based and convenience-based). If you can nail that down, you can make subscriptions a successful dimension of your ecommerce business.

Tips for Smoother International Shipping

Expanding into international markets is a major milestone for any ecommerce business. But just like any business expansion, international shipping can be full of challenges, setbacks, and important lessons for any size ecommerce company. Use these tips as a guideline to reduce your growing pains and ensure that your international shipping services go smoothly. More...

Tall Order: The Challenges of Same-Day Shipping

When talking about the future of ecommerce, same-day or on-demand delivery is usually at the forefront of the discussion. And thanks to increasing logistical efficiency, technological advances, and efforts from major companies like Amazon and Google - same-day shipping may not be too far from becoming standard. Unfortunately, the fundamentals of same-day shipping are still incredibly challenging today. More...