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Three ways to provide customer-centric shipping

(Source: Bigstock.)

For most small to medium enterprises starting out in e-commerce, shipping solutions tend to be stumbled upon and developed gradually as the business grows. A typical firm that might start out by offering their SKUs on an online shopping platform may be figuring out the shipping landscape in response to the business needs, and will be limited by time, resources, budget and ultimately knowledge.

As the business accelerates, it will start adding more sales channels, perhaps new product lines, and as demand grows the firm’s shipping needs start to become exponentially more complicated. Usually, there’s a shift to more fulfilment options, perhaps adding one or two carriers to the mix – and according to ShipStation ANZ country manager David Boyer, this tends to be where the back of the business starts creaking.

“Things start blowing up – processes can’t scale, and the business starts throwing people at the process instead of reinventing what the process should be,” says Boyer. “They’ve usually been doing something very manual to process shipments in the background, and the result is that things really do start to break. And so the firm gets bad reviews, products get sent to the wrong customer, or it’s the right product but it’s late. The ultimate challenge there is that entrepreneurs are doing this in a silo without knowing that the solutions are out there, that technology solutions exist to help them solve this from a single source.”

The first step in building better shipping practice is to understand that the challenges on the small scale aren’t substantially different from those of big business – the solutions are simply a matter of the time and effort it takes for a small team to think through and address the issues. This is where software such as ShipStation’s can provide easy automation and access to pre-integrated carriers, often at the kinds of discounts that are usually reserved for big businesses.

Solving these problems (especially given the backdrop of the pandemic and its impact on supply chains worldwide paired with the rise in demand for online shopping) is a timely issue. ShipStation’s own research bears this out – according to the firm’s Global Pulse 2021 report, 88 per cent of consumers say the shipping experience determines whether or not they will shop again with a brand in the future, while 70 per cent say a poor delivery experience negatively impacts their impression of the retailer rather than the carrier.

Retailers who adopt a solution like ShipStation’s, says Boyer, can effect a customer-centric approach built on three pillars – speed, flexibility and transparency. This ultimately increases customer retention and loyalty.

“Speed is all about when the buyer wants their products and the time that they request it, so the key thing is how a business can reduce the time to fulfil that order,” says Boyer. “It’s about how you batch process and process orders in bulk, and then how you consolidate your various software systems so that you have single places where your teams and your businesses can look to process orders or manage inventory. That singular dashboard helps reduce order processing time while enabling businesses to access more than one carrier partner, opening magnitudes of delivery speed increase by leveraging a couple of different provider options.” 

Flexibility, on the other hand, deals with how a business can meet customer expectations throughout the entire process from checkout to receiving the order. “We see the more successful businesses offering just two to three different options at checkout, such as a same-day option and then an economy or standard. Offering too many can cause an analysis paralysis mindset for some consumers – but the second half of that is at the business level. How do your systems know that the requested service is going to be matched to the actual carrier service that you’re using automatically? And then, if you’re going to leverage multiple different carriers and delivery networks, how can you automate this so that you’re not having to manually make those decisions at the staff level every time an order comes in? Finally, how do you offer a hassle-free way for customers to return items?”

The third piece of the puzzle is transparency, which corresponds to the way a business communicates shipping status to customers throughout the whole process. “The three big things are simply, order received, order on its way, order is at your door,” explains Boyer. “These and making sure your shipping policy is on your website! If you cover that from a communication standpoint, you’ll reduce the ‘wismo’ question, which is the number one question from customers – where’s my order? Why isn’t it shipping? If you can automate that communication, then you’re significantly reducing that customer service inquiry time.”

The takeaway is that poor shipping can heavily impact e-commerce stores, making resolving shipping issues of critical importance as 2022 proceeds. For SMEs, shipping doesn’t have to be complicated and there’s no need to be a big business to be able to use platforms like ShipStation, saving both time and cost.

“The ShipStation platform helps businesses optimise and efficiently deliver their products to customers wherever they sell and however they function,” says Boyer. “What we really do is to synchronise the key shipping processes that almost every e-commerce business is challenged with, from printing labels in bulk, how to manage tracking and indicate that to your channels all the way through to returns management and accessing pre-negotiated rates through our software.”

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