Easing the pain of shipping: 5 tips to optimize shipping solutions

Easing the pain of shipping: 5 tips to optimize shipping solutions

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By Jesse Kaufman, CEO and founder, ShippingTree

For many customers, online shopping is exciting (or, at the very least, more enjoyable than leaving the house to visit a store). Actually, receiving the product is even more exciting. But that time in between the purchase and its arrival? Not so much.

Shipping itself isn't the problem — customers know waiting for a product ordered online is inevitable. The problem is when shipping goes awry. When customers wait longer than expected for their merchandise, are faced with surprise shipping fees, or can't get answers from the carrier or company, it taints their entire interaction with a business. Companies that have seen this problem before know it leads to complaints, bad reviews, and even long-time customers leaving.

But shipping doesn't have to be where your customers' enjoyment bottlenecks. Here are five best practices to consider when you're designing the best possible shipping experience for buyers:

1. Do: Know "custom" is not always customer-friendly

Avoid the temptation to build a fully customized e-commerce platform. The promise of an amazing website often lures businesses into a creating a customized experience, but it requires major work on the company's end to integrate with a fulfillment company. After establishing your beautiful (but incompatible) store, you will face two doors: Door No. 1 leads to higher spending on perfecting your store-to-fulfillment integration, while door No. 2 reveals a lofty manual process to transmitting orders and data.

Behind neither door is a jackpot. Avoid that situation by choosing an established solution as the foundation for your online store. These services provide easy integration and hold down costs. The best part: A pre-packaged solution looks just as amazing as a customized store.

2. Don't: Muddle costs

An unexpectedly high shipping rate sucker-punches a customer. If shoppers are presented with shipping costs they didn't expect, 28 percent of them will abandon their online carts. Because the shipping price can make or break a purchase, it is critical to inform customers upfront about the shipping figure. Buyers find it frustrating when they wade into the weeds of the checkout process only to see a huge price tag on shipping. A better approach would be to post the shipping price on the cart page before checkout. The best approach would be to display shipping estimates on the product page itself.

Of course, there's no use in displaying the shipping rate if it doesn't match what your customer sees on the checkout page. It needs to be accurate. That accuracy comes from your shipping software — installing and maintaining powerful software increases your chances of delivering accurate rates. And when customers aren't surprised with high shipping costs, conversion rates and customer loyalty are proven to increase. The market brims with shipping software most businesses can drop into their shopping cart platforms.

3. Do: Give customers an offer they can't refuse

Whether it's free shipping or a flat, low shipping rate, a shipping incentive can serve as a linchpin in a customer's purchase decision. Eighty-three percent of shoppers would shop online more frequently with shipping costs nixed. Also, when offered free shipping, studies show customers buy more.

The caveat here is customers have to know shipping is free right away. Place these shipping benefits in the place customers are most likely to look — next to the navigation bar or, better yet, in a pop-up box when a user first reaches your site — so they're more inclined to make a purchase. Unclear shipping incentives won't help your customers, so show them off.

4. Do: Let choosy buyers be choosy

Customers know what they like. Some might prefer a certain shipping carrier in their local community — maybe the UPS guy abandons items on an exposed porch or FedEx is notoriously delayed. There will be as many shipping idiosyncrasies as there are consumers. Let them know which carrier options are available. A customer may be willing to pay more for their preferred carrier, but they have to be given the option. Even if you can't accommodate niche carriers, let buyers know which ones you do work with so they know what to expect.

5. Don't: Make customers guess when they'll get the goods

Politics and shipping solutions have this in common: Managing expectations is critical. Reach for a higher level of clarity than simply "standard" or "express." Give your customers some straight-talk, and describe the shipping time frames with as much accuracy as possible.

Keep in mind that you're likely not the only party involved in this step. If you don' handle your own shipping, you have to factor in a fulfillment company's turnaround time — one company might process an order the day it receives one, while the next waits until the following business day. Know your partners' methods as well as you know your own, and keep your customers in the loop. Better yet, find a shipping partner who takes care of all these processes for you.

Shipping done right changes the customer's perception of the transaction — and of your company. Remain proactive and transparent with your buyers, and you'll hold their excitement right up to the moment when they open that package.

Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Service, Retail - General, Supply Chain

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