Welcome to The Beat by Pulse! The Beat is an interactive education series geared towards entrepreneurs and marketers. You can gain exclusive insights on the latest marketing strategies and tech platforms to propel your brand’s growth. 

Our goal is to help you find inspiration for your brand’s next bold step.

Our fifth episode in the series is Shipping 101: Get Back to Basics! 

Many of the times, brands often over look shipping as an important aspect of their business and how vital it can be to improve customer service. Brands must learn how to estimate costs with different carriers and find the most effective ways to offer shipping to their customers. We invited Kevin Kline, Manager and Alliances at ShipStation, the number 1 customer shipping platform to teach us best practices for your brand's shipping strategy! 

You can watch the full webinar here

Question 1: How should brands pick a carrier? 

Savvy brands evaluate all the carrier options available to them to meet their customers expectations. All carriers have strengths and weaknesses. There are numerous factors that must be considered when deciding which carrier is best for their business model. Examples of these factors include dimensional weight, geolocation and customer expectation of delivery. 

Example 1 - One example is a sunglasses retailer that we work with. The average sunglasses shipment falls under a certain weight class (13 oz) where the postal service provides competitive pricing. However postal wasn’t always a fit if the customer requested an expedited service. This retailer found that within certain urban regions there was relative price parity between the major carriers. However when it came to rural areas and other remote regions the post office provided significant cost savings. 

Example 2 - Another example would be a surfboard retailer we work with. They found that DHL International provided better rates to a specific country when shipping that dimensional weight (longboards). This was critical for them as they scaled their business internationally. 

Best practices for brands is to research and be intentional about which service and carrier they use based on the factors that influence shipping cost. ShipStation provides the tools to do this research and then automate the selection to take the guesswork out of fulfillment. 


Question 2: How much should brands spend on shipping?

Ideally as little as possible to meet their customers expectations! I haven’t met an ecommerce company that didn’t tell me they didn’t want to reduce shipping costs. Inefficient shipping costs can eat into profit and also result in a poor customer experience if the wrong service or carrier is selected. 

Example - The surfboard company provides another useful example here. Often customers would order a longboard and then return and place a separate order for wax or a wetsuit. ShipStation provides alerts when this happens so items can be combined into a single box for more efficient fulfillment. 


Question 3: What should a brand’s considerations be when thinking about shipping costs?

The number one consideration should be how does your fulfillment experience reflect upon your brand identity. For example, a recent survey done by ShipStation noted that 90% of consumers consider free shipping or shipping cost when deciding to make a purchase. The modern ecommerce customer has become allergic to paying for shipping. Brands need to find creative ways to offer free shipping and build this into the cost of products.

Consumers have grown accustomed to the convenience and omnipresence of click and collect, curbside, and increased delivery options at checkout. While most businesses, particularly non-big-box retailers, added these services into their processes in an effort to keep business going and consumers safe, it has become an expected part of the ecommerce experience. In order to keep customers happy, retailers should find ways to incorporate these options as standard practice.


Question 4: Give 3 ways to reduce shipping costs.

  1. Shop rates among the carriers based on dimensions and weight criteria

  2. Automate the process to reduce human error and ensure the correct services is selected.

  3. Negotiate rates with carriers directly based on estimated volume or take a look at ShipStation’s discounted rates!  


Question 5: Should a brand's customers pay for shipping?

This is dependent on the product. Consumers of luxury goods don’t consider shipping as much as a negative. However for most brands free shipping is a must. Again, 90% of consumers consider this when deciding when to make a purchase online. 

Example -  We work with a musical instrument dealer in Austin and they were grappling with shipping costs on larger items like digital keyboards. They were looking for ways to mitigate shipping costs and ended up building the cost into bundles with a piano bench and other lower cost items. The perceived value of the bundle with the additional items helped increase the average order value but did not increase the shipping cost exponentially. 


Question 6: What is the most cost effective return process?

The most effective return process is the one with the least friction and disruption to the end user. 

  • How should brands look at return costs? 

    • This is unfortunately the cost of doing business online. Customers expect free returns largely because of the Amazon effect. Brands should look to minimize the impact by shopping rates based on the product. ShipStation has a tool that allow for this so brands don’t overpay. 

  • Should brands charge for return shipping?

    • On this it really depends on the product. If you’re selling furniture for example I think it’s acceptable to require return shipping be paid by the end user. For the fashion vertical it’s expected that returns be frictionless and free. 

It comes as no surprise, free shipping and seamless returns are still among the most popular demands from consumers around the globe. While many were forgiving of shipping delays due to COVID-19, they expect that delivery times will be largely resolved by now and that retailers continue to provide the incentives offered during the pandemic — free shipping and larger return windows.


Question 7: What are best practices for updating the customer on the status of their order post shipment? 

  1. Nothing makes a customer happier than knowing exactly how long to expect a package to arrive, and the ability to track its progress along the way. This pre-dates the pandemic, however COVID-19 seems to have heightened consumers’ expectation for visibility into their shipping and delivery. Retailers will want to optimize their checkout experience to include clear delivery windows and transparency on shipping rates moving forward

  2. An email when the item enters the mailstream is essential that provides a working tracking number. ShipStation also provides a branded tracking experience so retailers can "own their traffic" instead of sending them directly to the carrier site.


Question 8: What are cheap and effective ways to offer a branded shipping experience?

  1. Brand the box. Amazon does this with something as simple as tape and the simple. 

  2. Brand the shipping/delivery notification email. 

  3. Brand the packing slip. 


Question 9: Name 3 ways to up sell a customer when they receive a shipment.

  1. Offer a generic discount for an additional purchase. 

  2. Present ancillary products with the packing slip. For example if a customer bought a guitar, brands could offer a discount on a guitar case. 

  3. Encourage them to join your network via social media or other marketing channels. 


Question 10: What are best practices for communicating shipping and returns policy on the website?

Add to product page, have links in transaction updates, easy to find on the footer, in packing slip with the order. 

The key here is to be fully transparent on your policy and include before a purchase. This not only contributes to increased conversion but also trust. Reiterating the policy on other touch points along the customer journey is critical. We recommend including this on both the packing slip and delivery notification email. 


Question 11: What are the 3 benefits of using a platform like ShipStation?

  1. The ability to integrate with 140+ different selling channels and aggregate those orders into a centralized dashboard for pick, pack and ship. 

  2. The ability to shop rates across 25+ different carriers to ensure that brands are getting the best rates on the order they are fulfilling. 

  3. The ability to automate everything and eliminate manual processes and errors. There is often a great deal of nuance in shipping that is overlooked and ShipStation accounts for all of this. 


Do you need help with your brand’s shipping strategy and implementation? Pulse offers support around shipping strategy.

BONUS*** ShipStation has a special offer through Pulse. Go to wearepulse.com or book a 15 min consultation here to see how you can up your shipping game! 

You can watch the full webinar here


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