Mastering Small Business Shipping: Top Tips for Success

By Amylee Silva
July 5, 2023
Woman holding shipping parcel Small business shipping tips concept photo

Shipping orders, documents, letters, and parcels efficiently and cost-effectively is vital for any small business’s survival and growth. Getting products to customers on time and without damage determines if customers will return or refer new customers. However, shipping is often one of the most difficult and expensive areas for small companies due to the lack of bulk discounts and complex choices.

Every order matters, so it’s important to find the most affordable rates, ensure packages arrive in good condition, and keep customers informed throughout the shipping process. With the right strategies and tools, small businesses can ship like pros.

These are the most essential small business shipping tips to help you save money, provide better customer service and maximize your shipping capabilities.

  1. Negotiating Shipping Rates and Contracts

Conduct thorough research on carriers and request written rate proposals to compare their contracted shipping cost to published online rates. Ask carriers about shipping discounts for a certain volume, ways to lower fuel surcharges, options to waive or offer free shipping, and guaranteed transit time for priority shipping supplies. Also, enquire about the claims processes if packages are lost or damaged and technologies for backend reporting on shipment data and performance metrics.

Explain your business needs and goals to negotiate the best terms. Discuss packaging optimization consultation and onboarding assistance to integrate the shipping process smoothly. Comprehensively evaluate carriers on rates, value-added services, simplicity and support to maximize leverage in negotiations.

Request trial periods before committing long-term to ensure expectations are met. Have a backup carrier option to give you an upper hand. Don’t be afraid to negotiate multiple times until you’re truly satisfied.

  1. Optimizing Packaging and Dimensional Weight

Thoroughly audit all packaging materials like boxes, cushioning, tape, shipping labels, bubble wrap, and mailers. Determine the optimal box sizes and configurations based on each product’s dimensions, weight, fragility, and contents. Measure the box’s inner and outer dimensions precisely.

Consider flat-rate boxes, mailers, and reusable containers for your shipping supplies. Reduce excess void space while adequately protecting products from damage. Test packing multiple sample orders to ensure efficiency. Compare dimensional weight (box volume) versus actual weight to identify potential shipping cost reductions with smaller, more squared boxes.

Invest in specialized packing equipment like dunnage bags, corner protectors, and customizable foam inserts. Stay up-to-date on new sustainable ways to calculate shipping costs and packaging innovations. Track realized packaging and shipping cost savings over time.

  1. Streamlining Order Fulfilment Processes

Evaluate fulfillment workflow from order receipt through shipping supplies. Identify bottlenecks like manual tasks, redundant steps, and wasted time. Implement packaging and shipping tech like scale systems, machines to print shipping labels, packing stations with integrated scales, and automated baggers/envelope stuffers.

Utilize shipment management software for order aggregation, optimized packing, automated carrier rating, and customs forms. Cross-train employees in multiple fulfillment roles to handle different order volumes. Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for all fulfillment tasks with visual instructions, checklists and templates. Train employees thoroughly and continually assess workflow adherence.

Integrate your inventory and order management system with carriers’ APIs to print shipping labels automatically, package tracking and shipment status notifications. Measure key performance indicators like fulfillment time, accuracy and packing productivity. Make technology investments and process changes based on data and measurable improvements to reduce shipping costs and save money.

  1. Managing International Shipping

Several things must be considered if your small business is expanding to international shipping. Properly fill out customs forms with detailed and accurate product information to clear customs smoothly. Use a shipping service with experience in international compliance requirements for different countries.

Consider special packaging needs for overseas shipments that may experience more handling and endure longer transit times. Opt for shipping methods with tracking and insurance coverage in case of damage or loss. Establish consistent lead times that consider international shipping transit periods so customers receive orders promptly. Also, develop a process for handling international customer service inquiries and claims.

  1. Tracking and Communication

Provide customers with clear and proactive tracking updates at every stage of the shipping process. Communicate things like estimated delivery windows, shipment status changes, expected delays, and proof of delivery. Offer customers the option to receive updates via email, text, or a tracking portal. Respond promptly to customer inquiries by researching the order status with your carrier.

Consider offering real-time tracking via GPS for high-value or time-sensitive shipments. Set expectations by informing customers upfront about your shipping policies, available tracking options, and normal transit times. And immediately escalate any issues that affect expected delivery to resolve problems as quickly as possible.

  1. Optimizing Shipping Costs and Customer Satisfaction

Look for ways to cut and calculate shipping costs and fees while providing efficient customer service. Compare rates depending on the shipping carrier to find the best price for your types and volumes of shipments – some may offer free shipping for certain volumes. Consider using a shipping aggregator to compare rates and manage shipments across carriers easily. Negotiate discounts based on shipping volume.

Invest in packaging materials that reduce damage while using less material to cut costs. Maximize warehouse efficiency through proper inventory organization and optimized packing routines. And use data analytics to identify shipping carriers, issues causing delays, damage, high shipping costs and customer dissatisfaction.

  1. Leveraging Shipping Process Analytics and Data

Shipping data and analytics can provide valuable insights to optimize small business logistics. Review reports on order volume trends, shipping method performance, damage and reject rates, costs and savings breakdowns, and customer feedback. Analyze shipping and fulfillment KPIs (key performance indicators) to benchmark progress toward goals.

Identify areas where data reveals opportunities for improvement, like reducing costly delays, consolidating shipping carriers, optimizing packaging, streamlining processes, and updating policies. Then use that data to make actionable changes to achieve cost savings, speed up delivery times, improve customer experiences, and gain competitive advantages.

The foundation of most successful small businesses is finding ways to ship products and materials efficiently. A proper shipping strategy can reduce shipping costs and headaches and ensure products arrive safely and on time. Small businesses can maximize their shipping cost by utilizing shipping carriers offering competitive shipping discounts, optimizing packaging, strategically planning, and dealing with reputable shipping services.

With shipping costs often representing a sizable portion of operating expenses, every small optimization can add significant savings over time. One of the ways to do this is by always asking if your carrier will offer free shipping. So keep exploring these shipping strategies, technologies, and shipping services to improve your operations continuously. The success of your small business may very well depend on it.

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