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Make or break: 11 of the most important shipping decisions

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These critical choices can affect your company’s reputation – and yours.

No matter where you are in your shipping career, certain decisions can make or break your shipping operation. Here are 11 of the most important shipping-related choices you will ever make.

Certain decisions can make or break your shipping operation.

1. Do you have the right box?  

Why it’s a make-or-break decision: You can make real contributions to your company’s bottom line (and look like a hero) by reducing damage rates and shipping costs when you start with the right box.

Tips: Think about what you are selling, advises Quint Marini, UPS package engineering manager. “The sturdier the product, the less packaging will be needed,” he says. Size matters; smaller packages jostle around more as they travel to the consumer. “Your packaging has to be robust.” Use a box that’s new or nearly so, with no tears, rips or corner damage. A single crease reduces box strength up to 70 percent.

2. Are the contents properly protected?  

Why it’s a make-or-break decision: Use too little packaging and you risk having your goods arrive damaged. Too much packaging and you’re spending too much on shipping, which cuts into your bottom line or raises prices for customers.

Tips: Find the right balance. Wrap individual items and keep them at least 2 inches away from box walls. Fragile items require extra TLC. Marini cites framed artwork, for example: UPS designed special cushioning that suspends frames within the box, “like a corrugated spring system that isolates it from the outer box.”

3. Do you need custom packaging?  

Why it’s a make-or-break decision: Certain items – and some would say most – need special packaging that’s made for that item. Cupcakes, for instance. Or glassware. Or vaccinations.

When guitar-maker C.F. Martin & Co. wanted to reinvent its packaging, UPS helped design a box that could protect each instrument, accommodate different sizes, keep shipping costs down and eliminate plastic. Compared with the previous packaging, damage is down 39 percent.

Tip: To join the big leagues, consider having custom packaging made for your top-selling items.

4. Does your shipment need to be kept cool?  

Why it matters: If your business sells perishables, keeping goods cold during transit is your No. 1 priority – and messing up will sink your business. But even if that’s not your business, chances are you might personally ship items like fresh fruit or lobster tails that need to stay at the right temperature.

Tips: You can use freezer packs or dry ice, available from The UPS Store®. For California wineries, temperature-controlled shipping was the answer. That’s what worked for Hess Collection Winery. In hot summer months, too much heat can turn vino to vinegar. Now the bottles travel at a wine-friendly 55 degrees to UPS distribution centers in Texas, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida – and arrive the next day at the customer’s front door

5. Is it time to “go green” with your packaging?  

Why it matters: Sometimes “green” means not just more sustainable but less money, too. For example, UPS customer Underwater Audio was able to reduce packaging costs by an average of $6.50 per shipped unit after implementing a sustainable packaging program.

Tip: Stock up on recycled bubble pack, peanuts or other packing materials. Using a box that’s too big wastes packing materials as well as space on the trucks or airplanes that deliver your goods.

6. Do you have the right shipping software?  

Why it’s a make-or-break decision: Shortcuts and integration – such as pulling address data from customer orders – streamline shipping. Being able to integrate shipping with your inventory and accounting software can save you loads of money and time, and reduce errors.

Tips: UPS Internet Shipping is best for low-volume or occasional shippers (fewer than 25 packages per week). For companies with multiple locations and multiple shippers, UPS CampusShip® might work best. It allows you to log in from anywhere but with centralized controls and billing. If you expect to ship more than 25 packages a week, or have more complex needs, upgrade to WorldShip®. WorldShip is best for high-volume shipping operations.

7. Should you integrate shipping with your website?  

Why it’s a make-or-break decision: The payoff from end-to-end integration can be dramatic. Martin Guitar integrated its computer data with WorldShip and saved 40 hours a month, says Kathy Hartzell, logistics manager. Results were similar at ProMarine USA, a marine engine-parts supplier that integrated its website with WorldShip and ProMarine’s invoice and inventory systems. “Now we can pick and pack a shipment in 10 minutes,” says Tony December, general manager.

Tip: UPS Developer Kit APIs can be integrated into your website’s shopping cart with APIs (application programming interfaces) for shipping, tracking and even address validation. The APIs are free, but require tech support to install.

8. Does it make sense to incentivize free shipping?  

Why it’s a make-or-break decision: The 2014 UPS Pulse of the Online ShopperTM study says 93 percent of buyers have taken action to qualify for free shipping by increasing their order or opting for shipping to a nearby store. “Free shipping can increase online sales revenue more than enough to offset the additional cost,” says Bala Ganesh, UPS retail segment marketing director. But do it wrong and it can sap your bottom line.

Tips: Set a cart threshold for free shipping. Also, consider promoting loyalty programs and free shipping upgrades to promote an enhanced delivery experience and repeat purchases.

9. Will you need help with exporting?  

Why it’s a make or break decision: More than 90 percent of consumers are outside the United States.

Solutions: UPS can help in many ways, says Greg Maddaleni, a UPS marketing manager. You can use UPS TradeAbility® to help with compliance and classification of goods, and UPS Paperless® Invoice to streamline trade documents and customs clearance. “Companies can leverage UPS expertise and infrastructure,” he says. “Our export group will work with you to understand your goals, make sure you make the right decisions and minimize the risks.”

10. Should you drop ship?  

Why it matters: When suppliers ship directly to customers, you save time and money. The key is to ensure top-notch customer service, as measured by WISMO (where is my order?) calls.

Tip: “UPS makes it simple,” says Katy Kiyo of Big Hug, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She requires her 30-odd suppliers to ship via UPS, and she uses tracking technology to keep customers up to date. “We don’t get WISMO calls,” she says.

11. Can you get closer to the customer?  

Why it’s a make or break decision: Arranging for warehousing and distribution closer to your buyers saves shipping costs and speeds transit times. So customers get goods faster, which they expect.

Tips: “Large retail chains are now turning local retail locations into virtual distribution centers,” Ganesh says. “But that requires space, trained staff and solid inventory management.” A better alternative for some could be outsourcing distribution and fulfillment to UPS, especially since UPS Contract Logistics allows you to scale up or down as needed without making a heavy capital investment or hiring and training your own staff.

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