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Shipping services

5 most common shipping mistakes and how to avoid them

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From speed and service to supply chain basics, your daily choices may be hurting your bottom line.

Shipping represents more than just a way to get your goods from your door to your customers. It's a calling card that demonstrates your commitment to quality and your dedication to customer service. Avoiding a few all-too-common shipping pitfalls can give you a competitive edge by helping you save time and money, getting your products to their destination in the best condition and telling your valued customers that you understand their needs. Here are five easy-to-make mistakes – and what to do about them.

Be sure to avoid these common shipping pitfalls.

Mistake 1: Insufficient shipping options

In a drive to offer customers free shipping, some companies may sacrifice options that customers value even more, such as speed and flexibility, says Melanie Alavi, UPS retail segment manager. Customers in a hurry may turn elsewhere.

Solution: Although 54 percent of online shoppers say they prize free or discounted shopping, more than a third also value having the flexibility to choose their own delivery date, according to a 2013 UPS study of online consumers. You can satisfy both needs by offering a variety of shipping options when they order, Alavi suggests. To contain costs, free shipping may involve ground deliveries or a certain dollar threshold. That's fine for routine purchases, but impulse purchases or a holiday or birthday may demand greater delivery speed. You might offer the opportunity for two-day or even overnight air services. Even if they ultimately choose the free option, customers will appreciate the ability to make that decision themselves, Alavi says. "What they really value is choice."

Mistake 2: Right product, wrong package

Considering the care and energy you put into your products, why compromise them with reused or wrong-sized packages? "The structural integrity of a box breaks down by 50 percent after a single shipment, making it less able to protect what's inside," says Quint Marini, package engineering manager for UPS Packaging Solutions. The same goes for boxes that are too large or small, or aren't sufficiently reinforced to support the size or weight of the object enclosed.

Solution: As a rule, use new boxes with at least 2 inches of cushion against every side, says Marini. But a lot depends on the size, weight and fragility of the item to be shipped. If you're introducing a new product or changing an existing one, you may want special guidance to make sure the packaging suits your needs, Marini suggests. Working with UPS Package Engineering specialists, you can create custom packages designed just for your needs, and even road test the packages before you put them into use, to help ensure your deliveries get to your customers exactly as you send them.

Mistake 3: Unhappy returns

A returns policy that isn't clear and easy to find and use can frustrate your customers or even drive them into the arms of the competition, says Jim Brill, returns portfolio marketing manager for UPS. "Companies that maintain mediocre policies do so at their own peril."

Solution: In the age of online shopping, customers don't wait until they've made a purchase to evaluate a return policy. "They want to be sure that if they don't like it or want a different color, they can send it back. That's a big part of the customer experience," Brill says. Don't bury your return policy on your site in the small print three clicks away, he suggests. Instead, place the terms prominently on the page where customers are shopping. Tell them how long they have to decide, who pays for shipping, and other details. While companies may fear a flood of returns, studies show such visibility actually builds loyalty, Brill says. You can further enhance the process by providing customers with preprinted or printable labels, available from UPS Returns®, that they can simply apply when returning an item.

Mistake 4: Ignoring inbound logistics

As natural as it is to focus on the products you ship to customers, don't forget about all those shipments suppliers send to you. Without taking control of your total supply chain, you're leaving opportunities on the table.

Solution: When inbound shipments are on the way, do you have any say in how they get there? Something as simple as asking suppliers to use your UPS discounted rates could save you up to 35 percent on your inbound shipping costs. At the very least, ask your three or four top suppliers to do so, suggests Matthew Hanna, a marketing manager with UPS. You may also save by asking shippers to use a less expensive delivery method (say, ground vs. air) that still meets your schedule. You can give your staff greater visibility into packages within your facility using UPS Trackpad®. (And to take it one step further, thoroughly analyze your inbound supply chain. This free e-book "Enhancing Global Inbound Logistics & Operations [PDF]" can help.)

Mistake 5: Not connecting your website to your supply chain

As your business grows and your shipping volume and complexity expand, software that doesn't keep pace can leave your staff and customers in the dark, says Daniel Franz, product manager, Customer Technology Marketing for UPS.

Solution: Integrate your website and internal systems with UPS application programming interfaces (APIs) that can enhance customer satisfaction and improve operations. With UPS APIs, for example, you can offer customers advantages such as Shipping, Rating, and UPS Signature Tracking® without their ever having to leave your site. Meanwhile, greater visibility enables your staff to improve the accuracy of orders and automate fulfillment and global shipping processes. Installing UPS APIs requires time and the services of experienced IT developers, Franz notes, so it's best suited to companies with sophisticated shipping operations. But if the need fits, greater visibility can help you stay ahead of the technology curve.

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Reader Comments

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Julio Corpeno
I understand how important it is to offer shipping options, but shipping is not cheap. So when customers place an order thinking they can return it with no cost to them, you are not only not making a sale but losing money in the free return -- especially those customers that buy something use it once and return it, because it is free. I bet you don't want that kind of people. People who buy online, first they know what they want, they look for it and when they find it, they decide to buy or not. If there is no fault on your part, the customer pays for their shipping. What you need are serious shoppers.
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Annabelle Havlicek
As an eBay seller (and teacher) for over 15 years I learned how important the shipping side of selling was. I always included more than one option for shipping a buyer's purchase, and many times buyers would choose the fastest and more costly. When I was teaching how to sell on eBay I spent a lot of time on packaging, shipping and getting those things right in order to make the selling experience perfect for their buyer. There's only one down side to my eBay years and that it's turned me into a woman with a horrible box fetish, both at home and at work. But that's okay, it works out.
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