How to stay competitive with e-commerce shipping

e-commerce shipping

Keep up with rising consumer expectations using these e-commerce shipping tips.

A woman in Atlanta is having brunch with friends when she realizes she forgot to buy a gift for a birthday party the next day. After a moment of panic, she pulls out her smartphone. In less than five minutes she’s found the perfect gift online, which will be delivered in plenty of time for the party – with no shipping charge.

Whether consumers are ordering a sofa, a T-shirt or a toaster, they expect the same seamless shipping experience.

Consumer expectations are rising quickly as fast delivery and free shipping become the new standards. Online shoppers are more likely than ever to make a purchase from a mobile device, and they expect easy returns.

It doesn’t matter if a consumer is ordering a sofa, a T-shirt or a toaster, they expect the same seamless shipping experience.

The 2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study looked in depth at the e-commerce customer experience and just how much expectations have risen. Stay competitive in the evolving world of online shopping with seven shipping strategies that will set you apart in the crowded online marketplace.

1. Process shipments efficiently for faster order fulfillment.
Fast order fulfillment is one of the top reasons shoppers purchase from online marketplaces. Considering 97 percent of e-commerce customers have bought something from a marketplace, it’s a trend to pay attention to

Faster order fulfillment starts the moment an order is placed. Most successful retailers process orders the moment they arrive. They generate the shipping label and send out the shipment the same day that the order is received. They also use address validation tools to help minimize delays caused by a simple typo.

Streamline your processing to make this as manageable as possible. Start by setting up an account with your carrier. UPS makes it easy to manage your shipments, track packages and organize your billing and pickup schedules. Shipping through a marketplace, such as Amazon or eBay? Simplify your processing with UPS Marketplace Shipping.

2. Use “free shipping” strategically.
Free shipping is the most important option for 74 percent of online shoppers, according to the UPS Pulse study. It has been shown to reduce shopping cart abandonment. For the last several years, more than half of e-commerce shipments featured free shipping.

Although shipping is never “free,” you can make customers feel like they’re getting a deal by covering their shipping costs. There are a couple of ways to do this without torpedoing your bottom line.

You can offer a free shipping threshold; that is, set a minimum qualifying purchase level. This strategy can bump up your average order size, making it less painful to cover the cost of shipping.

Offer free shipping to promote select items or reward customer loyalty. Such programs have shown great success with the largest and smallest retailers.

Consider building shipping costs into your pricing structure. If you’re not comfortable raising your prices to completely cover shipping costs, consider a partial price increase and pick up part of the tab for your customer. The key is to determine what shipping threshold makes strategic sense for your particular industry and product type.

3. Offer fast shipping options.
Most online shoppers usually select the lowest cost shipping option, but they also expect expedited shipping options for when they need orders in a hurry.

Whether they’re purchasing a last-minute gift or a high-value item, three out of four online shoppers are willing to pay more for fast shipping. Cover all of your bases with multiple service options, such as next-day, second-day and three-day services, including early morning delivery choices.

4. Use smart packaging to save on shipping costs.
Pack your goods in the smallest, lightest packaging possible that will adequately protect your goods. Excess space and weight in your shipping containers can add up to significant costs. Keep a variety of box sizes on hand and know your carrier’s dimensional value rates.

Always include enough cushioning to protect your item (use a light material like foam or bubble wrap), and be sure to tape all seams of the package with packing tape. For additional guidelines, check the support page. You can also consider creative packaging, like coffee bags, to offer your customers a unique shopping experience and minimize shipping costs at the same time.

5. Offer alternate delivery options.
Improve your customer service by empowering shoppers to select an alternate delivery option when home delivery is inconvenient. Ship-to-store capabilities make sense for retailers and are especially popular when you reduce or waive the shipping charge when shoppers select that option.

You can also enable your customer to have their package delivered to a friend or family member, or opt to pick it up at a specified location (such as lockers or convenience stores via the UPS Access Point® network). Your customer can take control of and manage their deliveries via UPS My Choice® service.

6. Communicate with your customers.
Recent UPS shopping surveys show that the worst thing a retailer can do is not to communicate with shoppers, especially if timing changes. So visibility for you and your customer is key to a good customer experience. Package tracking is just the start. Email or text your customer to tell them when a package ships, when they can expect it to arrive and to confirm delivery. You can even customize the message, asking them how they like their product or to add sales promotion offers. Package delivery carriers can provide systems that can be integrated with your website to provide these notifications automatically.

7. Offer easy returns.
Online returns are three times greater than in store, yet only 65 percent of online shoppers say they are satisfied with online return processing, according to the 2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study. Make returns simple (and free, if possible) to capitalize on this area of improvement and get a leg up on the competition.

Post a clear, straightforward return policy on your website where customers can easily find it. Most consumers will seek out this information before making a purchase, and a complicated or costly policy may mean lost sales.

From printing return labels to handling complicated exchanges, your carrier should have returns solutions that make it easy to find the right process for your business.


Automate your shipment processing. To speed up and manage the whole process, consider stand-alone software or applications that integrate into your website.

Personalize your customer experience. From email messaging to packaging choices, personalize your shopping experience to set your company apart.

Related resources:

UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper

UPS e-commerce

UPS® marketplace shipping


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