Most businesses have a negative opinion about shipping because it can be expensive. Plus, if your company doesn’t have a well thought out shipping strategy, you’d better believe you’ll hear from your customers about it.

But if you change your perspective just a little, it’s easy to see why having a quality shipping strategy is a competitive advantage.

We know that end-line customers care when products don’t arrive on-time and in good shape. In fact, they often get so frustrated that they will stop patronizing a business. The same can be true if returns are too difficult.

Additionally, customers value a thoughtfully designed, seemingly hassle-free packaging experience. Think about how much thought brands like Blue Apron, Trunk Club and Harry’s— businesses whose primary point of contact with their customers is through their shipped box—put into their packaging. Their parcels are easy to open, well organized and aesthetically pleasing.

Many brands have capitalized on the try-before-you-buy trend of the last few years. You can order, test and return almost anything. Most buyers do end up buying something from these brands, but knowing that they aren’t required to and that they have the option of returning anything they don’t like (in packaging that’s already been provided to them) develops a rare sense of trust between customer and seller.

How can your business make a high-quality shipping experience part of your brand in 2019?

Know Your Customers

You know your products better than anybody else. You know what your customers do with them, what challenges they encounter while using those products and how you can mitigate those challenges. But do you know what challenges they encounter while getting your product? What shipping options they prefer?

For example, not every customer wants home delivery. Conduct research to find out how your customers prefer to acquire their goods. Is a pick-up service a better option? If so, how can you make that happen?

Next, make sure you’re tracking how frequently products are returned, what are those products and what are those customers saying. Today, more than 80 percent of customers say they expect to be able to drop returns off at a brick-and-mortar store or to ship them back with a prepaid label.

Companies that don’t include either of these options make it seem like they don’t want customers to ship anything back. For bottom-line reasons, they probably don’t. In the long run, maintaining long-term relationships with repeat customers is more valuable than making sure that a customer keeps that one pair of shoes.

We know that 79 percent of U.S. customers expect free returns. Of those who’ve returned items, 92 percent are perfectly willing to buy again if the returns process was easy.

Transparent Terms

As much as possible, be transparent about how customers’ products will be delivered, how much it will cost and when they can expect them. Few things are more frustrating to consumers than an unexpected charge at the end of a purchase or a weeks-wide delivery window. For customers who are already dissatisfied with the products they’ve received, an opaque returns process makes things even worse.

Make sure that your return policy is spelled out clearly on your website. Many customers actually look at return policies before they buy. So if they can’t find yours, they may not even complete their purchases.

Better yet, include your returns and exchanges policies in customers’ boxes with their purchases. That shows customers that you care about their satisfaction so much that if they’re dissatisfied, you’re willing to make things right with as little hassle as possible.  

Resource: Secrets Carriers Don’t Want You to Know (on-demand webinar)

Price vs. Convenience

Free shipping is increasingly becoming the norm across e-commerce. But it doesn’t always make sense for every company. Smaller retailers, who lack the leverage to negotiate sweetheart deals with shipping carriers, need to recover every penny they can on shipping.

However, free shipping isn’t actually free. The cost of shipping is built into the supply chain elsewhere. For businesses that sell enough volume, it may be possible to price products so that they cover shipping charges. This way, shipping can appear free at the end of the sale.

For those companies who aren’t able to offer free shipping, we know that customers are willing to pay for shipping if it’s convenient. They’ll even be willing to pay more than once for additional orders if other aspects of customer service are good.

Every company that does business online has to ship to customers. The companies that do shipping well automatically stand out from their competitors. You don’t have to offer free two-day shipping— at least not yet —or sleek custom packaging that looks like Apple’s. Just think with your customers in mind. Tell them what to expect, be straightforward about your policies and shipping fees, and make returns as painless as possible.

If your shipping strategy makes customers’ lives easier, you may find you’ve secured customers for years to come.

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