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Ecommerce shipping solutions and tips for small businesses

No matter how much or how little you ship, you have a few options to choose from when it comes to shipping carriers. Let's take a look.

7 min read

E-commerce is on the rise. Due to the coronavirus, online grocery and retail shopping have spiked. And experts don’t expect the popularity of online shopping to drop once the pandemic has passed.

Many small businesses across the country have already begun moving towards online sales. For brick and mortar businesses, dipping into e-commerce allows them to access a much larger pool of consumers while keeping their employees and customers safe.

But launching an online store is only half the battle. Online orders need to be shipped quickly and securely. And if you haven’t built an e-commerce shipping solution, shipping orders might be easier said than done.

Before you ship, you need to determine which shipping carrier is the right fit for your business. Royal Mail, UPS, and FedEx are common shipping carriers, but they’re not your only options. Freight shipping through an independent freight service can help you get more products to more customers across the globe. Let’s take a look.

Small business delivery options

No matter how much or how little you ship, you have a few options to choose from when it comes to shipping carriers.

Small businesses shipping small orders

Royal Mail, UPS, and FedEx all offer shipping programs for small businesses. All three carriers allow you to buy postage and print mailing labels online. From there, you can schedule a pickup or drop off your packages to save money.

Royal Mail offers a lot of guidance for small businesses about shipping goods nationally and internationally. FedEx offers a small business rewards program that allows you to earn rewards as you ship. And UPS offers business-related discounts to help your small business succeed. There are benefits to each carrier, so compare costs and, when possible, speak with a shipping advisor.

E-commerce site Etsy allows you to buy and print Royal Mail postage labels directly on-site. Likewise, eBay allows sellers to use a range of delivery services from national carriers including Royal Mail and eBay Delivery powered by Packlink. Most e-commerce sites like these offer cheaper and easier shipping for businesses.

Shipping more than 100 orders per month

It might be time to consider outsourcing your shipping if you’re:

  • Shipping more than 100 orders per month.

  • Consistently shipping far away.

  • Unable to handle order fulfillment in-house.

If the above applies to you, outsourced fulfillment can save you time and money. When you outsource shipping and order fulfillment, a third party stores your inventory, then packs and prepares your orders for shipping. Your fulfillment service will have multiple warehouses, making it faster and cheaper to ship far away from home. Plus, they take the burden of packing orders off your shoulders, allowing you to get back to what you do best. Finally, a small business fulfillment service increases your capacity to handle more orders and grow your business.

Shipping in bulk or very large packages

Businesses shipping lots of packages all the time, or shipping large, heavy packages, might consider freight shipping. Freight shipping allows you to ship heavy packages (over 150 pounds) or bulk packages by land, air, or sea. Businesses typically use freight shipping to ship products from the manufacturer to the fulfillment center or a retailer.

Many freight companies offer three freight shipping methods: full load and partial load. For partial load shipments, you split the cost of the shipment with the other parcels onboard. This makes freight shipments an affordable option for businesses that can’t quite fill a whole truck.

Royal Mail, FedEx, UPS, and DHL offer freight shipment options, but you might find better deals from independent freight services.

As always, it’s a good idea to shop around. Compare shipping costs and services before committing. Some carriers offer temperature-controlled freight shipments. Others allow you to schedule and manage your freight shipments online. Choose the freight carrier that works for you and your customers.

4 things to consider before shipping your first order

If you’re new to e-commerce, there are a few shipping technicalities to consider before launching your online store.

1. Packaging

When it comes to packaging your products, presentation is key. Think about the unboxing experience you want your customers to have when they receive orders from your shop. At the very least, they expect the product to arrive clean and intact. Additionally, shipping your products is a great opportunity to surprise and delight your customers with personalised packaging while showcasing your brand.

The type of packaging you use to ship your products depends on the products you’re selling. Some items will require a sturdy box filled with packing material. Others can be shipped in a simple mailer bag.

The packaging itself can be expensive. 

Here are a few tips to help you save money on packing materials:

  • Buy shipping materials in bulk. It might be more expensive upfront, but you’ll save money per unit on the back end. 

  • Use flat-rate boxes. Flat-rate boxes are a great option for smaller, heavier items.

  • Get free shipping supplies. Most mail carriers offer free shipping supplies. All you need is an account. Supplies can be ordered online for delivery or pickup.

2. Destinations

Ask yourself how far you’re willing to ship orders. In general, the further the package has to travel, the more expensive the shipping will cost.

If you plan to ship orders internationally, there are a few stipulations to keep in mind. Some products are forbidden from entering some countries—and they’re not always obvious. You probably know that you can’t ship explosives or gasoline. But did you know nail polish and perfume are on the internationally prohibited list as well? Or that you can’t ship “footwear of any kind” to Italy? Check international shipping restrictions before you ship.

Keep in mind that international shipping often comes with additional taxes, duties, and documentation, like customs declarations. Plus, it’s more expensive. If your items aren’t priced for international shipping, you could lose money on the sale.

3. Speed and cost

Consumers have come to expect both free and fast shipping options—an expensive combination for small businesses diving into e-commerce. 

If you want to please your customers without breaking the bank, try the following:

  • Offer free shipping with minimum orders. Offering free shipping on a low-cost item could cost you money on the sale. Minimum order deals drive up the amount a customer spends in your shop and ensure sales cover shipping costs.

  • Offer flat shipping rates. A flat shipping rate of £5, for example, means your customers pay £5 for shipping no matter how much or how little they buy. You might end up paying additional shipping on larger orders, but the smaller orders that cost less than £5 to ship will help you break even.

4. Volume

The number of orders you ship and how often you ship them will help you determine your shipping strategy. Your shipping strategy defines how you’re going to get orders to your customers and which shipping carrier you’ll use. Royal Mail, UPS, FedEx, and DHL are the most common shipping carriers.

Small businesses shipping just a few orders a week can likely handle order fulfillment in-house. This means you receive orders, prep the orders for shipping, and hand them off to your shipping carrier yourself. Businesses sending large packages, or more than 100 orders a month, might consider outsourcing shipping and fulfillment to save time and money. In any case, shop around and work with your shipping carrier to determine the ideal shipping strategy for your order volume.

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Shipping made easy

No matter where you are in your e-commerce journey, shipping is an integral part of your success. Late or damaged products can damage your reputation, whereas fast, free shipping can skyrocket your success. As the popularity of e-commerce grows, there’s never been a better time to embrace the internet and build a solid shipping strategy.

Starting your own business in UK

We hope you’ve found this article about shipping options helpful. If you need help in any other areas, use our comprehensive checklist for starting your own business in the UK – it covers everything from developing your initial business idea to finding your first customers. Fill out the short questionnaire to get a personalised to do list sent straight to your inbox.