Starting an online business is a great way to earn extra income. It can also be extremely overwhelming. When it comes to starting an online business, many potential entrepreneurs fall victim to the same cycle; they have an awesome idea or product, but don’t know how to get started – especially when it comes to one of the biggest barriers to entry, shipping.
As simple as it is, an organized workspace will help prevent shipping mistakes, and developing a high-level shipping strategy will help new businesses stand out among the competition. A recent study we conducted shows that 81% of customers want to support small businesses. Here are 3 focus-areas soon-to-be merchants should consider before starting their side hustles so that their businesses can be included in that number.
Organize a workspace for success
When new small business owners start receiving their first orders, their first few shipments are often an anticipated time sink. Some initial questions they’ll need to work through include how to print a label, and how to set up their workplace. This section will address some of the biggest considerations when setting up the physical aspects of their small businesses.
Shipping supplies for getting started
First and foremost, here are some supplies merchants should keep on hand:
- Packing tape
- Bubble wrap, kraft paper, or other materials to wrap fragile items
- Thermal printer
- Permanent markers
These are not only some of the most used shipping supplies, but this list also serves as an inventory checklist. Take note of which supplies are used the most, and which supplies are used the least to prevent over-ordering shipping supplies.
Utilize organization supplies
When it comes to shipping, small businesses can never be too organized. Use storage containers, expandable file folders, and hanging shelves to build out a shipping workflow. A new small business might not have a large budget for supplies. However, local discount stores carry organization cubes, crates, and other similar products at affordable prices. Also, don’t be afraid to repurpose supplies like empty storage tubs that might already live in utility closets or under the bed.
Designate stations in the shipping workflow
Once an online store goes live, orders will start coming in. An uptick in orders can, unfortunately, mean an uptick in shipping errors. Each part of the shipping process should have a corresponding section in a workspace. For example, a storage cube on the desk can include everything needed for returns, while another container has everything for assembling boxes. This way, it’s less likely the wrong item will be shipped to the wrong customer. Having specific areas for each step of shipping will decrease the number of human errors and makes it easier to double-check work.
Consider purchasing a thermal printer
Thermal printers are printers that don’t require traditional ink cartridges. Instead, thermal printers use a type of paper that changes color when it’s heated. Additionally, thermal printers are great for printing shipping labels. These printers take up less space than a traditional ink-jet printer, so they can be easily incorporated into a shipper’s workspace. Because thermal printers don’t require ink cartridges, it’s easy to save money, because rolls of thermal sticker printer paper can be purchased in bulk or as needed.
Saving money for small businesses
Keeping a shipping budget intact can be broken down into a few, simple tips:
- Recycle/reuse shipping supplies whenever possible
- Encourage customers to return items in their original packaging
- Confirm all addresses, especially those in shared living spaces, to avoid lost or stolen packages
- Search online marketplaces for refurbished shipping equipment like thermal printers and barcode scanners
- Skip unnecessary trips to drop off mail and packages by doing everything out of your home or small office
How to stand out with your shipping
After a business owner’s workplace is set up, and orders start trickling in, the most important factor to consider is aligning with customer expectations. Customers have made their expectations around free shipping, returns, and shipping notifications known, so it’s up to new entrepreneurs to listen.
Offer free shipping
With the emergence of high-speed marketplaces and free shipping options, customers are taking shipping costs into account when shopping with businesses. A recent study we conducted found that 41% of customers prefer low shipping costs to faster delivery, and this sentiment has grown year over year. Small businesses might not be able to offer free shipping for every order, so consider offering free shipping over a certain threshold. For example, promote free shipping for orders over $50 with in-cart messaging that shows customers how much more they need to spend to qualify. Customers are more likely to spend a little more to get free shipping.
Additionally, consider free shipping for economy and standard shipping services, but charge shipping for more specialized shipping services. Overnight shipping, a carrier service where customers receive a package the day after it’s ordered, has a higher cost than a 2–4-day shipping service. To offset shipping costs, charge customers who need expedited services shipping, but continue to make economy or standard shipping free whenever possible. Here’s a breakdown for quick reference:
Available carrier service breakdown
- Overnight shipping: A carrier service where a package is received the day after it’s ordered.
- Standard shipping: A ground carrier service where a package is sent directly from the sender to the recipient.
- Economy shipping: A cost-effective carrier service for heavier shipments that don’t need to be delivered within a certain time frame.
- Two-day shipping: A carrier service where a customer received a shipment within two days of ordering.
- Same day shipping: When a business ships a package the same day it’s ordered
Make returns free and easy
Our study found that 81% of customers believe returns should be free. So if it comes down to offering free shipping or free returns, we recommend prioritizing free returns. Also, 44% of customers stated they’re less likely to shop with a business that has a complicated return policy. It’s important to not only offer free returns, but to provide customers with a clear and concise return policy. A successful return policy includes:
- Available customer support options
- Clear communication on refunds and exchanges
- What needs to be included with a return shipment
- The timeframe in which a customer can return a product
- If photographs need to be submitted to start the returns process
- Whether a return label is included with orders or needs to be requested
Communicate shipping updates to customers
There’s no worse feeling than ordering an item and never receiving it. Customers want to be able to track shipments throughout transit. In fact, we found that 42% of customers want daily shipping communications, even if there haven’t been any tracking changes. On the flip side, 37% of customers want updates when there are major tracking changes with a shipment.
The best way to bridge the gap between these two groups is to provide shipping communications for the following events:
- When a package has shipped
- When a package is in transit
- When a package is out for delivery
- When a package has been delivered
Email customers throughout shipping with an easy-to-follow tracking link, and incorporate a business logo, social media platforms, and website. This way, small businesses will align with customer expectations, while simultaneously boosting customer satisfaction and building their brand.
Organization is key, especially when a small business is new and prone to costly errors. Understanding customer expectations sets a foundation for increased customer satisfaction and sales. Starting a small business may seem daunting, but a structured shipping strategy and shipping space is key to making your entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
Rob Zaleski is the Head of Brand at ShippingEasy, where he oversees ShippingEasy’s brand strategy and overall direction. Rob drives ShippingEasy’s content strategy, with the goal of helping online sellers with their shipping and marketing initiatives. Learn more about ShippingEasy on X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.