Once products begin to sell, the very herculean task of shipping these products to the right customers begins. If you’re still selling on a very small scale, it is fairly easy to keep track of where each of your products is in the delivery system. However, if you’re planning to scale up, or are suddenly seeing a boom in sales volume, eCommerce shipping management can be a major pain point.
The greater the product variety you have, and the more orders you begin to receive, the process of sorting the right products into your shipment and keeping track of deliveries gets cumbersome. However, fret not, because this eCommerce shipping guide is designed to make the process sequential, and therefore, understandable.
Chapter 1: So, What Is A Shipment?
Traditionally, every time you made a sale, you would go to the carrier with your product, print out labels, pack the product and hand it over to a shipping partner such as FedEx or UPS. As a growing business, not only is this very time consuming, you cannot possibly have the resources to carry a truckload or more of products to the shipper each day. This is where shipments come in.
Most shipping partners these days offer retailers the option of having their products picked up from warehouses. By creating a shipment for each fulfillable order, you’re able to have the packaged product ready to go. Once the shipping partner arrives at a stipulated time each day, you are well-prepared.
There is usually no size limit on a shipment unless your shipping partner specifies so. Any and all items that are transported via a single bill are one shipment. Naturally, you need to print out shipment numbers in serial order. You’ll also need to collect the reference number from your partner and collate this with your shipment number.
How To Create A Shipment In Primaseller
On Primaseller, you can create a shipment for all fulfillable orders, meaning products for that order are in stock. For B2B orders, you can create a shipment even if some orders are partially fulfillable, meaning you have only some products from the order in stock.
From the tabs on the left side, clicking on ‘Online Orders’ and then on ‘pending shipments’ brings you to this page. Under this list, you will see all of those orders which are pending shipping, irrespective of the inventory status. In this screen, we have about seven such orders.
You can select one or more of these orders and click on the ‘Create Shipment’ option. You will then see a pop-up that asks you whether you want to create a shipment only for completely fulfillable orders or whether you’d want to do so for partial orders as well.
Do note that if you choose the option we did and ignore inventory status, your inventory reporting within Primaseller may be affected. Click on the ‘Pack’ option. These orders will now move into the ‘To Process’ filter under ‘Shipment’ on the left-hand side.
Do note that different channels may have different shipment requirements. For some of them, you can create a shipment only if all products in the order are available while for others, you can ship orders partially too. This depends on the policies of the channel you have sold on.
Chapter 2: Packaging And Labeling
We now come to perhaps the most cumbersome process of fulfilling an online order- packaging.
There are several things to consider while choosing what packaging to go with:
- Fragile items will need more padding, and will, therefore, take up more volume even if the product itself is tiny. This applies to anything that cannot weather shipping conditions- electronic goods, breakable items, perishable goods, etc.
- As the volume of your package goes up, you’ll be paying more to your shipping partner.
- Volume concerns aside, some products look so much better when they arrive in custom packaging.
- Most shipping partners provide their own, approved packaging material for a fee. It may be wise to use them, or at least use packaging material of similar dimensions.
Once you’ve decided what sort of packaging would be ideal for your needs, there is still the very manual process of actually packing the product and labeling it correctly.
Invoices And Labeling With Primaseller
You can use Primaseller to print your own shipping labels, thereby saving time and money. In the previous screen, we saw how to create a shipment. Shipments then move into the ‘To Process’ filter.
Before we tell you more about this section, do note that you can see two buttons in blue on top- one for printing invoices and another for assigning a shipper. You can do either of these actions first and another second.
In the current screen, we have eight orders in the ‘packed’ tab. Select one or more orders and assign a shipper. There’s a new feature in Primaseller that lets you integrate shipping partners into your account. Before we discuss the process further, let’s take a small detour and see how you can integrate shipping partners with us.
Click on the ‘Settings’ option in the top right-hand corner. You’ll be led to a screen where you can change settings for several aspects. Click on ‘Shipper Configuration’ under the ‘Shipping’ option. You’ll be led to this screen.
Select the ‘Add Shipper’ option. You will be led to a screen from where you can set up shippers from your existing service providers.
After this, all you need to do is choose the shipping partner you use often, sign in with the account details they associate with you and you’re done. From here on, whenever you choose your shipping partner, you will be able to directly integrate orders and shipments into the shipper account.
Okay, back from the detour. Select orders from the ‘To Process’ filter and click on Print Invoices. These invoices can then be attached to the order. Then, you can click on the ‘Assign Shipper’ option which will lead you here.
We have Royal Mail and UPS configured here. You can have any number of integrated shippers configured from the ones we support. Your package dimensions will then be compared to the shipper requirements. If they meet the desired criteria, your integrated shipper will be assigned.
Also, if you have more than one integrated shipper, for each of your orders, you can independently compare shipping rates and choose which shipper to go with. You can do this entire process within Primaseller.
Once you’ve chosen the shipping partner, click on ‘Get Rates’ to choose your shipping rates. You can then print labels from within Primaseller. These labels are accepted by your integrated shipper. Here’s what a label printed using Primaseller for a USPS package looks like.
Chapter 3: Where We ACTUALLY Ship
By this point, we have a product in stock for the order received. We have ensured that it is packed and has all its labels in place. We have also assigned a shipping partner. Now, it’s time to do the actual shipping.
As we mentioned earlier, most shipping partners offer to pick up consignments from you once they’re packed and ready. Depending on the delivery speed you need for each order, you may choose standard shipping or go with expedited shipping. The fee you pay for each service, and service provider varies significantly. Here’s a useful comparison of shipping partners and the perks and pitfalls of choosing one over the other. Do note that shipping rates fluctuate ever so slightly throughout the year.
Shipping With Primaseller
All orders that are ready to be shipped can be found by clicking on the ‘Ready To Ship’ tab next to ‘packed’.
By choosing one or more orders and clicking on the ‘Bulk Actions’ option, you can choose to ship all of these products in a single manifest, print invoices if you haven’t already, or ship directly without creating a manifest.
This is what a manifest would look like.
By clicking on the ‘Safe & Ship’ option, your manifest is officially marked as shipped. You’re finally done! Remember to click on this button only when your consignment has actually left the facility. If you’re not ready to do this yet, you can always save the manifest and come back when you’ve sent the consignment out.
Finally, your product is out the door and begins its journey to your consumer. If you have your insurance in place, this is a time to stop worrying about this consignment and move on to the next set of orders that need to be shipped.
Chapter 4: How To Track Your Shipped Items
Every online retailer knows that shipping doesn’t end with sending the products out the door. You need to keep an eye on when the product reaches your customer. Moreover, you also need to consider how to handle returns and requests for replacement.
Tracking is fairly straightforward. Your shipping partner will give you a tracking ID for each of your orders. You can simply use these IDs to see when your product is delivered. It also provides accountability. For example, if a carrier’s policy is that they usually deliver within ten days of the orders being received, you can see if indeed that is happening. If too many of your orders reach after the stipulated timelines, grumpy customers will hold you responsible. Hence, you may want to consider using different shipping partners for different needs. If and when the time comes that one of them consistently fails to deliver on their SLA, you would be aware of what options you have.
Handling returns can be slightly difficult if you’re doing it manually. Your returns policy decides how much of the onus is on you to accept returns. If your customer is responsible for shipping the product back to you, you can set an upper limit on time. For example, you only accept returns if they reach you within a week from delivery.
However, if you promise to pick up returns yourself, you’ll have to consider what kind of agreement you make with your shipping partner. Once you receive the product back, you can decide if it is in working order. If it is, add it back to your inventory and if not, dispose of it.
Tracking And Returns With Primaseller
The ‘Reject In Progress’ filter on the left-hand side is your go-to place for information on everything that happens when your orders face the prospect of returns.
In the current screen, you can see that there are two orders in this section. Once a return has been processed, you have several options for what to do with each order. You can click on the receive option on the right side next to each order. From each order, you can select each of the items and choose to add them back to your inventory or mark the product as lost/ damaged. If you mark the product as lost, it will not be added to your inventory.
Chapter 5: How To Manage Shipping When There Is A Spike In Sales
Some spikes in sales are predictable. They happen around festive sales, or some products sell more in certain seasons of the year. For predictable spikes, you can stock up inventory well in advance. Based on past sales trends, you can also ensure that your shipping partner is in the loop about expecting more shipments from you. Sometimes, the more you ship, the lesser you pay your partner.
Several customers may not be very accommodating about extra days needed for delivery. This is especially true if you’ve made a delivery promise. Receiving more orders shouldn’t make you break this promise. Here’s how you can ensure timely delivery even with a sales spike.
- Put extra hands on deck for packaging and labeling. If need be, hire contract employees so you have sufficient manpower during the peak season.
- Create consignments as and when orders are ready and ship them out.
- Choose multiple shipping partners for orders so you’re not dependent on one of them. The counter-argument to this is that choosing a single partner can help you with bulk discounts. Weigh your options so the package reaches the customer as soon as possible.
- During the sale season, most shipping partners have guidelines about what service to use for different timelines. For example, FedEx SmartPost may say that for delivery by Christmas Eve, you need your products to reach them by December 12th.
- Keep the inventory moving. Getting products out the door is the only way to make money and use up less space in the process.
Chapter 6: How To Ship Internationally
Selling internationally is not that far out of your arena, especially when you sell online. You now have the potential to receive orders from any corner of the world. However, international shipping is both slightly expensive and more of a process.
Each country may have a different customs process and the associated fee. In most cases, the onus is on the importer (your customer in this case) to pay them. Can you offset this fee for the customer by pricing your product slightly lower? Also, what happens to your product if it cannot be delivered? How do you handle returns?
Apparel sites like Asos have their own local partners who are responsible not just for delivery but returns and replacements as well. For international shipping, they are usually mildly flexible with returns. Having one point of contact for order tracking can be immensely helpful for you.
Then, there’s the issue of what happens when your shipping partner is not present in the destination country. Most shipping companies have tie-ups with other local shipping agencies in places where they don’t have a physical presence. Once your shipment is handled by two different partners, however trustworthy they are, uncertainties in deliveries set in. Indeed, an international customer may be much more skeptical buying from you, and if you cannot promise a delivery window, they may just decide not to shop.
When you sign up with a shipping partner, be sure to ask them what their international policy is. Which carriers are they trusting in destination countries? What is their service usually like? Also, if the product were to be misplaced by this local partner, will your partner still be liable?
Chapter 7: The Summary
In summary, shipping can be hassle-free with the use of technology and when you find reliable partners. If you already have a shipping process in place but it isn’t working, it is time to evaluate each step in the process. Here are a few evaluation questions to ask yourself.
- Is my warehouse designed and stocked such that my products are easy to find?
- When I receive orders from multiple channels, do I have the capabilities required to process all my orders simultaneously?
- Will the use of technology make my order management more efficient?
- Is my agreement with shipping partners thorough with no scope for loopholes?
- Am I using the right packaging to minimize damage in transit?
- Are my products being delivered on time in most cases?
- Am I able to handle returns and replacements effectively without confusion arising in inventory management?
By evaluating your actions every step of the way, you can pinpoint the location of the problem and take corrective action. There’s perhaps no such thing as smooth shipping, but with diligence and by following best practices, you can make it one less thing to worry about.
Armed with a degree and a pen, loves to tell stories. When not telling stories, she also works. Hard to decide which one she likes more.