How to Choose a Shipping Carrier in Seven Steps

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As an online retailer, shipping is an enormous component of your business. The way you choose to ship your packages determines their physical appearance, the care and speed with which they are delivered, and the journey they take on the way to your customers. You decide all these things and more when you choose a shipping carrier.

When you sell online, your shipping provider plays an important role in customer satisfaction. But the process of finding a carrier you trust to deliver your products to your standards can be daunting and choosing incorrectly can be risky. A problem with the shipping process (like a late delivery or rough handling) may not be your fault, but your customers will associate a bad shipping experience with your brand either way.

Choosing the right shipping carrier is essential when it comes to making good impressions on your customers. Make sure you pick the carrier that makes sense for your shipping process and standards, business size, and budget.

1. Ask the Necessary Questions

Before setting out to choose a carrier, make sure you know what you need first. Consider the following:

  • What kind of products do you ship?
  • How often do you ship?
  • Where do you ship? Locally or internationally?
  • If you ship internationally, how often?
  • Do you ship fragile items?
  • Do your products require extra care? For example, are they pharmaceutical or medical products that require specific conditions during transit?

After you know what you need from a carrier, it’s important to be sure they can deliver. Research the carriers’ capabilities, especially as they pertain to your products and the delivery experience:

  • Does the carrier have a positive track record?
  • Do they have trained staff?
  • Are they able to handle sensitive material?
  • Do they deliver to your customers?

2. Keep Your Products in Mind

The size and weight of your products should be one of your first considerations when choosing a shipping carrier. Smaller products, for example, could qualify for flat-rate shipping. You may want to take a closer look at carriers that offer this option. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some carriers have weight restrictions for larger products. Make sure the shipping providers you consider are able to transport your products before doing further research.

This is equally important when your products require special shipping conditions. Determine what those conditions are and only consider carriers that can provide them.

3. Account for Location

Whether or not a certain carrier will work for you can depend entirely on whether they ship to the right locations. FedEx, UPS, and USPS, for example, are all reputable carriers with large delivery zones. But don’t forget to also look into local carriers to see what type of services they can offer you. The reach of local carriers may be smaller, but they will sometimes offer unique services or discounts. Just make sure you know where your customers are located, and that the shipping carrier you choose can deliver to them.

You may not think about shipping globally at first, but it’s an important option to consider. Orders can come in from unexpected places when you sell online. Be sure to compare rates and provisions for international orders up front. That way if the opportunity arises, you will have an easy action plan in place before you make the sale.

4. Research Reputation

When you choose a shipping carrier, it’s important to choose one that you can trust with your brand’s image.

You’ll want to ensure your carrier has a solid delivery track record and a good reputation across the industry. Be sure to conduct a background check by reading frequently asked questions and user reviews to learn which carriers have spotty histories like lost packages or late deliveries. Name recognition also helps. Most of your customers will prefer to receive their order from a shipping provider they’ve heard of. Trusted names inspire just that, trust. Your customers will be more confident buying from you.

5. Take Customers’ Desires into Account

The modern customer expects a lot from an online order. They will want quick delivery, an estimated delivery time, and even track-my-package functionality – an interactive tracking timeline that outlines a package’s journey.

Customers are known to track their orders on a regular basis, especially during peak seasons like holidays when the timeliness of delivery is essential. The carrier you choose should be able to provide accurate tracking and timely updates for shipment.

Choosing a carrier that provides a tracking service assures both you and your customers with the ability to monitor the delivery process. Typically, a carrier with a tracking component sets up notifications to inform your customers when a package has been created, when it has been sent out, and when it is delivered.

6. Make it Easy on Yourself

When comparing shipping carriers, consider whether the carrier picks up the packages for you or if you need to transport them to a drop-off location.

If you do need to drop off packages, find out where the nearest drop-off location is, along with its hours of operation. If that fits in with your schedule, great! But don’t forget to include possible cost to you in your decision making. Sending packages to a drop-off location could mean anything from a drive in your personal vehicle across town once a week, a company van with insurance and a hired driver, or even a fleet of semi-trucks depending on the number of packages you ship. If you don’t have the budget to add these types of infrastructure to your company, shipping carriers with pick-up options will work better for you.

7. Compare Cost

Likely the component of carrier-choosing you care about most! To compare prices, first look at the weights and sizes of your products. Then refer to the carriers’ websites to determine your average shipping costs. While small price differences may seem irrelevant, they can quickly add up. And remember you don’t have to do this type of research alone. When you have narrowed your search down to a few shipping carriers, request quotes from the company. They may offer bulk discounts or other business options that may not be publicized. The more information you have, the more likely you are to make a good decision.

When you’re just getting started, choosing a shipping carrier can be an intricate and confusing task. When you find the carrier that works best for your business, though, you find a partner in delivering the best of your brand to your customers.


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