How a Shipping Makeover Can Increase Your Bottom Line
Most online retailers start their businesses with lots of passion, little (if any) shipping knowledge and a small space to work out of (usually an extra bedroom or living room). When you first start to build out your shipping process, it’s easy to just stick to the first system in order to get the shipments out the door. It may feel like a chore to revisit your operations to make them more efficient, but it’s a necessary task if you want to keep scaling your business.
Whether your business is still using your home as headquarters or you’ve moved to a dedicated warehouse, the following tips can help you take a step back and rethink your physical shipping space, the tools you need and the packaging that’s right for your business.
Reorganize Your Shipping Station
Even if you’ve been shipping orders for years, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to organizing your product inventory and shipping area. Saving you and your employees’ time in the shipping process allows for more resources to be dedicated to focusing on business strategy and other high-level tasks.
A good way to assess how intuitive your current inventory layout is might be to give a friend or family member who has no insight into your shipping process simple directions to your coding system. Then, ask them to locate a product in the storage area and bring it to the shipping station in the least amount of time possible. After they've completed the task, ask for feedback on any issues they encountered that made the hunt for the product take longer than necessary.
Next, take a look at the way you’ve sorted your products. Depending on your business, it could make sense to organize alphabetically, by product name, color, size, SKU, popularity, etc. Grouping products often ordered together might also save your business time. Typically, top-selling items should be kept near the packing and shipping station for easy access unless they're large or unwieldy.
Small business owners should also consider designating a space to store goods that have been sold but not yet packed and another area for packaged products that haven’t yet been shipped. Clearly marked bins, shelves and color-coded carts, (i.e., green for sold but not packed, red for “ready for shipping”) can make all the difference.
Finally, clear documentation is essential for any company that prioritizes efficiency. Tracking shipped products for upset customers who never received their order and getting your business ready for tax season are both easier when you have a tried-and-true, easily accessible documentation system. Online retailers should diligently track receipts, shipments, orders and invoices in both digital and physical copies so that all inventory is accounted for.
Stock Up On the Right Tools
Once your shipping station and inventory are set up in the most efficient layout possible, it’s time to stock that space with all of the tools necessary to ship your products. Having the right boxes/packaging on hand and weighing orders properly will expedite your shipping process, as well as save your business time and money.
Arguably the most important tool you'll need when starting out is a reliable shipping scale. Eliminating those pesky trips to the post office to weigh each package is a game changer. Most shipping scales cost less than $50, and businesses that only sell light items can even get away with using a food scale.
Depending on which carrier you use, the size of your shipment box can determine all or part of the shipping cost. Make sure your business has a tape measure in your shipping station to calculate each item’s dimensions in order to identify which box is closest in size to save money (and don’t forget to allow room for packaging material). While more fragile items will require bubble wrap or packing peanuts, some orders can also be cushioned with recycled newspaper.
Laser or inkjet printers may do the job at the beginning of an e-commerce business, but teams filling hundreds of orders a week should consider investing in a thermal label printer. These dedicated printers produce clearly legible labels at high speeds and never require ink. Businesses can either shell out a couple hundred dollars for a label printer, or rent them in a busy season for as a little as a few dollars a week.
Last but not least, online retailers need to ensure that their shipments are secured. While packing tape costs can add up quickly, discount retailers offer quality packaging tape that's up to the task. Buying in bulk can save retailers a bundle.
Rethink Your Packaging
Taking the time to evaluate the boxes your business is using to ship out products can have a serious impact on your bottom line. Instead of using whatever boxes are lying around the warehouse, put some serious thought into how you want to present your product, the most cost-effective way to do so and what size boxes you'll need.
The first thing to consider is your packaging materials source. If your business wants to go the less-customized route, box stores and postal outlets sell packing materials and packages for shipping both large and small items. USPS even offers free boxes for their Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express services that you can order online. Businesses can also source packaging and boxes through places like eBay and Uline.
As far as box size goes, the standard practice is to pick a package that's slightly larger than the product being packed (about 2” on all sides). However, it should be noted that you don’t have to be locked into a box size just because it’s on a supplier’s website. It may be worthwhile to spend a little extra to get a custom-sized box that also shows off your company’s brand.
The most popular box material is cardboard simply because it's durable and lightweight. If your business ships many differently shaped items, you might want to look into a multidepth box that's scored at intervals on the side to make resizing simple.
Some businesses aren’t even using traditional boxes anymore. Take for example ShipStation customer Writeyboard. Using shipping tubes that look like larger-than-life dry erase markers (see on your right), Writeyboard ships its stick-on whiteboards in branded premium packaging that' competitively priced and adds to the customer experience.
Even though it may be inconvenient now, taking the time to analyze the organization of your shipping station, how you sort your inventory, the tools you're using to ship orders, and the packaging that your products are shipped in can streamline the way you manage your entire business and pay off in the long run.
For more ways to make your company's shipping process more streamlined, check out ShipStation’s free e-book, “Shipping Nirvana: A Guide to Efficient Shipping.”
Robert Gilbreath is vice president of marketing and partnerships at Austin, Texas-based e-commerce shipping software provider ShipStation.
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