7 Ecommerce Shipping Best Practices to Encourage Customer Retention
Imagine you’re a customer who’s been hunting for an item online for days, even weeks — and you’ve finally found the perfect store to buy it from. Your excitement builds as you click the button to place your order.
A confirmation email arrives in your inbox with a tracking number. After a couple of days, you notice your package hasn’t moved. A few days (and lots of browser refreshes) later, the package still isn’t any closer to your doorstep.
“No sweat,” you think. “I’ll call the store for help.” But then the company’s support team tells you the package is probably lost. Even worse? They can’t send a replacement until they try to track down the original package, which will take another week.
At this point, the excitement you originally felt about your order has turned sour. Instead of working with you to solve the problem, the company has left you hanging after charging your card.
What happens after an order is placed is equally important as anything that happens beforehand. Win your customer’s trust and create a positive experience every time by following ecommerce shipping best practices — even if things go awry during shipping.
1. Start with rock-solid inventory numbers to streamline your shipping process
Avoid delayed shipments by having a solid grasp of your inventory before any sales are ever made. When you know exactly what you have in stock, you’re set to fulfill sales on the spot — instead of scrambling (or losing a sale) when an “available” item can’t be found.
Apps like Katana or Stock Sync integrate with Shopify to help you keep inventory in check while you focus on order fulfillment. Their real-time inventory updates help you wrangle your numbers without any manual input or calculations, allowing you to focus on the bigger picture: creating a seamless customer experience.
2. Provide flexible shipping options
According to Shopify's Future of Shipping and Logistics report, buyers have high expectations about how fast their orders are delivered. Sixty percent of shoppers expect fast delivery options like same-day, next-day, or two-day, according to the report. Likewise, 83% of customers surveyed in Salesforce's State of the Connected Customer research also expect flexible shipping options.
Flexible shipping options can set you apart and help you meet customers’ expectations. In their 2022 State of Shipping Report, X Delivery found that 75% of consumers polled are willing to pay for faster shipping as long as the cost is reasonable compared to what they’re ordering.
Try working with multiple shipping carriers to offer these popular and flexible shipping options:
- Same-day delivery. Customers receive their packages the same day they order.
- Overnight shipping. Overnight options deliver packages the next day with guaranteed delivery times.
- Two-day shipping. Two-day shipping is a cost-effective option with a quick turnaround time.
- International shipping. Common carriers, including FedEx, UPS, USPS, and DHL, offer shipping options to help you cater to your international customers.
- Hybrid shipping options. Hybrid options, like FedEx Ground Economy and UPS SurePost, help you save on shipping prices by extending delivery windows or passing packages off to the US Postal Service for the last mile of the shipping route.
- Free shipping. Offer your shoppers free shipping without hurting your bottom line. Try creating a minimum spending threshold, offering intermittent free shipping campaigns, or making shipping free for inventory that needs a boost in sales.
3. Be upfront about shipping costs and fees
It’s true that some customers are willing to fork out extra cash for flexible shipping options, but surprise shipping costs and fees are another story.
These unexpected fees are a surefire way to frustrate shoppers and lead to cart abandonment. According to a survey by Baymard institute, 48% of customers who abandon their shopping carts at checkout cite hidden costs like shipping, taxes, and miscellaneous fees as the reason.
Instead of springing charges on shoppers at the last minute, be transparent about all fees on product pages to avoid throwing customers off.
Do you have flat-rate shipping fees? Say so on your home page and product pages. Zappos, for example, lists the cost of shipping right next to their products. If your shipping costs vary, include shipping calculators or estimated shipping costs on product pages so customers can see what they’ll pay right away.
Putting shipping information front and center delivers a seamless, zero-surprise shopping experience for your customers.
4. Go green with packaging
Environmentally conscious choices don’t just ease your impact on the earth. They also win over loyal customers — especially young ones.
A Deloitte survey of Gen Z and millennials found that Gen Z’s number-one concern is the environment. In fact, more than 25% of Gen Zs and millennials said that their buying decisions were affected by businesses' environmental impacts.
To go green, re-evaluate your shipping materials. Use compostable packaging, corrugated cardboard, or recycled materials. Services like LimeLoop and RePack also offer sustainable and reusable packaging that's perfect for ecommerce businesses.
5. Prepare for return shipping
Returns happen — whether it’s due to buying multiple items, a bad fit, or a change of plans.
Make return shipping easy on your customers (and make sure they’re never stuck paying for products they don’t want) to boost your brand loyalty. Ninety-six percent of shoppers surveyed by Narvar in their State of Returns Report would buy from a business again if the returns process was easy.
Athleta is a stand-out example of easy return shipping. They allow free online returns and exchanges to customers, even if they've used their gear. With Athleta's "Give-It-A-Workout" guarantee, shoppers have 60 days to return gear if they're not totally satisfied with how it performs.
If you want to keep your returns as hassle-free as possible, follow these three steps:
- Always include a packing slip in your shipments. Your packing slip documents exactly what was shipped and when, and it also includes order numbers that are handy for your returns team. Packing slips are also a great spot to print your return policy, so your customers never have to hunt for the information.
- Offer an extended return window, like 60 or 90 days. This gives your customers time to decide if your product is a good fit without feeling rushed.
- Provide free return shipping labels, so customers never have to worry about footing the bill when they’re dissatisfied.
6. Update customers with automated shipping notifications
Customers expect consistency, which is tricky when you’re manually sending shipping updates on top of all of your other responsibilities. If you’re not automating your shipping notifications, you’re doing yourself (and your customers) a disservice.
According to Forbes, shoppers track orders an average of four to five times between the time the order ships and when it arrives. A Verte survey of American consumers found that 91% of shoppers surveyed track their orders actively, with 39% tracking their purchases daily.
Stay on top of your shoppers’ needs by providing estimated ship dates during the checkout process and following up with automated tracking and ETAs. An app like Shop by Shopify automates shipping notifications to your customers.
Look for a service that triggers automatic notifications when:
- Orders are received.
- Orders are prepped for shipment.
- Orders ship.
- Orders are out for delivery.
- Orders are delivered.
7. Accept responsibility for shipping problems (and over-communicate until they’re solved)
Remember, the transaction isn’t over at checkout. According to a recent report by Convey, almost seven in 10 respondents said they’d avoid shopping with a brand again after a bad shipping experience — which means your response to shipping problems is crucial.
Shipping delays and mistakes are frustrating, especially when you didn’t cause them — but they don’t have to mess with your customer satisfaction.
Here’s how to turn a shipping slip-up into a seamless experience:
- Act as an advocate for your customer. Accept responsibility for problems and replace missing or damaged items within one week, even if your carrier hasn’t finished investigating the shipping claim.
- Keep your customer updated every step of the way. Aim to reach out with any status updates or delivery changes within 24 hours.
- Get ahead of shipping problems by offering shipping protection, which gives customers peace of mind that their items will be protected from loss, damage, and theft. Shipping protection can help you cut costs and expedite resolutions from the start.
Use ecommerce shipping best practices to turn one-time buyers into loyal customers
Every time a customer makes a purchase, it’s a tiny leap of faith. They’re trusting you to provide good service, transparency, and flexibility — and shipping is a major piece of that puzzle.
Offer customers flexible and protected shipping methods to make shipping feel seamless. When you do inevitably run into shipping obstacles, tackle them head-on and turn them into opportunities to win loyal customers.
Click here to learn more about how shipping protection can help you lower item replacement costs and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.