Shipping Your Products

Shipping Your ProductsIf you sell physical products online (as opposed to electronic downloads), the choice of shipping options presented to your customers and the way that shipping fees are calculated will both be determined by your shopping cart.

Very basic shopping carts (like PayPal Standard) usually calculate shipping fees based on weights that you configure and order quantities, in combination with shipping regions that you define.

Because this basic method only estimates the fees, you’ll find that some customers pay too little, while a few visitors might feel they’re being overcharged and will abandon your shopping cart without a purchase.

More advanced shopping carts can give customers a broader choice of shippers, and generally link with carriers’ online systems to calculate accurate shipping fees based on weights, box sizes, delivery addresses, published rates and any discounts you might have. In the case of our own store, we try to charge every customer exactly the fee calculated by the carrier, including any carrier discount, to minimize shopping cart abandonment and complaints.

Note that once you receive an order, unless you use PayPal you’ll generally need to copy-and-paste the customer information into a system provided by each carrier to print the required shipping label. An advantage with PayPal is that its services all provide an online system to print UPS and USPS labels directly, without the need to copy-and-paste.

Shipping Carriers Compared

Probably 80% of our customers choose UPS when buying from our online store. And as far as we’re concerned, UPS has a number advantages:

  • UPS has top-notch online tracking that provides timely and reliable information about the status of each package.
  • UPS has fair and reliable processes for dealing with lost shipments, damaged goods, and occasional customer fraud, and a willingness to track down root causes and resolve claims quickly.
  • You can change delivery and even recall a package after you’ve sent it, albeit at a significant cost.
  • UPS offers a convenient online system for emailing customers prepaid labels to return products if needed.
  • Insurance of up to $100 is included in the cost of every UPS shipment.

However UPS is not perfect, and some of its practices can really hurt.

  • As far as we can tell, UPS has no transparency when it comes to the big discounts they give different online retailers. We’ve had to plead our case every year with the local UPS rep, and hope they’ll help us out.
  • Any time you fail to catch the smallest customer typo on a shipping address, UPS may charge you an address correction fee of $11.
  • By default, UPS uses a customs clearance service that could charge international customers hidden fees that total more than the cost of shipping; when customers refuse to pay, you might have to refund their purchases and pay insanely high fees to get your package back.

As you might guess, we now use only the US Postal Service (USPS) for shipments outside the USA. The USPS has a number of advantages:

  • Unlike other carriers, the USPS offers consistent and transparent pricing for all its services.
  • You won’t get stuck paying surprise fees for address corrections, returned packages, international customs clearance, and so on.
  • The USPS offers Saturday delivery at no extra charge, and unlike UPS can deliver to PO boxes.
  • Customers pay very low rates for shipping to distant US locations like Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and US military bases.

Sadly, some USPS practices seem to be stuck in the pre-Internet age:

  • Especially when it comes to overseas shipments, the USPS online tracking system often gives unreliable, outdated information.
  • USPS support can be almost impossible to reach, and it could take several hours and multiple phone calls to resolve a single issue.
  • The USPS requires a two week wait before they’ll trace a lost package, and often won’t even report their findings until 21 days after that.

Choose Your Carriers with Care

No matter what carriers you choose, much of your customer service effort will be spent resolving delivery issues. We’ve gotten plenty of complaints about both carriers, and have gotten negative online reviews from customers who seemed angry that we don’t offer a particular service they like.

Note that our online store has no track record with other shippers like FedEx, partially because of lack of integration with PayPal, and partially because of my personal bias arising from bad experiences as a consumer.

Configuring shipping options in our shopping cart was the last big step to start selling online. Next it was time to make our store visible to search engines so that people could find us.

Next: Make Your Website Visible

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