What do chicken pot pies, tree trunks and live hamsters have in common? People across the globe have attempted to send all of them through the mail. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, the mundane to the marvelous, an eclectic list of items is shipped every day by consumers and businesses alike. The borderless world of commerce has opened up markets and generated the shipping and sending of diverse products. We’re sending an increasing number of parcels ― in fact, the Pitney Bowes’ shipping index forecasts a 20% increase by 2018 in the volume of parcels sent.
This surge in parcel shipments creates new challenges for businesses, many of which have already embarked upon digital transformation journeys to improve the customer experience and may not have considered shipping as part of this. Integrating shipping into the customer experience can be complex for businesses small and large. Smaller businesses have limited time to spend on administrative tasks, and can’t afford to overspend on parcel costs. When a friend of mine – a small business owner – sold his first product on the web, he was delighted. He spent a fortune on an industrial-sized roll of brown paper and a huge roll of parcel tape, then carefully wrapped the item and promptly headed off to the Post Office. Worried about how quickly his customer would receive the item, he chose a tracked, signed-for delivery option – and ended up spending more on shipping and packaging than the customer had paid him. Making a loss on his first web sale was a tough shipping lesson to learn!
Larger businesses also face challenges when it comes to parcel shipments, managing multiple shipments from various cost centers, under pressure to drive down costs while still meeting service levels and client expectations. Shipping cross-border adds to the complexity, as postal managers must stay on top of local taxes and duties, and select the most reliable local carriers.
From stagecoaches and trains in the 1800s to today’s driverless cars and drone deliveries, shipping parcels has a long and colorful heritage. Boosted by the ecommerce boom, its evolution into today’s integrated digital service has given us more choice than ever when it comes to parcel sending, with changing tariffs and a diversity of sending options. Sometimes, however, this choice can be confusing, especially for small businesses.
After ordering, shipping is often the first experience the customer will have with your business – and for some, it will be the last. We’ve all ordered products online and have based our entire perception of a business on a bad shipping experience. A recent Pitney Bowes’ Global Shopping study found that 42% of consumers said they faced challenges when it came to receiving goods, such as tracking inaccuracies, non-transparent return policies, wrong shipping items, products shipped to the wrong address, or duty and tax miscalculations. Conversely, a great shipping experience is likely to lead to repeat business.
To make sure your business is ready for the surge in parcel volume and ensure your shipping strategy is part of delivering a great customer experience, here are our top ten tips for perfect parcel sending:
01. Check what you’re sending is not on a list of prohibited and restricted items: These differ from country to country. Some are obvious, some less so. Some perfumes and nail varnishes are prohibited, for example, and there are lots of restrictions around electrical goods and batteries.
02. Check its weight: Guessing or estimating doesn’t work, no matter how short of time you are. Weigh your parcel on an accurate set of digital scales. Integrated shipping and mailing platforms sometimes include the ability to weigh parcels on an integrated scale included as part of a subscription to the solution.
03. Select the right shipping method for your customer: Do they need it tomorrow? If not, don’t choose the most expensive option. Stay on top of carriers’ different services. Even better, give your customers the option to choose their own shipping method from a selection, with as much accuracy and visibility as possible.
04. Confirm delivery: Online delivery tracking with the USPS and other countries mail services provide delivery confirmation services for envelopes, large letters and packages. In the US, you can receive free delivery confirmation when you apply a barcoded label to your package, which can provide you with the peace-of-mind that it has reached its intended destination and recipient and help stop potential fraud.
05. Check local taxes and duties carefully: If you don’t, your parcel is likely to find its way to Customs – and stay there for a while. Check whether there are any duties charged after your parcel has been delivered especially when shipping cross borders.
06. Check it’s correctly addressed: Different address formats around the world can make addressing complex: does the house number come before or after the street name? Does the postal code come before or after the city? Do you need to write the recipients surname in capital letters as you do in France, for example? Some shipping platforms make this easy by including address validation software to help ensure your parcel reaches its intended recipient.
07. Check the address is clearly printed: Automated shipping labels ensure not only that the address is legible and all the correct details are included, but look professional too.
08. Check you’ve completed all documentation Prior to sending: have you included a Customs Invoice if you are sending outside of your specific country? What about a Returns Label?
09. Don’t use unnecessary packaging: You don’t want the item to move around in transit and risk being damaged, but nor do you want to over-package your product. Excessive packaging is unnecessary and costly. It’s not just frowned upon by consumers, it’s unethical: there are entire websites dedicated to naming and shaming brands guilty of over-packaging. Today’s lightweight, carefully engineered packaging materials offer senders better value than ever. Also on the subject of packaging: some of the ‘restricted items’ mentioned in point 1 require certain packaging. You need to ensure your parcel complies with these requirements.
10. Make the most of the software available to you: Use digital tools to better manage your physical deliveries. Advanced shipping platforms like the SendPro® application have now been right-sized to suit even the smallest organizations. Some of these might be cloud-based for fast access and improved collaboration; they might include APIs so you can send packages with your preferred carrier, like UPS from the same system as you process your letter mail. An all-in-one solution allows for easier comparison of delivery services and rates, and one source for delivery tracking.