Helpful Lessons on Shipping Issues for Small Businesses

Delivery issues during the pandemic have been particularly hard on small businesses that depend on ecommerce sales, and it didn’t just start with the holiday season.

“From boutiques to Etsy sellers, small businesses are bearing the brunt of USPS shipping delays,” notes Gaby Del Valle in a Vox article.

While the pandemic-fueled record-level volume of online shopping has meant increased sales for some small businesses, it’s also raised delivery expectations from customers.

Influence on Purchase Decisions

Shipping time and costs are key factors behind customer decisions for online purchases.

A BrizFeel survey of more than 30,000 consumers showed a company’s delivery method is among the top factors for deciding on an online purchase. Nearly half (49 percent) of those surveyed said delivery was key to their decision to buy, only after price (89 percent) and brand (57 percent).

Research by Statista shows 63 percent of customers navigate away from a shopping cart because of questions about shipping.

“Customers buy your products because of what you promise to deliver, and shipping can make or break the sale,” says Merchant Maverick, a comparison site that reviews small business software and services.

The Shipping Breakdown

Here’s a brief look at the shipping issues facing small businesses, lessons from the impossible holiday season, and a few ideas on what you can do in response.

Partner with on-demand services. Some small businesses turned to on-demand delivery services to improve the delivery issues they faced during the holiday, reports a story on CNBC.

“Neighborhood retailers have been slow to offer these types of services in the past, but the pandemic pushed many stores to expand their delivery options,” said Annie Palmer for CNBC.

The businesses that could – with proximity to their customers’ doorsteps – are partnering with services that guarantee deliveries within the hour or on the following day, such as DoorDash, Roadie and Uber’s Postmates, according to the CNBC story.

Communicate with Customers. It’s important that you’re realistic about your delivery times but also that you communicate accurate expectations to customers.

Failure to do so is a hard lesson, one that equates lost business in the short term, repeat business and damage to your reputation.

You may have already experienced what happens when your small business promises shipping times that fall short. Basically, don’t say you can when you can’t.

“Customers who go into a sale with clear expectations are often the most satisfied,” the Maverick Merchant post says. “Whether the shipping takes one day, three days, or 14 days, as long as the customer has that information as part of the decision-making process, they can be happy.”

Communicating clear and accurate timelines can help avoid the dissatisfaction and negative experience that comes with customers’ unmet expectations.

“As a small business, you obviously don’t have the same capacity as Amazon, so don’t plan your shipping strategy like they do,” says Amine Khechfé, co-founder of Endicia and chief strategy officer for the Stamps.com family of companies in El Segundo, Calif., in a post by NFIB.

Identify a solution ASAP. If you’re falling short of meeting delivery needs, particularly if the problem goes beyond the rushed holiday season, finding a solution is critical to your company’s success in the new year.

Identify the holes in your process and expand your research to identify alternative processes and solutions that better match your company’s shipping issues and budget.

Part of that analysis involves “knowing your inventory inside and out,” including weights and pricing between carriers, says the post by Merchant Maverick.

Consider shipping software. There is a wide range of shipping software products out there, some aimed at small business budgets.

Finding the right one for your business could help you streamline the process as well as improve delivery outcomes.

“If you can assign a dedicated person to work on shipping, that’s amazing,” says a Merchant Maverick post by Shelbi Wescott. “Still, human error is bound to happen, and shipping software helps take some of the uncertainty out of your shipping process.”

The company’s top recommendations include Shipping Easy and Ship Station, which partner or offer integrations with USPS, making them more affordable options. Also recommended are Ordoro, which has dropshipping options, and Stamps.com, a flat-rate service from USPS.