Whether you’re a small business owner just starting out or a more established ecommerce brand, your shipping is an essential factor in your customer experience — and by extension, your brand’s growth.
Unexpected shipping costs, the ability (or lack thereof) to track packages, return shipping costs, and many other aspects have an immense impact on your customers’ experience with and perception of your brand.
Below, we’ll cover the modern customer’s expectations around shipping, as well as 9 essential shipping best practices to reduce cart abandonment and returns, motivate repeat purchases, and keep customers loyal to your online store.
Customers expect quick, free, and convenient shipping now more than ever
The pandemic brought on many changes, one of which was a dramatic increase in online shopping. Global online sales grew 11% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2021, according to 2021Q3 data from Salesforce. At the height of the pandemic, consumers increased their online shopping out of necessity, which meant that brands were also forced to change how they approached their shipping and other ecommerce strategies.
We can speculate that during this time period, customers became even more aware of gaps or flaws in certain ecommerce brands' strategies. With more consumers shopping online than ever, ecommerce businesses must meet the growing and changing expectations of online shoppers. These customer expectations include:
The quicker the better
Amazon’s free two-day delivery for Prime members — now sometimes even same-day shipping — has set the bar quite high for other ecommerce companies, though many can’t compete with the retail giant. According to Invesp, 80% of consumers want same-day delivery while 56% under 35 years old expect it.
If it’s not free, it’s (maybe) not worth it
In recent years, customers have upped their expectations when it comes to shipping costs. In the past, many were okay paying extra for expedited shipping, but as of 2019, over 75% of customers expect free shipping on all orders, as the National Retail Federation finds. This figure was up 7% from 2018.
Convenience is king
Overall convenience is another factor that customers care a lot about. 83% of consumers are willing to admit that convenience is important, according to a 2020 survey from the National Retail Federation. The same survey also finds that 97% of cart abandonment is due to inconvenience.
Order tracking is a must
Lastly, consumers want to know when their orders will arrive. As stated in Metapak’s fourth annual Global Ecommerce Consumer Research Report, 69% of customers say that the ability to track orders is one of their top three considerations when shopping online.
9 shipping best practices your ecommerce store will benefit from
Now that we have an idea of what customers expect when shopping online, let’s look at some of the top shipping practices for your online business that both you and your customers will benefit from. Remember, ensuring top-notch shipping practices can help retain customers, bring in new ones, and even increase your business's profit margins.
1) If you have free shipping options, make it a part of your marketing strategy
As we mentioned earlier, one of the biggest expectations of the modern-day customer is free shipping — thanks Amazon. We already have a post on how to offer free shipping, so we won’t go into that here. Instead, we encourage you to advertise your free shipping across your site to improve your on-site conversion rate.
“The most popular shipping-related promotion is offering free shipping,” as explained by ShipBob. Even more, 60% of ecommerce companies report that “free shipping with conditions” is their most successful marketing tool, as a study from Wharton reports. Wharton’s study also finds that many customers would even prefer free shipping than a $10 reduction on product prices.
A great example of free shipping as a marketing strategy is Woxer, an apparel brand. Even though they only offer free shipping on qualifying orders, they promote that shipping policy on their website’s banner and their cart drop-down:
Additionally, with Gorgias, you can pre-load your live chat with important answers to frequently asked questions — like questions about your shipping policy:
2) Track your customers’ orders and shipping statuses for them
When it comes to tracking customers’ orders and shipping statuses, consistency is key. Again, customers expect a way to track their purchases. Beyond simply creating a top-tier customer experience, proactive tracking can be an additional marketing strategy. As Forbes reports, “compared to typical marketing emails with open rates of 10% to 20%, tracking notifications can see open rates between 50% and 80%.” So, use emails to your brand’s advantage, and include as much information as possible to ensure the customer experience is positive.
This goes beyond just showing when the package is expected to arrive through a USPS or FedEx link. Ecommerce brands that use Shopify can employ the company’s tracking add-on, Shop. Customers download the free Shop app, and as soon as they purchase from an ecommerce business that uses Shop, the order will pop up in their app. The app shows the customer all of their order details, tracking number, carrier info, and a live map of where their package is with detailed tracking info every step of the way. Brands that use Shop for a standout customer experience include Allbirds, Outdoor Voices, and Credo.
If you use Gorgias, you have a great leg-up on the competition when it comes to order tracking. Gorgias’ deep integration with ecommerce platforms like Shopify means that your customer service agents have easy access to customer order information. Plus, with self-service flows, your customers can track orders without reaching out to an agent:
3) Provide estimated ecommerce shipping costs and arrival dates before the final checkout stage
Another best practice you can implement is providing estimated shipping costs and arrival dates before the final checkout stage. Amazon is best known for this, as the company shows estimated arrival dates right on the product page — even before a customer adds the item to their shopping cart.
This is an extremely important feature to provide, because 63% of customers abandon their carts due to high shipping costs, according to Statista. So, if your ecommerce site offers this information before customers add products to their cart, this may significantly cut down on your abandoned cart rates and avoid potential customer dissatisfaction.
Native Union, a tech accessory brand, lets customers input their zip code to estimate shipping costs and delivery times before they reach the checkout page. This is a great strategy to manage customer expectations, show off fast delivery options, and reduce cart abandonment (by avoiding unexpectedly high shipping costs at checkout):
Check out Shipping Rates Calculator on Shopify, an app that can add this kind of calculator to your store. If you use another ecommerce platform, chances are they’ll have tools with similar functionality readily available.
4) Use ecommerce shipping solutions with automation
As your brand grows, an ecommerce shipping app will become necessary. Depending on the app, they’ll take over the entire shipping process, like coordinating with delivery services, printing shipping labels, and offering a variety of other shipping services. These tools can also provide necessary metrics and analysis to further improve your shipping strategies.
Automation tools can also benefit your customers. Because these tools offer in-depth information about the customer’s order, it’s less likely that they will need to reach out to your customer support team for assistance. A great example of this is Gorgias’ self-service order management, which lets customers track and modify orders without having to reach out — here’s an example on Steve Madden’s site:
Some of the best ecommerce shipping software on the market include:
- ShipBob: This global logistics platform is specifically for fulfilling ecommerce orders for direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands.
- NetSuite: This cloud-based app is designed as an all-in-one solution to help your ecommerce business stay organized when it comes to financials, CRM, and ecommerce.
- Shipup: This app is specifically for delivery and tracking information. It follows each customer’s package in real-time and can even send notifications to customers, redirect them to other tracking pages, and allows your team to proactively manage potential delivery issues.
- LateShipment.com: This app can help your business reduce shipping costs by up to 20% by utilizing automated service-failure refunds. It also proactively resolves delivery errors, ensuring a seamless customer experience.
- ShippingChimp: This app works alongside customer service platform, Gorgias, to automate all of your business’ order statuses and fulfillment queries.
- AfterShip: This web-based platform helps ecommerce brands provide shipment tracking and proactive notifications to customers, as well as brand updates.
- Wonderment: This app helps prevent, “Where is my order?” complaints from your customers, and can help improve your post-purchase customer journey.
5) Cover the cost of shipping on faulty products that need to be returned
Returns and exchanges are unavoidable in the ecommerce world, but how your company handles them can make all the difference when it comes to retaining customers. If you make shipping products back to your company a hassle, customers will hesitate to shop with you again.
Research by ShipBob shows that the majority (80.2%) of customers report they return online purchases if the item they ordered arrives damaged or broken. But 95% of shoppers who are happy with a company’s return process say that they would buy from the same retailer again. With these statistics in mind, you may want to consider covering the cost of shipping returns if the product is faulty. This return policy can put customers at ease knowing that they won’t be hit with a shipping fee on an unusable product.
Check out our list of the best returns management tools to help you manage the returns process and retain customers, even when they aren’t satisfied with a product.
6) Offer multiple shipping methods to accommodate customer needs (from “green” options to expedited shipping)
Giving customers options when it comes to shipping will increase their likelihood of buying from you. This could include shipping options like overnight or expedited shipping, or environmentally-conscious shipping options.
As far as eco-friendly shipping goes, a recent survey by Sifted finds that a whopping 91% of customers want an eco-friendly option at checkout.
One company that announces carbon-offset shipping is Hive, a sustainable grocery brand. The company automatically has paid on orders that don’t reach the free shipping threshold to offset carbon emissions from shipping. However, they let shoppers know the reason behind the surcharge — and opt to let them pay extra for a pre-paid envelope to recycle certain items:
7) Communicate shipping issues quickly, transparently, and in a human way
We covered how automation and shipping apps can curb shipping issues before they happen, but sometimes issues still arise. We have all experienced shipping delays around the holidays, or at various points during the pandemic. When a customer faces a shipping issue like long delays or a lost package, the best way your team can handle it is with honesty.
Customers want to be able to trust the company they're purchasing from, and sensing that the company is lying is not an ideal way to keep customers. Inc finds that dissatisfied customers tell between 9 and 15 people about a bad experience.
So, be transparent, honest, and human in your responses. If you know their package was lost, tell them that and offer a solution. Consider sending the product again, or offering a gift card if the product is no longer available.
And if you have larger issues affecting many customers, consider taking a proactive customer service approach and adding an announcement to your website or contacting everyone who’s recently placed an order letting them know about resulting delays.
For more tips about providing customer support that improves customer relationships and loyalty, read our post on ecommerce customer service best practices.
8) Have a shipping strategy with business goals
High-level thinking about your ecommerce company’s shipping strategy can have excellent benefits. It’s important not to create your shipping strategy in a vacuum: Involve team members from every department to ensure your shipping strategies align with overall business goals and the bottom line. You can ask yourself and your team questions like:
- How much should we focus on increasing conversions?
- Do we need to grow our customer base more, or analyze our current audience?
- How much do we want to increase our average order value to align with growth goals?
- How much would we like to decrease costs?
9) When possible, use multiple shipping carriers
The last shipping practice we want to cover is the importance of using multiple shipping companies. In addition to the numerous shipping and supply chain issues that come and go as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, there are additional legitimate reasons to consider using multiple shipping carriers, including reducing shipping prices.
First, you’ll have more leverage in negotiating carrier rates if you don’t box your company into working with only one carrier. Second, you’ll have more flexibility when performing local delivery versus international shipping, as carriers like UPS, USPS, and DHL are all cost-effective for certain types of shipping. And third, using a multi-carrier approach will help avoid potential risks. If something goes sour with one carrier, you have backups (think about the USPS issues we faced during the height of the pandemic).
Integrate your shipping software with Gorgias to streamline your customer service workflow
Shipping is an important element of your customer experience, which is make-or-break for modern ecommerce brands.
Gorgias is the leading helpdesk for ecommerce businesses because it’s built exclusively around the needs of ecommerce businesses in mind. Our platform can keep all of your team’s support tickets in one place, automate responses to customers, and integrate with your favorite ecommerce apps, including many shipping tools.
Book a demo to learn more about how Gorgias helps brands grow through happy customers.