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October 19, 2021

Shopping For Shipping: how to pick the right parcel delivery service for your business

By: Peter Gregory

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There are hundreds of couriers, mail services and delivery partners to choose from when you’re running a small online shop. How do you choose the best one? What’s the best way to get your designs into the hands of your ecommerce customers?

In this guide, we’ll show you why it’s so important to pick a great shipping partner. We’ll give you some objective criteria that will help you pick the best courier service for your business. We’ll also introduce you to the concept of dropshipping, which can save you a lot of time if you’re a solopreneur. 

How important is shipping?

Shipping is an incredibly important part of the ecommerce experience. In fact, research shows that the promises you make to a consumer about how their clothing gets delivered will have a direct impact on their likelihood of buying from you. 

Google recently conducted research into what motivates online shoppers here in the UK. The biggest influencing factor in any soft goods purchasing decision was price, closely followed by five shipping-related factors:

  • Free Shipping
  • Fast Delivery
  • Estimated Delivery Date & Time
  • Easy Returns
  • High Rated Customer Service

Based on the findings of this research, if you can offer your customer all five of the factors listed above, then you will generate more sales online. In other words, shipping is at the heart of your success as a small clothing business!

If you have time, click here to see Google’s Online Shopping Trends survey for yourself

What Should Your Shipping Partner Offer?

When shopping around for a courier and delivery service, you need to rank them against a few key criteria. Price is important, of course — it’s the first thing that most of us think of when we’re thinking about shipping a parcel — but there are other criteria to consider, too. 

IT Integration

The way in which your postage service talks to your ecommerce platform is really important … especially if you’re a solopreneur. When you get an order through your site, you should be able to print off your shipping labels in a few clicks. The last thing you want to be doing is copying and pasting lots of information from your ecommerce system to your mailing system.  Most of the big courier services have a list of ecommerce platforms that they integrate with. Whether you’re on ebay, shopify or woocommerce, pick a shipping partner that integrates well with your technology. It’ll make your life much easier in the long run!

Depot Opening Hours

Whether you get a sale through your website at 16:55 or 01:00, as soon as that order is placed, the clock starts ticking. It’s up to you to get the parcel to the buyer as soon as you possibly can! There’s nothing more stressful than trying to drive through rush-hour traffic to catch a mailing deadline at  your local depot. Every courier and mailing depot will have opening hours. You need to be aware of the cut-off points for overnight delivery. If a courier service doesn’t have a depot that’s close to where you are, or if the depot’s opening hours just aren’t going to work for your business, then it’s better to know this up-front.

Parcel Collection

Parcel collection is well worth the expense if you’re handling a high volume of orders every day. With parcel collection, depot opening hours are no longer your problem. Instead, your courier comes to your place of business and collects your parcels from you on a regular basis. You don’t have to drive to the depot yourself at the end of every working day, which is a big time-saver, but you’ll usually pay extra for this service. 

Reliability & Reputation

How good is the reputation of the courier you want to work with? Can you count on them to deliver your parcels on time every time?  What happens if your customer isn’t at home when their parcel arrives? How easy is it for them to arrange another delivery window? If your customer has a bad delivery experience, they won’t blame the courier — they’ll blame you — so make sure that you give your customers an experience they appreciate. 

Parcel Pricing Methods

Every courier company has a slightly different way of calculating their prices. Most calculate fees based on a combination of parcel size, parcel weight and distance. Shop  around and make sure that the parcels you normally send will suit the dimensions and weight restrictions of your delivery partner. You don’t want to pay ‘large parcel’ fees every time just because you’re a few centimetres over the ‘medium parcel’ limit, for instance.

Customs Systems

This is a new one for most of us in the UK, but it’s worth factoring in. There are forms to fill in and fees to pay on a lot of goods travelling from the UK to the EU now. Even if you don’t sell a lot of clothes outside the UK right now, you should plan ahead. It’s worth finding a courier partner who has the systems in place to deal with customs declarations and costs. You might also want to speak to a customs broker for general advice.

If you rank each potential mail service against all of these criteria, you’ll be able to make an objective decision that sets you up well for the future needs of your business.

Should You Charge Extra For Shipping?

It’s an age-old question, but it’s an important one: should you shoulder the cost of shipping yourself, or pass postage costs on to your customer? 

When it comes to figuring out fair postage costs, eBay has some excellent advice on their website (link here). According to eBay, you should only charge the actual postage cost (in other words, postage without any added mark-up), plus a packaging cost (the cost of packing materials) and VAT and customs fees if applicable.  It’s then up to you whether you charge for added extras like recorded delivery, proof of postage and so on. 

You should also consider offering free shipping under certain conditions. If you are transparent with your shoppers about when and how they can qualify for free shipping, then they won’t feel surprised or let down when they get to the final purchase page on your website and see a shipping cost there. 

A few free shipping options worth considering are…

  • Free shipping on large orders. You can tell customers that if they spend, say £30 or more on their order, they will qualify for free shipping. Most ecommerce platforms give you the tools to do this. This is a great way to boost the typical order value of your ecommerce transactions.
  • Free shipping for repeat customers. If you want to encourage customers to come back and order more clothes from you in future, consider putting a voucher for free shipping in every parcel you send out. This will encourage your customers to place another order with you. 
  • Free second-class shipping. Some online fashion shops will offer free second-class shipping as standard. If customers want speedy delivery or nominated delivery dates, they can pay extra for it.

Just remember ebay’s advice and make sure you charge the cost of postage with little or no added extras. You should make a profit on your products, not on your postage!

Dropshipping: an alternative for time-poor clothing startups 

If the idea of personally picking, packing, wrapping and posting every single order fills you with dread, don’t worry! There’s an alternative option: dropshipping!

With dropshipping, you hire a third party to handle all of the packing and shipping work on your behalf. This frees you up to focus on designing great clothing and growing your business. Dropshipping is a great choice for small clothing startups because it takes the fulfilment work off your plate. 

Dropshipping usually costs more than sending goods out yourself. You also have less control over how your parcels are presented than you would if you were sending everything yourself. If you can live with the slightly higher costs and the lack of control, then dropshipping can be a great option.

We asked a few of our customers about their dropshipping partner of choice. The provider that consistently came out on top was Amazon. Fulfilment by Amazon, also known as FBA, is a paid-for service for Amazon sellers. With FBA, clothing businesses make up a batch of stock and ship it to Amazon’s warehouse. Every time a sale is made, Amazon pick, pack and ship goods to customers directly. If you’re seriously considering dropshipping, then FBA is a good place to start.

Whatever shipping method you choose, just remember that shipping is important. It’s about so much more than price. It’s about making a promise to your customer, then keeping that promise. 

When your clothing shows up at the customer’s home, they should be excited about opening that package. They should be impressed with how quickly you managed to get their order to them, and they should feel that they were treated fairly. See shipping as more than a cost and efficiency exercise, and you’ll be amazed at what your brand can achieve!

Thanks for reading!


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